Strategic opportunity to increase people’s trust in your organization
“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 2017 survey was conducted among 33,000 respondents in 27 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 2017 survey, conducted at the end of 2016, overall trust in the institutions of government, business, media and NGOs dropped to a new low. NGOs are the most trusted institution globally. 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:
- Listens to customer needs and feedback
- Treats employees well
- Places customers ahead of products
- Communicates frequently and honestly on the state of its business
- 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
- 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
- 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.)
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 utility, 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, previous Edelman surveys have 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.