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Edelman

Global Practices

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The Keys to Building Trust

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Picture this. Your spouse, boss or someone else eminently important sits you down for a serious chat. They state that in order to maintain your trusting and mutually beneficial relationship, it is most important for you to start (or stop) exhibiting some very specific behavior. You’d do it, wouldn’t you?

That’s essentially the situation we have with business trust, but businesses are not acting with the urgency many of them should. In general, we know trust in business is low and fragile. Some companies have broken trust with stakeholders; others are in denial about how fragile their trust is, and aren’t proactively shoring up for a rainy day.

Stakeholders have had that chat with us; they’ve told us what will increase their trust in enterprises all across the globe.

We know from the Edelman Trust Barometer findings, there are 16 specific attributes stakeholders want to see in order to trust companies. The 16 can most easily be understood when bundled into five clusters, in this order of priority:

Stakeholders want to see ENGAGEMENT behaviors like frequent, transparent communications and obvious care for employees and customers.  There’s great faith built on the back of dialogue and interaction.

They expect clear exhibition of INTEGRITY of business practices and responsible actions about issues. Again, transparency is key, since it’s inadvisable to go around bragging how high your integrity is.

Quality PRODUCTS AND SERVICES seem like cost-of-entry, but this is a powerful way to build trust, especially with your innovation in evidence.

Once upon a time, brands could truly differentiate themselves by addressing a greater PURPOSE than mere profit and valuation results. Purpose initiatives are more powerful than ever for bonding and setting oneself apart… but now it’s expected, if not demanded, that businesses work to protect the environment, address societal needs and impact their community.

The fundamentals of the enterprise – OPERATIONS – are an important basis for trust; these include  having highly regarded leadership, ranking among top companies and posting strong financial returns. And while you’re not likely to generate great increases in trust with these, if you fail, trust will plummet, and you’ll have much bigger issues to address.

Use these Attributes as a lens to protect your most valuable relationships. Please. Benchmark how your stakeholders rank the attributes’ importance and how they believe you’re performing on them. Incorporate your unique context: map stakeholder priorities against your business objectives and assets, to identify common ground. When you move to activate on your priorities, you’ll find that your organization will want to amplify strengths, modify and shed some behaviors, and create new programs or behaviors.

Stakeholders have told us what they want. Let’s do it. Before it’s too late.

Patty Tucker is an EVP in the Corporate practice.

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