Guest blog from Sharon Curry – Partner, Trusted Executive Foundation:-
What brings on a personal crisis of trust? It can happen in childhood, a careless parent, friend or worse. Or in the teenage years, a vulnerability shared and betrayed. It could come from a personal or professional naivety or a bad business experience. For me? A combination of all. Breaches of trust are as varied as the ensuing consequences. One thing is common to each however, the physical sensation, ranging from unease to outrage. And when there is a global crisis of trust? Breaches by governments, corporations, our bosses or peers? The damage is immense. Collectively we are stifled, if not crushed.
John Blakey’s book, The Trusted Executive, gave me hope. It also gave me a tangible framework for my own truths around trust and trustworthiness: three pillars, nine habits and a triple bottom line of results, relationships and reputation. It also delivered a simple message; pay attention leaders, the world is transparent, you can’t hide, you can’t trust in power and you can’t just ‘chase the money’. Building on the themes in John’s book, the Gallup report on the ‘Real Future of Work’ (2018) states that in a ‘globalized, highly interconnected world, trust is more important than ever’ and remains ‘a vital form of business currency’. Inclusion in the worldwide economy requires a ‘consistent set of rules’. This allows ‘parties from different cultures and institutional environments to have confidence that they can do business together without being taken advantage of.’
Accounting scandals in 2001-2003, the financial crisis, current issues around social media, big data and privacy violations all have severely damaged our collective sense of trust in corporations and the business environment. Gallup’s research shows that 68% of adults globally believe corruption is widespread among businesses in their country. Residents of more economically developed regions were less likely to believe this, but still, 60% of adults in the U.S and 52% in Western Europe did. Talking more about trust has not changed the statistics. They have, in general, remained static for 10 years.
Digitization, globalization and emerging technologies have brought rapid change to the way we do business, but the global scepticism highlighted by Gallup remains reflected in current corporate trust-building efforts. Goals expressed by organisations are often at odds with perceived reality. The ideal goal is for customers to be ‘partners’ with the organisation and its employees aligned to customer interests. Promises are to be delivered on a daily basis in a consistent manner. Gallup’s report, however, reveals only 33% of employees believe their company would never lie to their customers, only 28% believe their co-workers would always do what is right for their customers, and only 25% believe their organisation would always choose to do the right thing over an immediate profit or benefit. Compliance with standards is not enough and organisations are still seen as opportunistic, showing poor moral leadership and hyper-competitiveness.
‘Signals of trust’ historically marked by individual business and ongoing relationships have been replaced by transparent rating systems and visible ethical track records. In an uncertain job market, ‘perceived trustworthiness’ is a key consideration for recruitment. Employees want open, honest managers who help them feel secure but also want careers that ‘coincide with personal values’. They see their jobs as ‘sources of meaning and purpose’.
Organisations must build high trust cultures as ‘Strong ethical leadership gives customers and employees confidence to invest in long-term relationships’. Gallup suggests the following three core principles to aid leaders in these efforts:
- Business goals need to be moral and strategic; companies should be trusted to improve the lives of customers and communities and have an authentic customer-centric purpose.
- Integrity should be the primary organisational value. Employees should see integrity as an ‘essential component of success and not an obstacle to it’ and be encouraged to talk about trust, ethics and the impact of business decisions daily. Awareness should be raised around accidental unethical behaviour caused by organisational ‘blind spots’ (failure to see one’s own moral transgressions)
- Ethical issues should be the major focus for leadership:
- Managers are the front line of ethical vigilance ensuring that ‘performance targets and incentive systems don’t lead employees to (consciously or unconsciously’) make unethical decisions’.
- Participation in compliance training is not enough. (Gallup’s four country study found 4 of 10 (39%) of EU employees attended compliance training but it did not change their attitude to whether they believed their organisation would lie to or conceal information from customers. Gallup’s U.S. study of 18,000 participants, 52% had ethics training, and of that half, half again felt they learned something applicable. Many found it irrelevant or not motivational)
What is clear from the Gallup report is that the future of work is founded on trust. Reports such as this one, combined with the leadership development tools being offered by The Trusted Executive Foundation, should motivate leaders to build high trust cultures and equip them with new behavioural habits. Trust is not just the new buzzword, it is the lifeblood of our personal relationship with our changing world. It represents the touchstone to unlocking our personal and collective potential. On a global scale, the Gallup report demonstrates trust is vital to our future sustainability.