Through four years of Building Public Trust debates with leaders of public, private and not-for-profit organisations, a recurrent theme has been the pivotal role they themselves can play in helping to build public trust and forge a new settlement with wider society.
Part of this is for leaders to stand up publicly and talk about the benefits that business delivers: jobs, growth, investment in education and skills, and much more. Another element is to engage in wide-scale public debate to help build mutual trust and understanding.
In 2015 our debates focused on identifying the practical actions that businesses can take to build trust in society. Twelve key themes came to the fore.
Show that your organisation is trustworthy, by providing evidence that you’re meeting people’s expectations and being upfront when things go wrong. A business can only earn trust through authentic and visible behaviour that’s genuinely in line with its purpose and values – assuming those values take account of the interests of wider society.
Apply and report metrics to demonstrate a business deserves to be trusted. Ethical values and profitability are achievable at the same time – and the link between them is tracking and reporting the right metrics around behaviour.
Make smart and honest use of social media for communication – especially when things go wrong. Social media is where customers and employees are now exchanging views – businesses must be there too.
Trust your employees – and empower them to do the right thing off their own bat. Only if employees feel trusted by the organisation they work for will they inspire trust among others, especially customers.
Set the right example – not just tone – from the top, in both words and behaviour. Embedding a culture of doing the right thing is a core responsibility of leaders. This means setting the right ‘tone from the top’ through words and actions, and accepting personal responsibility for delivering the right culture in their organisation.
Ensure the tone and example from the top are mirrored in the middle – shaping everyday decisions and interactions at all levels with all stakeholders.
Stand up publicly for what they believe in. To build trust, leaders should make their voice heard on issues – including social problems – they feel strongly about.
Take personal responsibility, supported by a healthy culture of constructive challenge. Being ready to take personal responsibility for actions and impacts is vital to trustworthiness – and this applies not just to leaders, but at all levels.
Pay a ‘fair’ amount of tax. Tax contributions, especially by international companies, are now a significant item on the trust agenda – and have become both a moral and competitive issue for businesses. To demonstrate they are paying their fair share, businesses need to communicate openly, explain their approach to tax to a broader range of stakeholders and work with policy makers to reach tax reform solutions that are workable.
Use regulation as a baseline – and go beyond it. Just complying with regulation is not a basis for earning trust. Business must be seen to go further.
Professional advisors have a role in helping to build trust - by safeguarding their clients' trustworthiness as well as their own. Advisers should make more use of their ability to influence companies’ behaviour to help shape how they’re seen in wider society.
Help the next generation develop courage as a core competency. Young people are joining the workplace with very different attitudes and expectations, and are changing the way organisations behave. Businesses must embrace and encourage this.