They say that the Chinese symbol for the word crisis is the same as that for the word opportunity. They are two sides of the same coin. In reviewing the results from the 2019 Edelman Global Trust Barometer, you can sense a shift from trust as a crisis, to trust as an opportunity. This is particularly the case for business leaders where the headline statistic is that 76% of the 33,000 respondents across 27 countries say that the CEO should take the lead on change rather than waiting for government to impose it.
Overall, global trust levels in institutional leadership marginally improved in 2019 from 2018. If we take the UK as an example, then even with the backdrop of Brexit, trust in government increased 6 points to 42% and trust in business rose 4 points to 47%. As for many geographies, trust in the media in the UK was the lowest of the major institutions, yet still increased 5 points to 37%. Whilst it is important to recognise these positive improvements, it remains the case that in the UK over half the respondents do not trust leaders in either NGOs, media, government or business to do what is right. This deep and stubborn level of cynicism also reveals itself in the fact that only one in five people globally believe that the system is working for them with 72% holding a sense of injustice and 70% having a desire for change.
It is this thirst for change that the 2019 Global Edelman Trust Barometer focusses upon in more detail than in previous years. On the one hand, people are taking change into their own hands, as evidenced by the ‘yellow vests’ in France, the Brexit vote in the UK, the ‘Donald Trump’ phenomenon in the US and various protest movements around the world. On the other hand, the global trust barometer reveals that people are looking for business leaders to take the lead in using their leadership and brand presence to effect positive social change. Whether it be on issues such as equal pay, the environment, fake news, sexual harassment or prejudice and discrimination significant numbers of respondents believe CEOs and their brands can make a difference.
Furthermore, it emerges that the most trusted institutional relationship for many people is the one they have with their employer where 75% globally trust their employer to do what is right. It appears that high trust working cultures cement the employer-employee partnership with high trust cultures showing the following advantages:-
These findings chime with the importance of trust highlighted in our own CEO interviews in 2018 where we noted the following comments amongst over 40 CEOs who kindly gave us their time:-
- ‘The more I think about it, the more I realise that trust is fundamental to all relationships. We can’t have successful relationships without trust.’ – David Palmer-Jones, CEO, Suez UK
- ‘Trust is the oxygen of leaders. If you lose that as a leader, then you lose everything’ – Gary Hoffman, Chairman, Hastings Direct
- ‘Trust can be considered a more valuable investment than an enforceable, legal contract and that is why it is important’ – Brett Simpson, former CEO of Low & Bonar
In summary, with 73% of respondents globally believing that ‘a company can take specific actions that both increase profits and improve the economic and social conditions in the communities in which they operate’, it is this vision of hope and opportunity that the 2019 Edelman global trust barometer offers to business leaders. Businesses can take the lead with trust and through building high trust organisational cultures they can maximise profits as well as improve society. It is this holy grail that should give us cause for optimism as we proceed through the coming year. Maybe the Chinese were right? Crisis and opportunity remain close cousins. It remains a question of perspective and leadership.
At The Trusted Executive Foundation, we look forward to working with more brave leaders in 2019 who wish to seize the moment and pursue the journey of trust to deliver the triple-bottom-line of results, relationships and reputation. Read how one such CEO, Russell Atkinson, is rolling out the Journey of Trust at NAHL Group plc in the following case study and contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.