The 21st Annual Edelman Trust Barometer has just landed. We’ve taken a look at the current global sentiments, and found that this time around, the results are a showstopper for business.
The trust survey has run for more than two decades and uses a methodology of online surveys across 28 countries with approximately 33,000 responders. The survey studies the level of trust held by citizens for the institutions of government, media, NGO and business. Somewhat unsurprisingly, the headline news for this year’s report is that the pandemic has put trust to the test.
So, it’s interesting then that the biggest shift in trust for this year has been away from governments. Back in May 2020, in the uncertain early days of the pandemic, government was topping the list as the most trusted institution, an understandable response from a global population in the throes of deep uncertainty. By Jan 2021, the media, NGO’s and business had all seen a decline in trust, but it was the institution of government that beat them all with the strongest level of decline (-8).
Here in the UK, the news for the Government is particularly grim. Through the period Jan-May 2020, the UK Government was riding high on the prior year (+24), undoubtedly a domino effect from their election majority. However, by the Jan 2021 review, UK Government trust had slumped (-15).
Even in the global government league table, the UK Government level of decline was only second to South Korea, who came in last place.
Countries have lost trust too. In early 2020, Australia, UK , USA, France, Germany and Italy were all indexing poorly on the trust levels felt by their populations. By Jan 2021 ,Australia (+12), Italy (+3 ) and Germany(+7) had all managed to lift their rankings. While the US (+1) and UK (+3) had slight increases, they remain amongst the lowest ranking countries globally.
Trust in societal leaders to do the right thing saw single digit declines for religious leaders (-4) journalists (-5) government leaders (-2) and CEO’s (-3). Trust in all information sources is at a record low, with search engines (-6) traditional media ( -8) owned media( -5) and social media(-5) all in decline.
There Is An Upside.
While the report findings are no cause for celebration, there is some positive news. As it stands, business (+2) is now the most trusted institution of all, outperforming government in 18 of the 27 countries surveyed.
Reinforcing this shift, those same countries reported that trust in employers ranked as either stable or rising. Further gains were made in communication, with employer comms (61) ranking the highest for trust, over government sources (58) news media (57) advertising (46) and social media (39).
However, this trust in business, employers and company communication didn’t translate to trust in CEO’s (-4) as the overall category saw a decline. In India, Brazil, Argentina, Russian, France and Japan, the indexing of CEO’s is at an all-time low.
The Opportunity In The Upside.
So, where global trust has taken a hit across the board, business is seen as the one institution that can fill the void, particularly the void left by government. A whopping 68% of respondents think CEO’s should step in where government does not, by leading change rather than waiting for a government directive. What’s more, 65% of responder say CEO’s should hold themselves accountable directly to the public , not just to boards and shareholders. There is a fascinating dichotomy at play here, when CEO trust has generally declined, but the statistics show there is still a strong expectation around the need for leadership and an appetite for CEO’s to hold a more socially central role.
Employees have changed through the pandemic too. They are now expecting employers to keep workers and customers safe as their top priority. Also important are increasing job skills training programmes, regular communications and a diverse, representative workforce.
Responding To The Opportunity.
The Edelman report clearly shows that the world we now live and operate in is a volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous place. The pressures we are experiencing are greater than we’ve seen for some decades, and this current climate places heavy demands on all business leaders. Now more than ever, businesses need to ensure that both their organisational culture and their leadership are in good shape.
With the increase in trust placed in business, there is not only an opportunity but perhaps also a responsibility for leaders and businesses to make a profound impact for good, in the workplace and the wider community.
The last year has seen many businesses fight for survival, while others have found unexpected prosperity. The need to pivot and deliver breakthrough products and services, manage growth or drive recovery is at the top of the leadership agenda in every organisation.
Now more than ever, leaders must be able to make sound, complex decisions in a backdrop of uncertainty, ambiguity, and rapidly changing circumstances. To deliver this, leaders require personal resilience to manage the challenges and setbacks. They need to have strategies and coping mechanisms to deal with stress, to thrive in adversity.
At the same time, the need for exemplary leadership of your people is critical too, as employees grapple with blurred boundaries of cross functional working and fluid operating structures. Employees are currently operating in an environment of psychological overload, with the survey results showing their deep need for businesses to provide stability and clarity.
We are changing as customers too. Consider the wave of delivery trucks that fill our streets every day. How many packages were delivered to your street today? Probably, many times more than were delivered eighteen months ago. We want products and services faster, with more choice, through a variety of easy purchasing channels, resulting in the need for more complex business models.
All these challenges must be addressed through your company culture. Whilst a simplified and formulaic approach to culture alignment can be achieved in some organisations with communication, training and an engagement tool or two, for most businesses the landscape is much more complex.
But having a complex situation doesn’t mean culture change is impossible, it just requires different thinking, attention to detail and an effective approach towards implementation. A multi-layered approach may not be simple, but it can spread responsibility, resources and multiply impact to achieve faster traction. Combine this with team, departmental, or location based embedding activities, and even complex culture alignment can be achieved with pace and impact.
In this time of great uncertainty, one thing is clear; this is a time of tremendous opportunity for business. Even though opportunity sometimes feels like a mountain to climb, we will climb that mountain, because that’s what leaders do.
If you’d like to discuss the current challenges to your business or your workplace culture, please get in touch.