Thursday, 27 September 2012

It's Always Been a Matter of Trust

There are some annual trust surveys published around the world.

We have one in New Zealand: a national poll conducted by a leading independent research company for Reader’s Digest, which has been run for eight consecutive years. The 2012 Reader’s Digest Trust Survey most trusted top 10 professions were 1 Firefighters; 2 Paramedics; 3 rescue volunteers; 4 Nurses; 5 Pilots; 6 Doctors; 7 Pharmacists; 8 Veterinarians; 9 Armed forces; and 10 Police. Politicians did not make the list. CEOs were down in 33rd place. Bankers scored more highly at 26 and financial advisors at 32; despite the global financial crisis (Scoop, 25 June 2012; Readers Digest, July 2012).

Our most trusted people were led by All Black Captain Richie McCaw in the number one spot, second place to Alison Holst, and third to Peter Leitch (of Mad Butcher fame). The bottom three spots went to Kim Dotcom at 98, Hone Harawira, 99, and, trailing in in last place, Bishop Brian Tamaki (Scoop, 25 June 2012).

Global PR firm Edelman publishes an annual "Trust Barometer" survey, taken in 26 countries from a largely professional and well-educated pool of respondents. Their latest results reflect the widespread scepticism most of us feel about the ethics and practices of our political and business leaders with only 18% of respondents trusting business leaders to “tell the truth, regardless of how complex or unpopular it is”, whilst government leaders came in at a truly under-whelming 13% (The Economist, 21 January 2013; Edelman, 20 Jan 2013).

The interesting thing is that global trust in the business and government leaders themselves is significantly lower than the trust we have our business and government institutions. In the US businesses are trusted 62% and the government 53%; Australia is 48% and 43%; the UK 58% and 47%. While institutional trust has improved in recent times, with statistics still so low, it is not really saying much. Our overall trust rating, as a global citizen, is 57%. Not a great scorecard (Edelman, 20 Jan 2013).

Edelman also run a companion study which samples a much broader group of the general public. This survey returned lower trust levels globally of 48%; 45% in the US, 43% in the UK and a staggeringly cynical 39% in Australia (20 Jan 2013).

The Economist asks "Why the big gap between trust in leaders and the institutions they lead?" to which Edelman replies that "leaders have been slow to adapt to the requirements of a world in which top down is no longer the best way to lead, or in many cases even a viable one. Suffice it to say, there is nothing more top down than trying to lead the world from high up a mountain" (21 January 2013).

The Edelman surveys are useful because they look at the drivers in creating untrustworthy environments (20 Jan 2013). They cite two key reasons for our lack of trust in our governments, with a third due to corruption/fraud and a third to poor performance. In business, the top drivers are corruption/fraud at just over a quarter; at just under a quarter, wrong incentives driving business decisions; followed by 16% each to poor performance, transparency issues and lack of regulation/controls (20 January 2013).

Edelman then talks through five sectors that organisations can tackle to improve their performance: engagement, integrity, products and services, purpose and operations. Engagement contain some items that I think have huge value, and that we often forget. Engagement, in Edelman's view, consists of four key factors: listening to customer needs and feedback; treating employees well; placing customers ahead of profits; and communicating frequently and honestly on the state of the organisation's business. Dotted across the other four areas are some key attributes of leadership: taking responsible actions to address an issue or crisis; addressing societal needs in everyday practices; having highly regarded leaders (20 January 2013).

So here are some things we can do in our own organisations to build greater trust. If we work in the public sector, we need to understand that we work from an even lower trust base than businesses, and try harder to create engagement to build leadership and to eventually create trust.



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