Trust implodes: it’s time for less perfect, more personality

edelman-trust

Trust has imploded according to this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer. CEO credibility is now at an all-time low, having dropped 12 percentage points to just 37 percent.

As I ponder these results, I can’t help but feel that the communications profession must shoulder at least some of the blame for erosion of trust in leadership.

In recent years, the internal communications industry has been steadily more resourced, professionalised and invested in. We’ve practised and perfected the art of crafting the perfect announcement, talking points or script on behalf of – or for – our leaders.

We’ve media trained our senior executives, coached them on what to say and wordsmithed content to incorporate key messages.

Along the way, we’ve sacrificed authenticity as a result. Employees see straight through the vanilla. It jars with the raw and bona fide voice they access in peer-to-peer communication and ‘unofficial’ sources.

No wonder we’ve lost all trust in our leaders as a result.

Now is the time to act
As an internal communicator we cannot continue to help further damage leadership credibility. We must partner with the leaders we support, and balance the goal of strategic communications with authentic and transparent communications.

Less perfect. More personality.

We need to adapt how we work – coaching not doing; advising not controlling.

And leaders must play their part too: making time to inject their own personality into communications and working with us to incorporate personal stories and experiences. We have to be braver and we have to push for transparency and openness.

Today’s report is the overdue wake-up call we needed.

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Australian Edelman Trust Barometer results revealed….how does Oz stack up?

Employees – not leaders – are now the most trusted source of information about business in Australia across four key areas: customer service, innovation, business practices and leadership information.

These are the findings of the Australian Edelman Trust Barometer 2014.

The research also shows trust in ‘regular employees’ has risen from 33 per cent in 2009 through to 53 per cent in 2014. I think the large increase should send a clear message to businesses of the importance of treating employees as the most powerful brand advocates and the value of internal communications in driving this for organisations.

Australian Edelman Trust Barometer findings

You can read the full slide deck of the Australian Edelman Trust Barometer. Some of the key takeaways I took note of for Australia include:

  • Trust in Australia has increased across the board – in NGOs, business, Government (up 13 per cent!) and in media. Trust in every institution is now at its highest point since 2009
  • Trust is six points higher than the UK and nine points higher than the US. Trust in Australia now stands at 58 points on the Trust barometer.
  • Australians are calling for more regulation from Government to protect individuals from business.
  • There is low trust in China – despite China being Australia’s main trading partner.

What are the takeaways for internal communications pros?

I covered the findings of the global Barometer results on a recent blog post here, exploring what internal comms pros could do about the findings.

So what about specifically for Australia?

I return again to the findings that focus on the high level of trust in ‘regular employees’. Slide 20 from the pack demonstrates just how staggering these figures are:

edelman trust barometer

Internal comms pros need to work hand-in-hand with external comms and marketing teams to build-up employees as the greatest asset for the company. The slide pack also lists some of the other ways business can build trust, including: treating employees well, acts responsibly in a crisis, is transparent and open.

Trust in CEOs has also increased since 2009 from 19 per cent to 39 percent. There is still more to do! Slide 23 in the pack highlights the ways leaders can take action. These are all areas internal comms can and should be supporting:

edelman trust barometer australia

 Want to find out more?

Building the trust in business – what can internal communicators do about it?

The findings of the 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer explore for the 14th year running the importance of trust in business:

“We believe that trust is an asset that enterprises must understand and properly manage in order to be successful in today’s complex operating environment. Unlike reputation, which is based on an aggregate of past experiences with a company or brand, trust is a forward facing metric of stakeholder expectation.”

As well as the result of the research, the report reveals 16 key attributes to building trust.

I decided to take a closer look at this section and identify specifically what role internal communicators can play in 2014 to contribute to the building of trust in the organisation in which they work.

I’ve done this because, while the report looks mainly at external perceptions of organisations, I believe that you can only build trust with customers and the general public if first you build a culture of trust with your employees.

I’ve highlighted on the Edelman Slideshare slide 32 (below ) what I think are the key areas we can influence in our roles and listed some important questions (in orange) to ask yourself in relation to these.

CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO VIEW FULL SIZE:

edelman slide 32 annotated

*For tips on how to internal comms can build an innovative culture, visit this useful post by Zyncro here.

My view

While internal communicators have a role to play in influencing all of the 16 key attributes outlined above, I think those highlighted are most closely tied to our purpose.

What’s interesting is that leadership /CEO is listed one of the key four factors which influence trust in a business in this report. This means, it’s more important than ever to get the support for our leaders right and help them to communicate effectively. It’s time to have conversations with leaders about these findings. Encourage authenticity from leaders and openness, transparency and honesty in all communications.

Finally, internal communications needs to work in partnership with external communications on each of these attributes. There can be no disconnect between what is communicated externally and what is communicated internally. But I believe internal communications plays the crucial first role in building trust. Because we have to get the internal culture right first;  building trust with customers and the general public is only possible if first you build a culture of trust with your employees.

What do you think? What role can internal communications play in building trust in business?