Trust us, said Corporate America

2 weeks ago

No matter where you look these days, there seems to be at least one company in the spotlight every few hours suffering through the relentless rotation that is network news. And, as we all know, being in that rotational spotlight means something has gone horribly wrong for that company—at least in the eyes of the common citizen, a select group of politicians, and the prerequisite pundits shouting their opinions to the camera. In short, trust begins to fail.

Then, of course, there is the bigger issue of social media. Whether a company is in hot water due to a story that has gone viral and been picked up by news outlets—or vice versa—a breaking news story spawns the very worst in human nature as fingers take to Twitter and beyond to tear down the perceived evil corporation—in any case, trust once again begins to erode.

However, all network news and social media warriors aside, the question must be asked: What first creates trust and what, in turn, causes its ultimate demise?

In many cases, trust in an organization could simply stem from its not being in the public spotlight—the out of sight, out of mind quotient. For those organizations that remain under the radar, trust is inherent as what people don’t know won’t hurt them.

In addition, there are the savvy media-driven companies. Those with clever campaigns that force a spotlight onto all things good, while all things bad remain hidden in the shadows.

As well, not to be accused of being too jaded, there are companies that do great things for all the players involved—shareholders and communities alike. In fact, it’s this category that I feel represents the majority.

But, with so much distrust in so many, what is happening with our world that it’s driving us to be so mistrusting of big business? Interestingly, there is a global annual study that goes into great detail as to the so-called decline of corporate trust and all its factors: the Edelman Trust Barometer.

The Edelman Trust Barometer provides a macro level measure of trust. Specifically, the general population’s level of trust in key institutions. The 2017 study notes that “The general population’s trust in all four key institutions—business, government, NGOs, and media—has declined broadly, a phenomenon not reported since Edelman began tracking trust among this segment in 2012.”

Now, though I don’t wish to sound like an aging cynic blaming the internet—I don’t think anyone can deny that our newfound and ever-expanding global connectivity is playing a large part in this shifting paradigm of corporate perception. As people share ideas, news, and even fake news, the ramifications as they pertain to trust become horribly apparent.

It leads to the trifecta—erosion, corrosion, and implosion—that is the result of losing trust. Why is this happening? What are the factors that erode trust? As trust is stripped away, what does that corrosion do to our behavior toward those organizations and their respective players?

Although I don’t want to sound alarmist, or make people feel as though they need to prepare for some sort of corporate zombie apocalypse—the fact remains that we face the risk of a complete implosion, a collapse of public trust that will be felt throughout our society.

Sounds dire, right? But before you start watching reruns of The Walking Dead as some sort of post-trust societal collapse training video, it’s not too late to reverse the trend.

Trust, like anything else, is far from static. It ebbs and flows based on many different considerations. Edelman’s keys to rebuilding trust are dead-on (pardon the pun): institutions must step outside of their traditional roles and work toward a new, more integrated operating model. So, what does that mean in practice?

Simply put, organizations must evolve: they must transform the age-old dynamic of a “For the people” model, to a new interconnected “With the people” model. With so much influence shifting to the general population—one that uses its newfound connectivity and perceived camaraderie to reject established authority—working to create a more symbiotic relationship with the masses will ultimately erode institutional silos, resulting in trust.

So, what if trust was a measurable metric? Would organizations find sustainability easier by focusing on generating trust across their value chain? The fact is, trust is measurable—that, however, is a topic for another day.