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CONTRIBUTOR / Douglas Conant


Valuing a company is more than just focusing on facts and figures, it’s about valuing people. That’s the message Conant imparted to leadership at Campbell Soup, at a time when toxicity in the company was at an all-time high and trust at an all-time low. That guiding principle became essential among not only leadership, but trickled down to reshape the company culture in regards to character and competence.


In the spirit of a conversation around building trust, it’s mission critical to understand that it’s not a nice-to-have; it’s a must-have.

If you have low trust, in the fullness of time, you will have low performance. If you have high trust, you have the potential to have high performance.

To deliver on that trust benefit, you have to do three things: you have to do your homework; you have to declare yourself; and you have to do what you say you’re going to do, ultimately, and you have to do it well.

Over my forty-year career and in all my study of leadership, I’ve never seen a low-trust culture perform at a high level in an enduring way.

In my experience, a high-trust culture is absolutely essential to deliver high performance.

Trust is an amorphous thing, but it’s really quite simple. There are two characteristics you need to bring to an engagement to engender trust: one, you have to have competence; two, you have to have character.

Let me dimensionalize that just a little bit: Competence says, “I know what I’m doing.” Character says, “I will do what I say I will do.”

And so, it’s not enough just to be a person of good character; you also have to know what you’re doing.

And so, in high-trust cultures, you have to have a collection of people that know what they’re doing and do what they say they’re going to do. That requires the third C between competence, character—the third C is chemistry.

That requires that they all play together well and work towards a common end. But the notion of trust is all about competence and character dealt with, with beautiful chemistry of a high-performance team.

BUMPER: A CEO’s challenge: rebuilding a low-trust organization

When I went to Campbell Soup Company, I had worked in the food industry for most of my career, I understood the structure of the industry and how it worked.

I didn’t know a lot about Campbell soup. What I did learn was it was an even more toxic and troubled place than I had imagined.

At Campbell Soup Company, the year before I came, they had ousted one CEO, they brought an old CEO back to hold things together, they were under investigation by the SEC and the Justice Department for something called “fraudulent conveyance,” and they had severely downsized the organization.

We actually measured the level of engagement using a Gallup Q12 survey and discovered that it was the lowest level of engagement that the Gallup survey had ever measured in Fortune 500 companies.

So, we had a huge trust deficit. That’s what needed to be addressed.

BUMPER: How trust rebuilt Campbell’s Soup

When we had fully assessed the situation in the first six months of my arrival at Campbell Soup Company, we relaunched the company under something called the “transformation plan.”

And we essentially did three things: We made sure we had done our homework and we had a plan going forward. We declared that plan; we declared ourselves boldly. And then we set about the process of implementing that plan and doing everything we said we were going to do.

I think when you’re running a large organization, it’s important to have a rallying cry or an umbrella idea that holds it all together, because there’s so many arms and legs to running an organization.

We came upon this idea that was brought to life the first hour of the first day I got to Campbell when I talked to the people, and I told them, “My core belief is that we can’t ask you to value our agenda as a company until we’ve tangibly demonstrated to you that we value your agenda as a person.

“In my experience, it just doesn’t work any other way. So, job one is for us to demonstrate to you that we value your agenda as a person.”

The employees helped shape that line, and within a week, we had something called the Campbell promise, which was an umbrella over everything we did.

And it was Campbell valuing people, people valuing Campbell, with acknowledgement that job one was for us to value all of our stakeholders in a tangible way.

And we worked that territory for ten years, and we went from having the lowest level of engagement in the Fortune 500 to the highest. And we went to record heights with our top 350 leaders.

See, I believe when you’re trying to build trust and engagement, you have to lead from in front. So, the leadership team—not just at the top but the next couple levels down—has to be fully engaged in the work and modeling the kind of behavior you’re asking from everyone else.