The post-Great Recession chapter of recovery in trust has closed, and business is now less trusted than a year ago. This new reality arrives at an ill-timed moment for business. The pace of change has never been faster and innovation has become an even greater imperative for success. Yet, as demonstrated by the 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer findings, public trust in innovation is no longer implicit. Innovation on its own is not perceived as an inherent demonstration of forward progress, despite the near reverence for the term. A majority of respondents (51 percent) say the pace of development and change by business and industry in the world is too fast.
In a world of the digitally-empowered citizen, this insight is both consequential and worrisome. A campaign of resistance mounted by a discontented few can become viral overnight, without a protester leaving a desk chair. The influence of official voices is being trumped in favor of “a person like you or me.” The implications for business success are real.
Equally illuminating and concerning is perception about the impetus for innovation. Three times as many informed publics believe innovation today is motivated by greed as by making the world a better place — a reality that lies in direct contrast to the informed public’s beliefs about the potential for business today. Nearly half of informed publics cite “contributing to the greater good” as a key driver of their trust in business, while 51 percent assert business enabling them to be a more productive member of society matters in this regard. A compelling and related finding shows respondents expect more from business than operational excellence, with eight in 10 saying business can take actions that increase profits while also improving economic and social conditions.
Business is society’s best hope for meaningful and impactful innovation, but a new approach is needed. Our new era — the era of growing skepticism, rapid innovation and an empowered yet wary citizenry — gives rise to the need for Trusted Innovation.
Here is a new formula:
Trusted Innovation = [Discovery + Benefit + Integrity] Engagement
Trusted Innovation is the sum of Discovery, plus Benefit, plus Integrity, exponentially powered by Engagement.
Discovery refers to the innovation that business is uniquely positioned to advance. To Discovery, business brings an unrivaled agility and nimbleness, a multi-stakeholder and often global view, founded in specific expertise no other institution can bring.
Benefit is twofold — both personal and societal, referring to the trust that is placed in companies to address individual needs or challenges, as well as larger, macro-issues facing society.
Integrity is the sum of attributes that build trust in any company, chiefly having ethical business practices, managing risk, treating employees well and operating responsibly as a good corporate citizen.
Engagement is the multiplier factor and refers to the transparency and third-party validation that is integral to innovation. As a case in point, eight in 10 respondents say actions such as making test results publically available for review would boost trust in an industry’s ability to adopt new technology change.
To implement the formula, business must embrace a clear set of actions:
- Solve: Business must continue to apply its unparalleled perspective and skill to the world’s greatest problems. Enterprise must bring ideas and products to market that yield benefit, while ensuring the public sees the connection between new developments and societal benefit. Innovative product and service solutions should be recognized by stakeholders as more than profit-drivers.
- Behave: Fundamentally, business must conduct itself with new rigor and self-awareness. A commitment to robust relationships, transparency and consistency in reporting, active listening to stakeholders’ concerns and a willingness to modify products and services is required. Ultimately this is an action of leadership, culture and conduct.
- Engage: Business must adopt a new framework rooted in facilitating dialogue, sharing information and fostering collaboration. Realizing that new developments do not speak for themselves, enterprises must actively engage a broad range of stakeholders to facilitate greater understanding through stories that reach and touch their audiences. Business must explain benefits completely, elucidate the technology behind the innovations and communicate its ethical practices in bringing those discoveries to market. A business that does this well is one that invites partnership, encourages feedback and interaction and listens openly.
We live in an era where trust must be earned and not managed, where the microscope for transparency is constant and where business must listen and measure the interactions, intentions and sentiments of shareholders. At the same time, the need and capacity for innovation that solves and disrupts has never been greater. Business can lead. For the world to follow — indeed for citizens to help clear the path forward — trusted innovation is the way.
Ben Boyd is president of Practices, Sectors and Offerings.