Trust – the great decline and what to do about it

The Edelman Trust Barometer measures ‘trust that organisations and people will do the right thing’. It says that we’re losing trust in just about everything. We’ve become so disenchanted that even illegal or unethical conduct barely fazes us – it seems ‘normal’. Lack of trust in organisations is a sadly pervasive lack of faith in leadership. When we don’t believe that our business and political leaders are truthful, a bow wave of cynicism followed by disengagement emerges and we start believing that this is ‘just the way the world is’. Sadly, when we see what some of our most important institutions appear to be doing, things that we don’t understand, or we feel sceptical about, trust takes a hit. It’s not too strong to say that people can feel betrayed, lied to, exploited or the victims of greed. However, the best organisations we work with:
  • Have a social purpose, values and ways of working that people can count on. They provide high quality clear simple information and transparency. The more people know about what’s really happening inside an organisation, the more likely they are to judge it positively. Information needs to flow. Leaders need to be ‘out there’ with purpose to deal with rumour and suspicion. When you withhold information, people think you have something to hide and they will fill the vacuum with whatever stuff works and by the time you get around to telling them, the information misaligns with what they have made up or heard from rumours and so they don’t believe you. Too little, too late.
  • Keep employees informed on how the business is doing overall and where it is headed and why. Encourage employees to ask questions, and when they do, tell the truth, divulge as much as you can – even when it hurts. Too often we see a paranoia on well-kept secrets and sometimes, frighteningly, even an organisation’s own employees are kept in the dark often under the guise of ‘governance’ or ‘due diligence’ that actually doesn’t exist.
  • They have defined, clear organisational values that determine how people will behave internally and externally. They live those values on a daily basis. Their strong, unifying purpose is constantly communicated.
  • They work hard to make emotional connection to build trust. This is basic human skill whereby what an organisation does or says makes people feel safe or good. In its simple form it’s about telling organisational stories and lots of them. True stories, being human and connected.
  • They accept the Edelman foundational belief that an organisation can concurrently be profitable and improve community wellbeing. In fact, they must do both to survive and succeed.
And like a mirror when the organisation shows open vulnerability based on trust it rapidly becomes visible externally. It’s the key to a great reputation. Without these things trust is lost, like sand slipping through your fingers. Then the inevitable dysfunction follows. This loss is bad for business, bad for the economy, bad for employees and consumers.