The Number 1 Priority For Your CEO: Building Trust

Silence is now deeply dangerous—a tax on truth – Richard Edelman

Trust is the most valuable commodity in your organisation – although it’s probably not something you talk about often, much less attempt to measure.

For the past 16 years, Edelman has attempted to track the progress, or decline, of trust across 28 countries.

The latest results of their Trust Barometer shows we live in an era of misinformation – which has profound implications for our organisations and communities.

Globally, nearly seven in 10 respondents among the general population worry about fake news or false information, 59% say that it is getting harder to tell if a piece of news comes from a credible source.

Tellingly only 24% of the UK trust Twitter, Facebook and Instagram when looking for news and information.

The credibility of  “a person like yourself” is at an all-time low. The great hope we had for social media as a democratising force for good – unleashing waves of citizen journalists – appears to be over.

This all sounds bleak, but actually, there’s a new hope. 

In an era of trust stagnation, there’s a new opportunity for leaders emerging. People have a renewed faith in credible voices of authority.

A few years ago there was a big drive to get CEOs on social media. With hindsight that was naive – we bear witness every single day to the disastrous consequences of leaders and politicians equipped with Twitter accounts.

The real drive should be to ensure our CEOs and leaders emerge as trusted credible sources of information.

7 in 10 respondents say that building trust is the No. 1 priority for CEOs, ahead of high-quality products and services.

Nearly two-thirds of people say they want CEOs to take the lead on policy change instead of waiting for government, which now ranks significantly below business in trust in most markets.

Building trust as a priority over delivering services? That’s a sit up and take notice moment.

Making this shift means a radical overhaul of how we currently view communication. Most organisations are still deluding themselves into thinking that if they can just get their marketing and PR right they can control the brand message.

Tell a good story. Issue flattering reports and PR pieces. Show you are nice people. Only engage with those who are positive about your organisation.

Demonstrably, this isn’t working. We are haemorrhaging trust.

Over the past week, I’ve been involved in a quite a few debates with leaders and the people we serve. Some of the conversations – and the disconnections they highlight – demonstrate exactly the themes that Edelman are tracking on a global scale.

Feelings of powerlessness, of not being listened to, of organisations that were designed to improve social outcomes becoming distant and ever more corporate.

I’ve certainly reflected on my own communications and why people sometimes don’t trust my organisation. Why they sometimes don’t trust me.

  • Distrust will only be combatted through leaders being open and accountable and having public discourse with one another and with the people they collectively serve.
  • Concern about disinformation will only be combatted by providing real evidence of the kind of outcomes we are achieving. It’s time to kill it with the awards for ourselves.

The digital age has disrupted the accepted rules of trust. No longer is a relationship solely between citizen and institution. What was once a binary one to one relationship behind closed doors is now conducted in public in a much broader social context.

Silence is dangerous.

Social media hasn’t shifted the balance of power — but it’s certainly shining a light on where power is held and how it behaves.


4 thoughts on “The Number 1 Priority For Your CEO: Building Trust

    1. Thank you Angela – the fact we come from different perspectives is always a good challenge and it’s a requirement we listen more (and do something with the listening)



  1. I see where you are coming from on this Paul, but I am not sure I agree. Maybe I am too much of an optimist. I remain convinced that social media can be a democratising thing. Yes we have seen some leaders use it for some pretty despicable ends, but I believe that, in most cases, where people do this, they expose themselves to public scrutiny and reveal themselves to be unworthy of trust. As you know, I am an advocate of storytelling, and I believe that the stories that people tell about themselves can work both ways. Some people can inspire others with their stories, others can repel. The latter stories are just as valuable in showing who can’t be trusted.

    People trust individuals, not organisations, and, ultimately, if organisations are to build trust, that will happen, as you say, at the individual-to-individual level, which is made much easier using social media. And I don’t think we should turn away from the drive to get CEOs on social media. This will have the effect of ensuring that the people who rise to the top are more likely to be “people people” rather than pen-pushers and manipulators.

    1. Thanks John – I think I’m still an optimist, but there’s a great point in the Edelman report about Gresham’s law: the phenomena by which “the bad drives out the good”.

      That’s what happening with some social media right now and is partly responsible for people’s loss of faith. It’ll be interesting to see how the networks respond to this as failure on their part to act risks further erosion of trust and support.

      So I think we are agreeing. We do need CEOs on social media , but we need them doing the right things first and foremost.

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