We need to take action on trust
Trust is a vital ingredient whether for coherent society, a successful business, a high performing team, an engaging culture, or a productive relationship. And while trust has to be developed and nurtured rather than bought how come, as it is so important, it is in depressingly short supply.
The latest global survey on trust contains a clarion call that leaders and their organisations can’t ignore if the erosion of public trust is to be arrested and then reversed. For 18 years global PR firm Edelman has tracked the ebb and flow of public trust in our institutions through its annual Trust Barometer which surveys levels of trust the public in 28 countries place in government, NGOs, the media and business.
The Barometer’s findings show that trust in these four pillars of society has been falling for some years now. Maybe this isn’t surprising given the volatile and uncertain state of the world juxtaposed with the certainty that there will be another scandal or at least a significant episode of unacceptable behaviour among those in leadership positions looming on the horizon.
Edelman’s 2018 Trust Barometer paints a particularly bleak picture of stagnation around the state of trust. Though trust in the four institutions remained largely unchanged from 2017 to 2018 the outlook is gloomy with 20 of the 28 countries surveyed in ‘distrusted’ territory. More concerning are the significant shifts and polarisation to be found at a country level.
Six nations have seen a dramatic increase in trust, led by China (where the Premier has installed himself as leader for life) with a 27-point gain. At the opposite end six nations have seen a steep decline in trust, the biggest being an aggregate 37-point drop across all institutions in the United States.
Another key issue is concern around fake news. It is becoming hard to discern truth from fiction. Almost two-thirds of respondents felt the average person was unable to distinguish good journalism from rumour. Likewise being able to tell if news comes from a respected (credible?) media organisation is getting harder. Meanwhile people’s definition of media has expanded to include social media and search engines, exacerbating the challenge of discerning fact from fiction.
Where trust is rising – perhaps unsurprisingly given the ‘fact – fiction’ challenge is in expert voices or authority figures – a group including CEOs, technical experts, financial industry analysts, successful entrepreneurs and journalists.
Survey respondents go further in the challenge laid down to business leaders, with 64 per cent looking to CEOs to take the lead on change rather than waiting for (untrusted) government to impose it. And there’s strong encouragement for leaders to lead change coming from within businesses too as employees have high levels of trust in their employers to do what is right with a global average of 72 per cent trust on this marker.
As leaders, whether we head the organisation, or a team within it, at whatever level, we can, of course, do our bit. Ensuring we keep our promises; persistently seeking out and sharing what’s true; initiating change that will help others develop and take the lead for themselves; investing in our relationships so that trust can grow and dialogue flourish so that, together, we can bring about change.