Do People Really Want Community-Led Solutions?

Trust in national politics appears to be tanking across the board – both blurring and eroding traditional allegiances to the left or right.

63% of people now believe politicians are mainly in it for themselves. Most strikingly, only 5% (one in 20) believe they are in it for their country’s best interests.

Does the answer lie locally? Some polling and focus group research from New Local seems to indicate so:

Polling found trust in national politicians at a catastrophic low, with a lack of faith in Westminster to help solve the cost of living crisis, deliver Levelling Up, or address issues in the NHS.

But we also found a warmth and appetite for community-led solutions, with large proportions in favour of devolving power away from central government and towards the people living with the impact of these crises.

It’s no surprise that the idea that good decisions are made closest to the people they affect attracts broad support. Three-quarters of people polled judged community-led decisions as both better and more cost-efficient.

But can we trust this kind of research? Do people just say that they’d like more local control, that they’d like to take over the local green space, that they’d help run the school given the opportunity, because it sounds like the right, virtuous, thing to do?

What people say in focus groups is often markedly different from how they behave in practice.

For instance it’s common for people to opine in group settings that the media don’t share positive news. What sort of person would say they want more bad news? However research has shown that negative news content, in comparison with positive news content, tends to increase both arousal and attentiveness. Newsstand magazine sales increase by 30% when the cover is negative rather than positive – the death of Princess Diana and the 9/11 attacks were fantastic days for newspaper sales. In comparison, one “good news day” resulted in a 66% decrease in readership in an online newspaper.

Contributing to the local community is indeed a popular idea , upwards of 90% of people express an intention to do it but statistically less than a third of us actually do. Like physical exercise or eating your five a day, everyone knows volunteering is good for them, but a high proportion of us show a degree of inertia in walking the talk.

And when we do finally get an opportunity to exercise our democratic right locally – the results are underwhelming. Only half the people who vote in a General Election bother to vote for the local equivalent.

So, on the face of it, it could be that the ‘warmth and appetite for community solutions’ that New Local talk about is wishful thinking.

I’m not so sure.

People don’t vote in local elections precisely because they don’t see sufficient local impact. The mechanisms we employ are from the 19th Century never mind the 21st.

One of the issues with Big Government is that it very quickly moves from Big Problems to Silver Bullet Solutions in a way that local networks would not be able to. Locally, everything has to be more specific, more contextual, more nuanced.

  • There is a growing movement of asset based thinking and the rise of a community of connected care.
  • There is a role for social technologies in helping us have more open and transparent conversations with communities about local decision making.
  • There is opportunity for hyperlocal journalism to help residents reinterpret their communities instead of relying on external, unaccountable forces.
  • There is a desire for a move away from a system where ‘professionals’ cast themselves as a superhero capable of solving all of society’s problems.

It’s no surprise there is such pessimism at national level. As Matt Ridley observed, we are less pessimistic about our own lives and communities than we are about larger units. We’re not very pessimistic about our village, we are not pessimistic about our town – but we are very pessimistic about our country, and even more pessimistic about the future of our planet. The bigger the unit you look at the more pessimistic people are about it.

Our politicians at national level have shown themselves to be uniquely unqualified to prepare for a number of eminently predictable crises (pandemic, energy, health, the list goes on).

Maybe it’s time to hand over the baton?

Indeed, in periods of crisis the best way to get traction behind a new idea or alternative solution is to make it as local as possible.

Your own community is the best unit of change.


Photo by Elliott Stallion on Unsplash

From Vertical Hierarchy To Horizontal Networks: Trust Has Gone Local

The latest Edelman Trust Barometer reveals an epidemic of mistrust and misinformation.

However, beyond the headlines there are some exciting possibilities for community led innovation.

For over 20 years, Edelman has attempted to track the progress, or decline, of trust across 28 countries.

After a year of disaster and economic turbulence – the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals an epidemic of misinformation and widespread mistrust of societal institutions and leaders around the world. 

A lot of this is pretty bleak reading, as you might expect. No-one emerges particularly well, with the UK languishing in the relegation places of the league of distrust.

However, there are many positives if you read beyond the headlines. Business is more trusted than Government in 21 countries and is the only institution to be considered both competent and ethical (Government and Media are viewed as neither). Edelman credit this boost to the rapid vaccine distribution and the pivot to new ways of working. These businesses, large and small, that have kept us going over the past year are now reaping the rewards.

Interestingly the study finds that the public considers social institutions – those who operate for ‘social good’ – to be ethical, but less competent. Saying you do good is never enough – you need to be effective to be granted trust.  Indeed , trust has two distinct attributes: competence (delivering on promises) and ethical behavior (doing the right thing and working to improve society).

The most interesting finding in this years report , which arguably builds upon a trend identified in the last three years of research, is a further reordering of trust to more local sources.

People have shifted their trust to the relationships within their control, most notably their employers.

“Trust has actually gone local,” Edelman says. “Business is the most trusted institution, but ‘my employer’ and ‘my employer CEO’ and even ‘my employer publication’ — newsletter — is more trusted than media.” Whoever would have thought that company comms teams could end up being more trusted than the mainstream media? This shift is exciting, but places enormous responsibility on CEOs and their senior leaders.

In a sense, we shouldn’t be surprised that a sudden pivot to local living, working and thinking has had this effect. In a crisis, people take in, process, and act on information differently than they would during normal times.

Under intense stress and overload, we tend to miss the nuances of messages by not fully hearing information because of our inability to juggle multiple facts or not remembering as much of the information as we normally could. We also tend to focus more on the things immediately within our control – and that includes our closest relationships. Community offers people something that Government or media cannot – a sense of belonging in an insecure world.

Of course , communities now include non-place based groups such as online forums, which may not always convey news in a positive way.

As our relationships at work, with peers, with teams, and with our CEOs become more important, it seems like a time for us to rethink how we move information around the organisation and build valuable relationships that are more horizontal, more local.

Just as trust has gradually been shifting from a top-down orientation to a horizontal one, this has now gone a step further – people are turning to that which is close, local, and personal. 69% said they trust “people in my local community”.  

It would be easy to see this move to local trust as a responsibility for leaders, but in reality it’s anything but.

Yes, leaders need to shift from a hierarchical command and control model but equally we all have a role building trust at a local level.

  • If you’re sharing misinformation or scare stories on Facebook, you’re not building trust.
  • If you’re hanging around in social groups that are feeding negative thinking, you’re not building trust
  • If you’re adopting partisan views and not willing to shift your viewpoint, you’re not building trust.

We are at an inflection point where there is clearly an urgent need to look at how we communicate at the same time as a burgeoning desire from the public for business and community to work together to solve problems rather than just wait for Government.

Some of the themes we’ve discussed for some years on this blog, with my network, and many others – are now cohering. Covid-19 has accelerated everything, not just vaccine development.

Healthcare, poverty, climate change, societal inequalities, are often things we see as other people’s problems but as Edelman say – this is the time for institutions, leaders, citizens to work together, laying the groundwork for a new era of trust.

When trust is local, every interaction we have with our family, our colleagues or our community is a potential trust builder or killer.


Images in this post are from the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer

How To Lose Trust During Complex Times

Why are we losing trust in leaders during the pandemic?

The story has become about the data and nothing else. Great stories help us to persuade people to take action.

Stories about data persuade people to argue about the data.

Remember the good old days of the early lockdown?

A time of communities discovering or rediscovering vital social connections.

A new found appreciation for public institutions and the people who keep our local shops and services running.

A sense of going to back to basics and spending more time on the relationships that truly matter.

The initial stages of the pandemic seemed to disprove all the reports of the decline of trust. On the contrary , we showed remarkable trust in our leaders, both at national and local government levels. We calmly listened to the experts, followed their advice and changed our lives beyond recognition.

Fast forward just 26 weeks and we are facing a very different outlook. Arguably we have never looked so fractured as a nation. It seems that the government, and indeed the opposition, has substantially squandered the trust people were willing to grant it in the early days of the pandemic.

Whatever your political view – any era in which mingling and talking to friends and neighbours is illegal and where reporting people to the police is actively encouraged , is corrosive for sustaining strong communities and sets the stage for a low trust, toxic environment.

What can our institutions learn from this if we are to avoid the same mistakes?

Losing trust in an institution (or an individual) stems from betrayal: When we feel lied to, or taken advantage of, trust evaporates almost overnight.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy argues that institutions can have a social purpose and transcend individuals by creating norms and rules that people can count on. Basically, institutions are the building blocks of society. If we lose trust in an institution, dysfunction will follow until that institution is replaced by something else that can govern our behaviour and make life predictable again.

Right now – life is far from predictable, people don’t have norms they can count upon and the rules change on a regular basis with little advance notice. People are looking for a simple, believable message.

In the early days of the pandemic the message was simple and believable. People understood what the stakes were and the rules – though draconian – were perfectly clear. The story stuck in people’s heads and we complied – almost universally.

In recent weeks the compelling story has been dropped in favour of less than compelling statistics.

The already infamous graph of doom , used to illustrate a potential scenario if the coronavirus proceeds unchecked ( a failure to act = 50,000 cases a day by mid-October) – made a fatal mistake. The story became about the data and nothing else.

Stories about data are never interesting or believable unless you are deeply unusual. Data isn’t simple or neutral or even factual.  The best data needs explanatory stories.  The human mind is a story processor, and to understand something is to know a good story about it.

Great stories help us to persuade people to take action. Stories about data persuade people to argue about the data.

Fortunately, both science and history show us how we can get trust back once more.

Trust is built through engagement and integrity – listening, providing information, being transparent and following through on your promises. Admitting you don’t have all the answers – far from making you look indecisive – makes you believable and attracts people to your cause.

Let’s Kill Leadership

For some reason we seem incapable of engendering a style of leadership where you can say ‘I don’t know’.

In complex and uncertain environments, hierarchical models of command and control simply stop working.

The only way to really make decisions and to forge ahead in periods of radical uncertainty – where environments may change dynamically and independently of the problem solvers’ actions – is to make headway iteratively. We can choose to make lots of small decisions owned by the crowd rather than massively big ones owned by a single leader.

Believability is built by saying “I don’t know what the solution really is but this is what I think and this is what I’ll try, and I really think we should all give this a go. Are you with me?”

Pretending to have answers when you clearly have none fools no-one.

How to build trust?

Tell stories: good ones.

Tell stories: true ones. 


Photo by S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash

The Social Sector Must Rebuild Trust Through Equal Partnerships


This is a edited version of an article originally written for Inside Housing


There is a growing realisation that many of our social institutions and public services have run their course.

Communities need something different from what’s currently on offer.

We could be at the tipping point, the moment when future relationships between citizens and institutions become placed in a wholly different context.

There are a number of factors that seem to be converging. There’s the post-Grenfell concerns about safety and cost cutting, there’s the global decline of trust in institutions, and there’s an increasingly vocal public discourse emerging that highlights individual social sector service failures.

Combine all this with a perception that many social sector organisations have become untethered from their roots in the community, and you have the perfect storm.

Tipping points are not reached by just one factor alone, rather a series of connected incidents that suddenly bring about widespread change.

It’s necessary to note that this is not just a crisis limited to the one individual sector. The Civil Societies Futures report outlines how the world has changed, with people becoming more unequal, more disconnected from power and more divided.

The message here is clear: if we do not respond to people and communities’ desire for power, we will lose our legitimacy and the essential foundation for everything we do.

Back in March I took part in a discussion hosted by Inside Housing with Lizzie Spring. There was a lot I took away from the conversation but it can be condensed into two main points.

Firstly, the language used by ‘professionals’ is damaging to relationships built on trust. What social media does very effectively is highlight where friction occurs. Nowhere is that friction more evident than when people in housing, health and social care cast themselves, often unintentionally, as professionals and experts to be listened to.

This behaviour can give off the impression of an exclusive club, populated by those in the know, who are using their exclusive access (and exclusive language) to solve problems and design services on behalf of citizens. It implies a them and us, and reinforces an already unequal distribution of power.

Secondly, the core problem many organisations senior staff and Boards appear to struggle with is an entrenched inability to trust citizens. As Lizzie has said “I can’t consider trusting them, when my own intelligence, experience and expertise are discounted.”

We need to move away from focussing on what’s wrong, and seek to solve problems with communities not for communities

Let’s not underestimate the extent of the change that the social sector must embark on to address this. To be trusted means being trustworthy – and to achieve that you can’t dodge the question about power.

As Simon Penny writes for Bromford Lab, there are important issues to discuss about the redistribution of power including greater transparency, collaboration, participation and accountability.

If we don’t talk about power we’ll just continue to address the symptoms, rather than tackle the root causes of mistrust. We risk encourage providers to seek comfortable solutions to things they should be doing anyway rather than address deep institutional dysfunction.

Hierarchical and status-obsessed cultures necessarily militate against relationships based on equality, empowerment and collaboration. These organisations don’t share power, they accumulate it.

There’s often no way for citizens to contribute or influence organisations other than ways set out by the organisation itself. When only one partner sets out the rules of engagement the game is set for a very unequal relationship.

The most important thing all organisations could do right now is simply demonstrate they see themselves as equal partners. Importantly that demonstration should only be through actions, not through a carefully coordinated communications campaign.  

There will be no silver bullet to these problems.

The answers may include exploring alternative models of management. They may include more radical models user involvement – perhaps using emergent technology to move to complete transparency, with people able to shape decisions at both local and strategic levels.

We are seeing change though. A conversation is beginning to happen on equal terms in shared spaces like social media. We need to take that conversation further into our communities and into our offices, not hidden away with one party excluded.

Traditional participation methods have failed us.

Involvement on the terms set out by the NHS, by social landlords, or even by Government, is no longer the only game in town.

 

Rebuilding Trust Requires Getting Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

Difficult conversations, the ones which we all too often shy away from, are the very thing that help build trust in one another.

For instance, if you want to spot a couple who are on the verge of splitting up, look for the ones who have stopped talking and are sitting in silence. The ones having a public argument over lunch still have a dialogue. Couples who argue effectively are 10 times more likely to have a happy relationship than those who sweep difficult issues under the carpet.

For years, our organisations and institutions have swept difficult issues under the carpet rather than having adult to adult conversations. The results are there for all to see.

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The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals that trust has changed profoundly in the past year—people have shifted their trust to the relationships immediately within their control as we become more intolerant and disillusioned.

The world though is united on one front—all share an urgent desire for change. Only one in five feels that the system is working for them, with nearly half of the mass population believing that the system is failing them.

In conjunction with this pessimism and worry, there is a growing move toward engagement and action.

This is hugely positive, although disruptive. The trust-building opportunity then lies squarely in the area of integrity and engagement.

In the old days a trusting relationship between individuals and organisations has been the norm.

This has shaped the way we communicate – both internally and externally. It has resulted in the issuing of corporate annual reports, press releases , customer satisfaction scores and benchmarking results. All designed to tell a positive, on-message story.

Those days have gone.

As Gerry McGovern writes – the game has profoundly changed. “Many organisations are still deluding themselves into thinking that if they can just get their marketing and PR right, they can control the message, control the future.

My last couple of posts drew on the need to escape siloed bubbles and embark on different relationships.

The reaction to the latter, on Twitter in particular, highlighted the lack of trust in many of our organisations.  There is clearly a need for a different and potentially difficult conversation, and it won’t be easy.

On Saturday my Twitter feed was buzzing, and it wasn’t all positive. A few people were taking me to task for having double standards.

The problem I imagine, is I’m a ‘paid professional’ working within a flawed system. A flawed system I myself have perpetuated at times. How can I possibly help fix it if I’m rewarded by it?  I could be – as one person noted – the problem rather than the solution.

This view is not entirely without foundation. Social networks might appear to be more democratic , but in any conversation there’s often a power imbalance, and we’ve seen precious little evidence of any organisations giving up any power or resources.

A lot of people are disillusioned because they feel they could probably do a better job than those in power. Social media has revealed where the power is held, and how it behaves.  Why shouldn’t we as social organisations cede power in a situation where so many clearly crave it?

Perhaps it’s because trust works both ways, and our organisations don’t trust citizens, users or customers to wield power responsibly. How would they know how to make the right choices?

It’ll take more than a few tweet-chats or a transformation programme to restore trust that has been eroded over decades. Digital is not the saviour we thought it might be. There’s a need for genuine human connection as a resistance to today’s deadening, tech-obsessed world.

That doesn’t meant we shouldn’t try to improve our online conversations though, we need to develop broader shoulders if we are to break this down. I’ve heard too many stories of people being muted or even blocked by organisations whom they are customers of.

It also means reducing the gap between organisational rhetoric and the reality:

That means it’s time to do less talking and more listening. 

It means stopping saying how great your organisation is.

It means engaging rather than broadcasting.

It means defaulting to transparency.

It means people engaging in difficult conversations. 

We all have a role in diffusing some of the anger out there. That means getting better at discussing ideas and finding common ground.

Today, more than ever, we need to start talking more. Listening to voices we’d sometimes prefer not to hear.

How Complexity Kills Trust

Customers trust those who give them control — who put them in control — of their lives.

They distrust those who try to control them. – Gerry McGovern

Why do you trust the companies, organisations, and institutions you deal with?

Chances are it isn’t because they have a customer charter, seek to involve you in their decision making,  or publish their performance in a league table.

There’s a curious train of thought entering discourse across the social sector that seems to say “If we involve our customers more, we’ll be more trusted and more accountable”.

I’m sorry – but this is nonsense. The lack of trust in our organisations is driven by overly complex business models that fail to put the customer in any position of power. The idea that this will be solved by inviting them to read the minutes of your last Board meeting is, frankly, ludicrous.

We are in an era of ‘trust deficit’ – where more people distrust institutions than believe in them. Organisations have consistently chosen to ignore the warnings about public expectations about transparency & accountability in the digital age.

Trust is driven by something more basic than being open and honest: simple customer experiences.

Most of our organisations have failed to keep pace with the requirements of the digital age and remain hugely complex for customers to navigate.

We have complexity baked into us, and most users don’t see us as their problem solvers.

As Gerry McGovern has written: “Old model organizations thrive on complexity. Thirty years ago, a typical customer looked at something complex and said: “I must be stupid.” Today, people look at complexity coming from organizations and say: “They must be stupid.” 

It’s often frustrating for the social sector that people trust companies like Amazon more than public services – but the reasons why they do are obvious.

One reason for the huge success of Amazon is the fact that they solve problems for us that we need to be solved.  They solve them very simply too, and they almost always take the customers side in any dispute. When you solve real problems every single day and you make things simpler and easier for your customers, you build trust.

Most of our organisations do solve problems – but we solve them very slowly, or in ways that frustrate the customer.

The key to trust is to solve problems that matter to the customer and to put them in a position of control.  Too many old model organisations are trying to offer customers ‘influence’ – but this is mere window dressing in an effort to avoid giving up any actual power.

The NHS is a great example of an old model organisation. Whenever I deal with the NHS I usually get what I want in the end – and the people who I deal with are often excellent. However – it’s made very clear to me throughout that I’m not in control. Within the NHS the balance of power doesn’t lie with the frontline staff who understand patients’ needs and concerns, and it certainly doesn’t lie with the patient or their families.

The power is hidden within an old model based on a complex web of commissioning architecture, centralised groups, and specialist networks. It’s kept well away from the patient and the front line – as to cede any power to them would threaten the system itself.

If you’re a user of a housing association, the justice system, or local authority you may recognise this feeling of powerlessness, that the system sometimes works against your problems.

In one sense it’s a simple problem to fix. If your customers believe you’re giving them value, rather than trying to get value out of them, and if you come across as sincere, they’ll be more likely to trust your motivations and intentions.

However, deconstructing systems that have withheld power and influence from customers is anything but easy. It’s a lot easier to make a simple thing complex than it is to make a complex thing simple.

  • We need to feel that organisations are competent and have the ability to fulfill their commitments.
  • We need to believe they have the right motives, are benevolent, act fairly and honestly.
  • We need to see they are transparent, that they are learning from mistakes and failure.
  • We need to see they give us control and allow us to navigate their services on our terms

Transparency is good. Unequivocally so. But league tables, charters and involving customers only go so far. They create a lot of jobs for people but they don’t actually change anything.

Most of all we need our organisations to solve our problems in simple ways – and that requires a fundamental rethink of who we are, who we serve and how we operate.

 


Photo courtesy of Yuri Catalano via Pexels

Does Benchmarking Really Save Companies From Failure?

Even in the very best organisations, bad practice is waiting just around the corner.

In 2014 General Motors began the recall of the Chevrolet Cobalt which would ultimately affect nearly 30 million cars worldwide.

The problem was with the ignition switch which could shut off the car while it was being driven, disabling power steering, power brakes – and, crucially, the airbag.

The issue had been known to GM employees for a decade. A sixteen-year-old girl had died in a frontal crash in 2005, the first death attributed to the defective switches.

A redesign of the ignition switch went into vehicles a year later, but a simple mistake – the engineers failed to alter the serial number – made the change difficult to track later.

Ultimately the flaw would kill 124 people, and seriously injure 275 others.  Not recalling the vehicles sooner was deemed affordable in the pursuit of profit.

During this time, General Motors was leading its sector in customer satisfaction. At the same time as their cars were devastating families, they were picking up heaps of industry awards.

It’s common after the emergence of any scandal, be it VW, Oxfam, Mid Staffordshire, for us to call for tighter regulation, greater consumer controls, and transparency of performance.

But does any of this help prevent complex system failure?

The latest call is from the Social Housing Green Paper which has been published in response to the Grenfell tragedy and has been billed as a “fundamental rethink” of the system.

The government has suggested the introduction of new league tables, which would effectively name and shame landlords to highlight bad practice. The ‘power’ would shift more towards tenants and enable them to see how their landlord ranked compared with the average.

There’s also been talk of an industry wide Charter and an increasing focus on benchmarking.

Can You Benchmark Your Way Out Of A Crisis? 

Best practice and benchmarking are often just a race to be first at being average. The chances of someone else’s best practice working in a different environment is unlikely.

Not only is it unlikely but the very act of best practice and benchmarking can drive standards down. It encourages all organisations to think alike. At sector level it creates groupthink, and we all know groupthink is the avowed enemy of innovation.

Within organisations, a culture of following best practice can quickly become a culture that is frightened of doing new things. In times when we need radical solutions to big problems – trying to be more like each other is a criminal waste of time.

When Good Companies Go Bad

It’s tempting to think that tighter regulation and scrutiny prevents system failure but there’s little actual evidence it does.

There’s a problem with managing risk retrospectively: you’re always looking behind you, and often looking in the wrong places.

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This graphic from a HBR study shows auditors are rarely looking at things that could bring companies down.  Policies don’t destroy companies, toxic cultures do. But cultures are rarely audited as it’s pretty much impossible to do – it’s easier to tick boxes.

When things go wrong in organisations it’s often the result of a complex web of perverse incentives, simple mistakes and a culture of people looking the other way.

It’s almost never because there’s a singular Bond villain type saying “I’m going to do this on the cheap even though it’s bad for customers and will probably kill folk”.

Redefining Trust In A Digital Age

There’s rarely a simple solution to complex problems but I see a huge opportunity for companies to rebuild relationships around principles of trust and transparency – and this won’t be achieved by charters and following a herd like regression to the mean.

The network effect of technology has created a way for people to share experiences more quickly, and to more people with more detailed information than ever before.

Today, any customer can go behind an organisation’s flattering customer satisfaction scores with a simple Google search.

To rebuild trust organisations must adopt new behaviours to reduce the gap between organisational rhetoric and the reality.

At Bromford that means pushing ourselves ever more local and away from the corporate centre – building relationships based on openness, respect, and accountability.

  • It means abandoning paternalism and the ‘we know best’ culture that has dogged the social sector for generations.
  • It means creating a culture where people do the right thing for the customer and call out inconsistent behaviours regardless of hierarchy.
  • It means establishing trust building as the number one goal, rather than the relentless pursuit of efficiency and profit.

I’m pretty sure General Motors, VW, and Oxfam would have been near the top of any industry league table.

You can’t regulate relationships and you don’t build trust with a Charter.

The market is , as Seth Godin said , begging us to be remarkable.

Who wants to win the race to mediocrity anyway?

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.

Redefining Trust In A Digital Age

Trust is not coming back. Scepticism reigns, as it should. – Gerry McGovern

Since the industrial revolution,  a trusting relationship between individuals and organisations has been the norm.

This has shaped the way we communicate – both internally and externally. It has resulted in the issuing of corporate annual reports, press releases , customer satisfaction scores and benchmarking results. All designed to tell a positive, on-message story.

Those days have gone.

As Gerry McGovern writes – the game has profoundly changed. “Many organisations are still deluding themselves into thinking that if they can just get their marketing and PR right, they can control the message, control the future.”

I’m not a smoker, but I’m told that if you really want to get a view of what’s happening in an organisation you don’t look at the intranet. You go to the smoking shelter.  There hierarchy has no place. You get the real story behind the corporate version, and you get the stories that the corporate machine hasn’t yet realised are happening.

In 2017 we all have our version of the smoking shelter. Our news and gossip travels through the likes of Twitter and the backchannels of its direct messaging system. It thrives through end-to-end encrypted chats on WhatsApp and in peer-to-peer customer exchanges on our Facebook pages.

Institutional trust isn’t designed for the digital age. No government , never mind a single organisation, can control it. The official source is now secondary.

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Over the past 17 years the Edelman Trust Barometer has surveyed tens of thousands of people about their level of trust in the sectors of business, media, government, and non-profits. This year was the first time the study found a decline in trust across all four.

It comes at a time of staggering lack of confidence in leadership: 71% of respondents said government officials are not at all or somewhat credible. 63% said the same about CEOs.

In a world where 76% of people trust leaked information over a press release, we have to rethink what trust means in a digital age.

As part of design work we are doing at Bromford – we’re beginning to redefine what we mean by organisational trust in both a colleague and customer context.

It’s easiest to think about trust in a personal relationship like marriage or a partnership. It’s built through four things:

  • A shared agreement on values, goals or ambitions
  • The behaviour that supports that agreement
  • An understanding of the implications and consequences of breaking it
  • Continued openness and honesty

Applying this to our relationship with organisations is subtly different.

We need to feel that organisations are competent and have the ability to fulfill their commitments. We need to believe they have the right motives, are benevolent, act fairly and honestly. We need to see they are transparent, that they are learning from mistakes and failure.

However, the digital age is disrupting the accepted rules of trust. No longer is a relationship solely between citizen and institution. What was once a fairly simple one to one relationship – with information limited to them directly – is now placed within a much wider context.

The network effect of technology has created a way for people to share experiences more quickly, and to more people with more detailed information than ever before.

The challenge for organisations is not for them to try to rebuild trust but to leverage the power of these new networks to do it for them. 

It means reducing the gap between organisational rhetoric and the reality.

That means it’s time to do less talking and more listening:

It means stopping saying how great your organisation is.

It means engaging rather than broadcasting.

It means defaulting to transparency.

It means people as your ambassadors rather than just the CEO.

Trust now lies in the hands of individuals, not in our organisations.

 

Is Your Organisation Making The Impossible Possible?

2016 was the year the social media bubble burst. The year we woke up to the fact that – despite what Twitter and Facebook tell us – a lot of people think exactly the opposite to what we do. It was us, not them, who were in a bubble.

I spent New Year travelling – so only read a few of the “2016 sucked” type posts that swamped my feeds. My view is that 2016 wasn’t the end of days – but rather the necessary conclusion of a cycle that’s been playing out for years.  The new cycle is beginning and is open for us to shape.

I began writing this post on the early morning ferry from Tagbilaran to Lamu Lamu City in the Philippines – after a conversation with some Filipino commuters.

The Filipinos are blessed with breathtaking landscapes , astonishing waterworlds and true Asian megacities.  It’s also situated smack in the middle of the typhoon belt and the Pacific Ring of Fire. Storms and earthquakes are part of everyday life.

It’s one of the most beautiful countries I’ve been too – and it’s in an almost constant cycle of peril.

People have to continually rebuild, reuse and readapt.

There’s no time for navel gazing about change management programmes and cultural readiness for transformation. It’s transform or die. 

The Fili culture has a word for this mindset – “Bayanihan”.

The word came from the tradition where neighbours would help a relocating family by literally carrying their house and contents to a safer location.

More generally the word has come to mean a communal spirit that makes seemingly impossible feats possible through the power of unity and cooperation.

The term bayanihan has evolved over time – being incorporated in many projects that depict the spirit of cooperative effort involving a community of members.

In 2017 many of us have to rebuild our organisations to face challenges that may seem impossible. And we can’t do it alone.

Saving the NHS from implosion seems impossible, but 1.5 million people work for the health service. If that were a country it would the 150th most populous in the world – ahead of Estonia, Cyprus and Iceland. That’s a huge amount of skills and knowledge that if harnessed correctly could surely transform any system.

If you stop thinking of the NHS as an end in itself and start adding in the wider social sector you’ll have more than 5 million people – and that’s before you start untapping the skills and resources in communities.

The reality is that the health and social sector isn’t an untouchable thing of beauty.  It’s a clunky system built for another age. It’s been patched so many times that it’s astonishing it still works at all.

Whilst short term emergency funding may be necessary – it is in no way the answer.

We need to to invest in scaling up promising community based initiatives at the same time as scaling down paternalistic systems and bureaucracies that stifle innovation.

This , as Alex Fox has written, is the scaling challenge of the digital age.  Scaling down bureaucracies to be human and family sized again.

I’m lucky to be working with organisations who are actively exploring these concepts, some of which looked fanciful in 2012.

  • In 2014 they started to take shape and gather momentum. More people took interest and got involved.
  • In 2016 post-Brexit, post-Trump, post-truth it looked increasingly persuasive.
  • In 2017 amid a global implosion of trust  – moving our organisations from the reactive to the preemptive and challenging the whole system as we have known it – is now the day job.

In the Philippines it’s interesting that the spirit of bayanihan – of communities themselves doing impossible tasks – has not spread upstream into Government.

The cooperation that works so well at community or baranggay level has been stunted when it meets the inflexible institutions that supposedly serve it.

This is the big challenge for us.

Can we reshape our organisations to be more like people – or are our institutions the very things that are standing in the way of unity and cooperation?

Are we letting communities make the impossible possible – or are we the ones stopping it dead in its tracks?

 

Here’s to a challenging and productive year!

Building Trust and Standing Out in the Digital Age

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In many ways the events of 2016 are less a surprise and more the logical outcome of what we already knew.

As I wrote early last year – we are in an era of ‘trust deficit’ – where more people distrust institutions than believe in them.

When belief in government, business, media and nonprofits dips below 50%, you are bound to see mavericks emerge to challenge the incumbents.

At opposing ends of the spectrum Farage, Trump and Corbyn have used digital and physical networks to leverage the untapped potential in these communities.

Question is – will this mood of anti-establishment dissent sweep across the social sector?

Let’s be challenging:

  • Housing talks to housing.
  • Care talks to care.
  • Health talks to health

I could go on. It’s not so much an echo chamber as an entire galaxy of echo chambers – each their own solar system of professional bodies, conferences and award ceremonies.

If a malcontented public has taken a swipe at the political establishment for being out of touch and bureaucratic – we surely have to consider ourselves fair game too.

The only difference being we can’t be voted out.

But what if Uber really did do health, housing and social care? It seems impossible to imagine our failure to adapt and change is not being carefully watched by leaner, smarter start-ups.

As consumers we are well-informed and volatile as never before. Through pervasive social media and connectivity we are inundated with information which magnifies any grievance – real or imagined.

At Comms Hero this week Grant Leboff pointed out that we’re now so inundated with noise even Coca Cola are marketing as one brand in an effort to stand out.

The point Grant made was clear – in an age of storytelling you need to take a position. If you have no position you won’t keep attention. And most communications fail as we don’t have the balls to take a position.

Conversely there’s huge opportunity here for organisations:

  • Mediocrity doesn’t happen by accident. It’s a choice you get to make everyday. You can take a position tomorrow.
  • Trust is built through engagement and integrity -we can consider whether every action we take is a trust builder or trust killer.
  • We can enshrine transparency as part of our values – with less talk of innovation and more demonstration of our impact.

In the US election only one voter in 50 viewed both candidates as trustworthy; nearly one in three voters said neither was.

Without trust, institutions just stop working. The incumbents get disrupted. 

Many organisations have chosen to ignore the warnings about public expectations of more openness, transparency & accountability.

Any leadership team or board who are not actively building trust right now are in peril.

 

The End of Trust (and how organisations can rebuild it)

We’ve seen an alarming evaporation of trust across all institutions, reaching the lows of the recession in 2009. Trust in government, business, media and non-profits is below 50% in two-thirds of countries, including the U.S, U.K, Germany and Japan. There has been a startling decrease in trust.  Richard Edelman

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The annual Edelman Trust Barometer is always fascinating reading but the 2015 edition is one that really should make us sit up and take note.

It appears we have entered an era of ‘trust deficit’ – where more people distrust institutions than believe in them. And we can’t blame those pesky bankers for this one – the causes are far more evenly spread that you might think.

It’s a truly global decline, spanning sectors and industries. The rise of connectivity and access to information, fuelled by social media,  surely play a part in this shift.

  • 60% of countries now distrust media.
  • Government is distrusted in 19 of the 27 markets surveyed.
  • Trust is strongest in non-profit organisations but even here it’s waning – alarmingly so in the case of the UK , down from 67% to 51%.

But don’t worry –  those crazy social disruptors and innovators will surely save the day.

Errr – except people don’t trust them either.

Indeed , public trust in innovation is no longer implicit.  As the report says “innovation on its own is not perceived as an inherent demonstration of forward progress, despite the near reverence for the term.”

51% of people say the pace of change is too great , with many ‘innovations’ appearing untested and unproven.

This is surely a wake up call to all of us working in Local Government, Health , Housing and Care. These are sectors that often spend an undue amount of time blaming other people for their problems. Problems , it seems , that lie somewhat closer to home.

Trustworthiness is said to consist of competence (ability), having the right motives (benevolence), and acting fairly and honestly (integrity). Any person or organisation who displays those attributes consistently will be trusted. But get any of them wrong, and you blow it. 

The impact of a trust deficit is tangible:

  • In public services a lack of trust means people not buying into services and values. If means a declining reputation, wasted resources and a sharp increase in avoidable contact and failure rates.
  • In business it hits profit , two thirds of people refuse to buy products and services from a company they do not trust, 58% will criticise them to a friend.
  • And those of us based in the UK will see the impact of the lack of trust in government on 7th May. People are increasingly disenfranchised from mainstream politics – especially, but not exclusively, the young.

So what do we need to do?

As the report says: The trust-building opportunity lies squarely in the area of integrity and engagement.

Obviously there are some global mega trends at work here that are difficult to shift. But what can our organisations practically do to start building up trust?

Here’s five things we could all start doing tomorrow:

Stop saying how great your organisation is

There’s a huge dissonance in the public sector where services are often described as great when they are merely mediocre.

This includes the issuing of flattering press releases , massaged customer satisfaction scores and meaningless benchmarking results. The only people who have a right to say we are great are our customers.

Everytime we say how wonderful we are a little bit of trust dies somewhere.

Start engaging rather than broadcasting

It’s time to do less talking and more listening. Cut it with the jargon and PR doublespeak.

If you want to understand why trust in politicians is flatlining you need look no further than the Twitter feed of prospective Prime Minister Ed Miliband. To say this account is robotic is a genuine insult to our android friends. The Canadian hitchhiking robot HitchBot demonstrates more insight, humour, warmth, and humanity. 

We need to start acting , and talking,  like people again.

Default to transparency

Publish everything. Even your biggest mistakes.

I frequently talk about the work of Buffer , to my mind a truly transparent organisation. Take a look at their transparency dashboard which features details of salaries, profit and loss, even their emails. They have built a business with strong social media presence and enshrined transparency as part of their values.

How honest are our websites? Maybe we should ask our customers.

Stop innovating for the sake of it

The report notes that trusted innovation means us adopting a new framework rooted in dialogue, sharing information and fostering collaboration.

We need the various Labs , Accelerators and Hubs to adopt stringent methodologies for testing innovations and proving their worth before launching them to the public.

Our Bromford Lab and Research Team have begun to show our organisation and customers that testing social innovations in a robust way is not bureaucracy – but necessary evaluation.

Rather than launching initiatives in a blaze of publicity we’d be better off making test results publicly available for review, which 80% of people say would boost trust.

Turn your people into brand advocates

People just don’t buy our marketing anymore. They don’t believe us. We need to radically transform Communications and Marketing teams. Rather than gatekeepers they need to be enablers. The more of our colleagues we have on social , the more honesty we share, the more trust we build.

I’m a big advocate of social CEOs – but the report highlights they are regarded as the least credible sources. A ‘person like yourself’ builds trust – we need to promote the voices of those engaged in frontline services, not the hierarchy.

To prevent further decline we need to consider whether every action we take is a trust builder or trust killer.

Every action, every report, every single tweet.

To rebuild trust we must show we are worthy of it.

How Social Is Your CEO?

Last week I ran a workshop for a number of Chief Executives. Whilst preparing my slidedeck (which is featured above) I spoke to a friend who is the Managing Director of a medium sized business.

They have a very basic website. No media links.

When I asked why he doesn’t use social media , he answered simply:

Paul , I don’t have the time you have. My customers don’t use it. There is no reason for me to waste any time on it. I’ve asked my staff on many occasions what the business case is and all they say is – everyone else is doing it, we should too….

You know what? If I was him I would be exactly the same. If people can’t articulate a compelling reason for social why would a very busy person waste their time on it?

If your CEO isn’t using social, or doesn’t see that embedding it in your organisation is important, maybe you need to have a different conversation? Perhaps you need to make it more relevant to them as senior leaders.

These are my tips for why it makes business sense to be a Social CEO:

1: Forget social media – it’s about being a social business

If your conversation with your CEO starts with why you need a Facebook account you have probably lost them already. The real leadership benefit of using social tools is that used well they can reinforce the purpose and values of your organisation. If you are just pushing product and you don’t need to engage customers then maybe social isn’t for you.  But if you are about more than business then it can amplify your social and ethical goals.

2:  It will make you more visible, people will like you more

A CEO loves to be visible. (If they don’t I suggest you have another , more serious, problem). Internal enterprise networks , such as  Yammer , boost executive visibility. They can also democratise the organisation and destroy hierarchy. That’s a good thing by the way.

3: You are missing out on recruiting the best people

A Gen Y colleague told me the other day that they “couldn’t work for a leader who wasn’t visible on social”. It’s an increasing trend for talented people seeking work to check out the social profile of the company – but also that of the recruiting managers.  I do not believe any CEO would knowingly miss out on adding the very best talent to their organisation. If a competitor is recruiting and they are social and you are not – it’s pretty much a certainty that the better talent is going their way.

4: Customers will trust your organisation more

Leadership visibility promotes an open and transparent culture to customers and stakeholders. In the same way that an internal social presence removes hierarchy – showing your visibility to customers gives you a human face. You are no longer the person on a big salary behind the closed door in an office a long way away. You are in reach.

5:  You are missing out on vital market intelligence

A CEO who doesn’t promote a digital presence runs the risk of marginalising their organisation. New relationships and business propositions form minute by minute today. They cross sectors and they can even cross continents. Those annual conferences you go to are becoming an irrelevance. The social digital organisation is more connected, aware and adaptive.

This is the advice I would give a CEO about going social – but I’m sure there are other benefits. Please add any thoughts in the comments box they are hugely appreciated.

How Your Social Media Policy Could Kill Your Culture

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I love Social Media. But really, it’s not that important.

Not compared to some things.

I’ve begun to see a few posts suggesting that companies need to take more control over their employees social media output. That word – ‘control’ – has actually been used on more than one occasion.

An unwelcome trend.

It’s obvious to see why this is happening. Last year saw some big organisations fall victim to social media “blunders”. Although personally I prefer thinking of them as “lessons”.

And we’ve just had one of the most high profile UK cases to date – the redundancy tweets at HMV. That event has been blogged to death and I don’t want to add to it. I’d rather concentrate on what I think are some of the incorrect conclusions that have been drawn from it , and cases like it.

If you somehow missed the incident you can have a read about it here , or you can read my 140 character summary below:

"Company goes bust. Calls 60 staff into sacking. Staff tweet live from corporate account about what a bunch of idiots the managers are."
“Company goes bust. Calls 60 staff into sacking. Staff tweet live from corporate account about what a bunch of idiots the managers are.”

In the weeks that followed there have been a number of suggestions , often from Social Media and PR experts, about how we could avoid these kind of incidents in the future.

Some of the suggestions have included:

  • Only permitting “Junior” employees permission to draft social media messages, and making them go through an approval queuefor senior management to sign off before they are published
  • Banning all your employees from using social media at work and asking them to hand over their phones as they enter the premises

I couldn’t agree more.

Most employees are borderline psychotic. Little time-bombs preparing to explode at the slightest incident. In fact, rarely a day goes by in my team without one of them tweeting “@paulbromford – what a tosser” – just because I don’t make many cups of tea.

Seriously – is this what we have come to?

I think we are learning the wrong things. Here’s what I think we can take away from such incidents:

1 – Treat your employees well at all times.

2 – Don’t employ managers who are rubbish.

3 – Educate employees about the magnificent positives of social media but also the negatives. Support them and learn together.

This has nothing to do with social media and everything to do with leadership and culture.

Culture is what allows my own organisation to have such an open approach to social media. Everyone has access. Anyone can tweet or blog. My Opportunity4Employment Assistant – Chai Podins was set up with social media accounts on his first day at work. He would qualify as a “junior” if we used such archaic terms. Which we don’t.

A risky approach to social media? Maybe. But all use of social media has risks.

It does make sense that corporate accounts are protected. There should be plans in place for when errors are made or there is a hacking. Both of which are far more likely to happen than a colleague going into meltdown.

But if you write a Social Media Policy and it effectively says:

  • There is a hierarchy for message approval.
  • That you start with a belief that colleagues are going to “go rogue”
  • That you don’t trust the people you employ with 140 characters of text.

It will kill your culture. And that will take you years and years to rebuild.

So if you or your company are risk averse , and you don’t trust your people with social media, my advice is simple:

Don’t use it. It’s not worth it.

Social Media: A Trust Thing

I’m lucky. I’m part of an organisation where everyone has access to social media.

Anyone can set up a Facebook or Twitter account. Anyone can blog. Without restriction.

No Policy.

One Rule – “If you wouldn’t say it out loud in the cafe area – don’t put it on social media.”

So it’s shocking to read that 50% of the IT Directors in Europe think banning the use of Social Media in the workplace is a good idea.  At least according to this survey.

And , according to another survey , by 2015 , 60% of companies will be attempting to monitor employees use of Social Media.

What are we to make of this? And what does it say about the modern employer?

Let’s face it – Social Media can no longer be regarded as something new and dangerous. Pretty much every news bulletin will refer to a comment on Twitter.

So why do some employers still , in 2012 , think it’s something to be frightened of. Let’s ask the audience:

Ignorance, Short-Sightedness. Social Media as a benchmark of a companies transparency.

This actually isn’t about Social Media. It’s not about IT.

It’s about Leadership and Culture.  

And it’s about Trust and Empowerment.

  • Why would an employer think that the people they employ would prefer to sit all day on Facebook rather than do their jobs? Unless of course the jobs are so rubbish , and the leadership so poor , that this is the preferable option
  • Why would an employer think people would use 140 characters to destroy the reputation of their organisation? And if you have people like that – you could , rather than banning things , choose to do something about them
  • Why would an employer think anyone , anywhere , would want someone to monitor what they are saying?  Like a suspicious spouse checking through your text messages

If you are working to introduce more social media openness in your business – good for you.

But if you are in a relationship where either party does not trust the other – you would surely reconsider your position?

60% of employers will monitor social media usage.  50% will ban it altogether.

Want to have a relationship based on trust?

Leave them.

Find someone else.

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