The trust of the public and of employees is critical for sustained success. 72% of UK respondents from a recent survey stated that being able to trust a company was vital for corporate reputation.
Conversely, lack of trust can undermine corporate reputation, political and regulatory support, customer loyalty, staff motivation and have a debilitating result on business performance.
Recently, however, trust in business has hit an all-time low, damaged by the economic crisis, high profile product recalls and environmental calamities. There is a prevailing fear that companies will sacrifice safety, quality, reliability and well-being to increase profit.
CEOs must achieve and maintain congruence between what the organisation says and what it does. There is no future in giving attention-grabbing pledges to stakeholders unless you are confident of being able to fulfil them.
To establish trust, a business must demonstrate consistent behaviour between their business goals, values and ethics, social responsibility and their actions when it comes to elements like safety, transparency, or product and service quality. The larger and more complex the organisation, the greater the risk of lack of congruence in one of these areas.
Three steps to safeguarding trust
As we have seen, once broken, trust may take years to repair - if indeed it can be repaired at all. It is obviously preferable to avoid trust being damaged in the first place. To do so, you must maximise congruence, communicate that youare doing so, and get ready to manage any failures.
Maximise congruence. Variances between statements and actions should be eliminated. This means that the workforce and senior leaders must be motivated and rewarded to maintain congruence between words and actions. Compensation must reward ethical behaviour, with an emphasis on long-term results as well as short-term ones. Consider rewarding actions that create benefits for stakeholders other than shareholders, such as those that reduce environmental impact.
Communicate congruence. Demonstrate and communicate this congruence clearly to the public and other stakeholders. Encourage stakeholders, both internal and external, to provide feedback so that you can tell if your messages are getting through.
Manage failures of congruence. Voluntarily disclose failures and highlight remedial actions being taken. Do this quickly and clearly, taking advantage of online media and social networking sites. This way, there will be far less damage to trust than if the failure is revealed by a third party.
Develop risk awareness at the senior executive and board levels. Make sure senior managers know they are accountable for protecting and rebuilding trust in the event of a failure of congruence. It’s important to instil this awareness before problems occur.
To find out more about how PA can help your organisation optimise business trust contact us now.