A crisis of trust in organisational leadership and corporate reputation – nothing less – dominates the latest Edelman Trust Barometer 2013.
And the responsibility of business to rebuild trust and reputation couldn’t be more urgent.
The general population polled across 26 countries showed an average trust level of 49 in government, business, media and NGOs – where the most trusting populace (China) scored 70 and the least (Russia) bottomed out at 30.
But when it came to those trusting the business community less year-on-year, a cumulative 50 per cent cited “fraud, corruption and wrong incentives driving business decisions”; an unholy trinity of unethical slurry if ever there was one.
The banks and financial services, unsurprisingly – as covered widely before on PR Media Blog – bring up the rear among trusted sectors, polling only 50 per cent trust apiece. And nearly 60 per cent of the failings leading to such a poor trust rating for banks lay with the institutions themselves; theoretically within their control; though – seemingly – not practically (Libor fixing and PPI mis-selling, please stand up). As the Brand Builder blog writer, Olivier Blanchard says in his commentary on this year’s Trust Barometer: “Leadership and corporate culture are cited as the primary causes of corporate wrongdoing. (And rightly so.)”
For leaders at the top of their companies, the news doesn’t get much better: while academics, company experts and a “person like you” ranked highest for trustworthiness, CEOs came lowest in the corporate hierarchy. A mere 18 per cent of Edelman’s research sample trust business leaders to “tell the truth, regardless of how complex or unpopular it is”. To paraphrase punk poet, John Cooper Clarke, nobody has a good word for it, but Olivier Blanchard does: “execrable”.
Art can mirror life, and the consequences of a trust-fuelled crisis are played out well in the Danish drama, Borgen, currently lighting up Saturday night television in the UK.
In a recent episode, the character Amir – Climate Minister and Green Party member in a coalition government – who is causing aggravation for the Cabinet by his intransigence to relaxing environmental policies, so scuppering a broader policy agenda – has something of an anti-green skeleton in the cupboard.
The “gas guzzling car imported from Cuba” he owns for the occasional weekend pleasure drive does nothing for his environmental credentials, reputation and ability to instil trust in his motivation to impede the government’s social agenda for the good of the planet.
And his hypocrisy – however innocent – plays directly into the hands of his opponents and the media, labelling him a “big, fat liar”. Ultimately, he ends up, in the words of another character, “cornered” and immersed in the “worst experience of his life” at the hands of the media.
Similarly, companies with dark secrets should take to heart one of the lessons for leaders distilled by Edelman’s Trust Barometer 2013: “Trust is fragile and perceived behaviours are an anchor”.
As communicator and blogger, Neville Hobson, opines in his summary, “Edelman’s latest research adds a significant layer of credibility to the broad premise that the system really is broken and does need fixing.”
Here’s the full study from Edelman: