Building Trust Part 1: Grasping the opportunity


Trust takes time to cement. And it can collapse in a moment. We all know this from the intense moments in our relationships that have confirmed or shattered our trust. Worryingly, we are witnessing the painful, progressive, crumbling of trust in the cornerstones of our public life: in business, media, government and non-governmental organisations globally. The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer backs up our everyday observations and confronts us with the scale of the problem. But it also spotlights employers as a new focus of trust, credibility and expectation.

I’ve been exploring Edelman’s findings alongside what I learn from the leaders I coach, seeking glimmers of hope and shaping ideas for rebuilding belief in trust. In this article I focus in how organisations can restore public trust through their relationships with employees. In part 2 I share what leaders can do to sustain it.

Money? Love? What really makes the world go round?

It all comes down to trust. The things we buy. The relationships we form. The investments we make. The values we sign up to. The organisations we join. The leaders we work for. The processes we follow. The behaviours we look for in others. The results we expect in return for our contribution to our workplaces, families, communities and societies.

Trust is at the heart of it all. And the trust deficit we’re currently experiencing challenges the business world as much as our social institutions. Creating trust has become as important as communicating a vision.

Are we giving up on trust?

Despite a global decline in trust over two decades, Edelman’s survey shows that people are choosing to put their faith in what they know and can influence. Trust in “my employer” is running at 75% globally, outranking trust in NGOs, business in general, government and media. And expectations are changing. A majority of employees are ready and waiting for something more than job related opportunities and personal empowerment. They’re looking to their employers to provide sound information on social issues and to take specific actions that improve economic and social conditions in their communities. As people lose confidence in their governments’ capacity to address issues and injustices, 76% want their CEOs to step up and take the lead. Employees whose trust is secured in this way become advocates for their organisations and demonstrate higher levels of loyalty, engagement and commitment.

What does it take for our businesses to build trust?

To those businesses willing and able to respond to this huge opportunity, Edelman proposes four steps:

  1. Create the purpose, mission or big idea that your employees look to you for. Make it a business objective.
  2. Open up communication channels with your employees. Give them a voice and provide the information they seek.
  3. Focus on your employees’ communities. Work with them to improve local infrastructure and fix local problems.
  4. Step up, speak out and take action on social issues. And start at the top, with your CEO showing personal commitment.

These compelling actions are familiar. We see them mirrored in trust-restoring charters and initiatives. We hear them in the call for greater purpose at work, voiced by brave CEOs and even braver Generation Zers. But, as Dame Inga Beale reminds us, we have to act on what we sign up to. And the real challenge is acting with organisation-wide consistency. It starts and ends with each leader, because employees will test their belief in trust by comparing what their leader does and says with what others do. Businesses that are serious about building trust need to equip their leaders to adopt the right actions with the right intent, and then support them in doing so.

If you’d like to strengthen your capacity to build trust through your leadership, come along to the one-day, interactive Inspire workshop in Eindhoven on 29th October or London on 18th November.

If you enjoyed reading this article, I’d love to hear from you. If you think it can help others restore trust within their organisations, please pass it on. Connect with me on LinkedIn or simply get in touch with me. 

Thanks for reading!

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