Trust me, I’m a leader

on Jan 25, 11 • by Stefan Stern • with 5 Comments

Some interesting details have emerged in the annual Edelman trust barometer, which was published today. While banking, financial services and media industries are all at the bottom of the trust league table, manfacturers (and particularly the auto sector) have soared to the top. It looks as though there has been...
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Some interesting details have emerged in the annual Edelman trust barometer, which was published today. While banking, financial services and media industries are all at the bottom of the trust league table, manfacturers (and particularly the auto sector) have soared to the top. It looks as though there has been something of a recovery in the reputation of parts of the “real economy”.

CEOs, too, have seen their stock rise compared with last year. It seems possible that the behaviour of some “chastened”, less arrogant business leaders has been registered by some observers and seen as a plus point. It is true, however, that trust levels have improved from a low base.

For me the most striking revelation this year has been the protective nature of trust. To quote from the report:

“In general, 57% need to hear something about a company 3-5 times to believe it. But for a company that is trusted to begin with, half (52%) need to hear positive information only 1-2 times to believe it . When the company is distrusted at the outset, only sixteen percent would believe the positive information after 1-2 exposures. ”

The reverse is also true. Bad news will be believed more readily if trust in your company is low:

“For a company that is trusted, only a quarter (27%) is swayed by negative information after 1-2 exposures—53% need to hear the bad news 3-5 times to believe it. For a company that is not trusted, 56% need to hear negative information only 1-2 times to believe it. For a company that is not trusted, 47% need to hear positive information 3-5 times to people it—and one third (35%) need to hear it six or more times to believe it.”

What does this mean? It means companies and organisations should be working harder to build people’s trust in them to build that virtuous circle. As many companies have found out to their cost, a crisis is a bad time to try and start building greater trust. It reminds me of that old joke in the gardening manual. In the section on growing asparagus the first line reads: “Dig a trench… three years ago.”

It is sometimes said that fortune favours the brave. I think that’s probably true. But it also clearly favours the trusted. And brave business leaders will ask themselves what more they can do to win the trust of their customers, employees and other stakeholders.

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5 Responses to Trust me, I’m a leader

  1. Smart thoughts, Stefan. I, too, was particularly struck with the 2011 findings that trust in CEOs is on the rise, especially globally. To me, much of it comes down to a greater focus and emphasis on transparent communications from executives and, quite frankly, a time of refreshing humility from some of the world’s biggest industry leaders.

    That, in turn, has quite clearly engendered a greater level of trust and respect among the public for the role of the CEO and for some of them, their earnest efforts to communicate transparently and with the public’s best interest in mind.

    Here’s where it will really get tricky: Now that the global economy appears to be picking up, will CEOs continue to engender the public’s trust by speaking and acting humbly, with a focus on greater disclosure? Or, will their rising portfolios and profits reduce some to going back to the old tactics, which infuriated many in the public and led to widespread distrust of the CEO?

    It’s an interesting time, and really, we’re at a precipice for either a new era of global trust in businesses and the CEO or just a brief halo effect before things fall back again. Personally and professionally (from my role at PRSA), I hope it’s the former.

    Keith Trivitt
    Associate Director of Public Relations
    Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)

  2. Paul Seaman says:

    If fortune, as you say, favours the “trusted”, then the future is with China and Italy. China, according to Edelman’s trust survey, has the most trusted government, business, including banks, media and NGOs on planet earth (no other nation comes close). Trust in Mr Berlusconi government rose significantly last year, and trust in Mr Berlusconi’s media soared by even more, according to Edelman. Am I alone in questioning such results?

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