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How to increase people's trust in your organization

By Kim Harrison,

Consultant, Author and Principal of www.cuttingedgepr.com

"Corporate reputation and trust are a company's most important assets." This view is widely held throughout the business world. Trust and reputation are inextricably entwined. They are the sum of various characteristics that stakeholders attribute to the organization. The two concepts are intangible, but even hard-headed managers and business analysts recognize their importance to the bottom line.

Strengthening trust in your organization should be one of the key goals of your management team. Trust by customers, employees, regulators, investors and other stakeholders control the future viability of the organization.

Communicators play a key role in building corporate trust and reputation. These two concepts depend on actions and perceptions. Communicators can't control organizational actions, but we can engage in communication programs to strengthen stakeholder perceptions. And international surveys show that corporate communication needs to improve in order to strengthen trust.

Every year, Edelman PR, the world's biggest PR firm, conducts an international 20-minute online survey to measure trust in various important sectors. The Edelman Trust Barometer 2013 survey was conducted among 31,000 respondents in 26 countries.

Edelman defines trust as "trust to do the right thing," but they don't actually define the term in their survey; it seems they allow people to "self-define" it and to know intuitively what it means.

The 2013 survey, conducted at the end of 2012, confirms that overall trust in business remains low, although it has improved from the previous year in the government, business, media and NGO sectors. NGOs are the most trusted institution. Business is generally trusted more than government.

Edelman groups the components or attributes of trust into 5 clusters, which contain 16 attributes of trust building. In order of importance, these factors are:

Engagement

  • Listens to customer needs and feedback
  • Treats employees well
  • Places customers ahead of products
  • Communicates frequently and honestly on the state of its business

Integrity

  • Has ethical business practices
    Takes responsible actions to address an issue or crisis
    Has transparent and open business practices

Products and services

  • Offers high quality products or services
  • Is an innovator of new products, services or ideas

Purpose

  • Works to protect and improve the environment
  • Addresses society's needs in its everyday business
  • Creates programs that positively impact the local community
  • Partners with NGOs, government and third parties to address societal needs

Operations

  • Has highly regarded and widely admired top leadership
  • Ranks on a global list of top companies
  • Delivers consistent financial returns to investors.

(Just as an aside: it would probably be quite difficult for observers to be able answer survey questions about any company on all of these topics unless they were closely involved with it.)

Edelman's 2013 survey asked questions on the importance of these attributes against industry performance on the same factors, finding some big gaps. The biggest gaps between stated importance and performance appear to be how they are perceived to treat employees and customers. The 6 biggest gaps were:

  • Treats employees well (37%) gap
  • Places customers ahead of profits (36%)
  • Takes responsible actions to address an issue or crisis (33%)
  • Listens to customer needs and feedback (32%)
  • Has transparent and open business practices (31%)
  • Communicates honestly and frequently on the state of its business (31%)

Communication is central to all these areas. This survey feedback provides a great opportunity for communicators. You can use it to develop communication programs for your organization or client.

As Corporate Affairs Manager with a power producer, I conducted an annual reputation survey among customers. This provided valuable insights into how the organization was perceived and enabled me to emphasize some communication projects in weak areas. You could do the same with your organization. Incidentally, the Edelman survey found that most people need to hear company information 3-5 times before believing it.

You can benchmark how your stakeholders, including customers, rank the above attributes' importance and how they believe you're performing on them. Map stakeholder priorities against your business goals and objectives to identify common ground. Advise management to respond to the gaps between your organizational performance and stakeholder expectations. This will improve your organization's standing with stakeholders and will improve your standing with senior management.

About the Author

Kim Harrison is a recognized authority in the public relations field. His website, www.cuttingedgepr.com, provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on public relations techniques and management.

 

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