Trusted Executive Foundation Interview with Tristia Harrison, CEO of TalkTalk

Tristia has been the Chief Executive Officer at TalkTalk Telecom Group plc since May 2017, having been an Executive Director at the company since June 2014. TalkTalk aims to be the leading value for money connectivity provider and trusted value champion in the UK telecoms market.  TalkTalk’s annual turnover to 31 March 2018 was £1,658m. In this interview, Tristia talks about the importance of trust in the entrepreneurial, challenger business environment in which TalkTalk operates.

On the importance of trust:

‘Trust is fundamental to any brand. It’s not just a nice thing to have. It drives loyalty, which can have a positive impact on revenue and profitability. However, as an entrepreneurial, challenger business which started 15 years ago to democratise broadband, TalkTalk has not always got it right. It’s been very formative experience for us as we have continued to grow and succeed as a new provider. When you have those moments of trust breakdown, whether you’ve got things wrong for customers, or whatever it may be, you pick yourself up, put it right and learn how important trust is. And it’s just as true for employees as it is for customers.’

On building a high trust culture:

‘In the face of adversity, you get great change. TalkTalk has gone through that in many ways. We’ve had moments of brilliant success as well as some challenging times. A lot of it comes down to putting yourself in the minds of your customers and your employees and being as versatile as you possibly can be. We have our employee forum, “One Voice”, and these are the most informative and enjoyable sessions where you hear the good, the bad and the ugly about what we are doing. You build significant trust with the teams on the ground by listening to what they have to say, and by responding to them.’

‘We’ve had to listen carefully to our customers too. What we have found is that if you’re straightforward, and in some cases apologetic, it goes a long way. Integrity, honesty, and fairness is so important. Customers don’t want to be ripped off, nor do they want to feel like they are having the wool pulled over their eyes. They want transparency. That’s why admitting that you don’t get everything right and asking people what they think as much as you possibly can, is so important.’

‘In terms of building trust as a senior leadership team, it’s about being open and transparent. One of the most important things internally is that there’s a very clear, simple narrative around strategy and purpose. You have to do that month by month, quarter by quarter. TalkTalk has a high profile and attracts plenty of media interest. If you are clear that what you are doing is the right thing for customers and for employees, then whatever noise comes at you, you become more resilient.’

On measuring trust:

‘There’s no reason why TalkTalk cannot be the most recommended brand in its sector. Like other challenger brands such as Amazon and Easyjet, we are clear on our purpose. We use customer and employee NPS scores which are very powerful. We actively encourage customers to go on LinkedIn and Glassdoor and talk about their experience, good, bad or indifferent, which is quite a brave thing to do. Using recommendation as a proxy for trust, both for customers and for employees, is what we are building in terms of evidence.’

The Nine Habits of Trust:

The nine habits of trust model

Tristia’s passion and enthusiasm shone through in this interview, as did the organisation’s energy and entrepreneurial spirit (Habit No.7 – choosing to evangelise). However, Tristia recognises the business needs to provide constant evidence that it is delivering on its mission and purpose consistently (Habit No.3 – choosing to be consistent).  Another interesting feature of this entrepreneurial business relates to Habit No.6, choosing to be humble. Entrepreneurs are not often arrogant as being humble is key to finding new answers to old problems.  Entrepreneurs are also restless, and so risk not finding the time to pause, celebrate success, and say thank you.  So, Habit No.9, choosing to be kind could be an untapped opportunity.

Our thanks to Tristia for her time and for allowing us to share her insights from the interview. For more information on the Trusted Executive Foundation please refer to this short introductory video.

To help leaders start out on their journey of trust, individual and organisational trust surveys based on the nine habits are available. Please email for further information.

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