We live in turbulent times, where Americans are divided (and entrenched) politically, and where distrust has grown not only in government but in media entities, amid the spread of misinformation and the misguided assertion that journalists are the “enemies of the people.”
Against that backdrop, it is fair to ask just what we can believe in. And the answer, increasingly, is business. That might sound strange, but at least two surveys support the notion that the public has more confidence in corporations than any other institution. One of those was conducted in November 2021 by Edelman Data and Intelligence, and included the views of over 36,000 respondents from 28 countries, including the U.S.
The resultant Edelman Trust Barometer determined that 61 percent of those surveyed believed in business, compared to 59 percent for non-governmental organizations (NGOs), 52 percent for government and 50 percent for media. It was the fourth year in a row business finished atop the heap.
PricewaterhouseCoopers reached a similar conclusion in a study that canvassed 500 leaders and 1,000 consumers. It showed that 63 percent of respondents trusted in business, and that trust had only been solidified during the pandemic, when vaccines were fast-tracked, small-business loans extended and social justice made a focal point. At the same time, Tim Ryan, U.S. chair and senior partner for PwC and the founder of the Trust Leadership Institute, believes there are many more strides that need to be made. As he wrote for the Harvard Business Review:
The opportunity now for business leaders is to protect the progress that has been made and to manage trust as carefully as we do our balance sheets. Leaders can achieve this by assessing what earns trust, setting matching priorities, monitoring progress, and taking quick action to admit and fix problems when they occur.
In Ryan’s estimation, the cornerstones to building trust are transparency, establishing the “why” behind big decisions and leaders showing integrity, courage and even vulnerability. He offers specific examples in his experience of these qualities, noting that when PwC went through a rebrand management was quick to communicate the reasoning behind it, not only to employees but others.
As for vulnerability, he mentions stepping up to shoulder the blame after a snafu occurred at the 2017 Academy Awards ceremony. PwC has tallied the votes for the Oscars for nearly a century, but that year a PwC partner handed actor Warren Beatty, presenter of the Best Picture award, an envelope identifying “La La Land” as the winner. In actuality, “Moonlight” took home that honor. The error was quickly discovered, and the correction made.
Ryan wrote that in the aftermath he reached out to all the affected parties, and PwC took steps to ensure that such a mistake would never occur again.
That is a sure way to reestablish trust, which flows as much from inside out as the top down of an organization. Roma McCaig, executive director of Clif Bar and Company, once spoke of a company having a “virtuous cycle,” which sees it making a positive impact as a result of its growth, and that impact leading to further growth.
And indeed, such a cycle can be constructed. Moreover, it needs to be, in trying times such as these as it can lead not only to trust but profitability and brand loyalty. None of that should ever be taken for granted.