The 2017 Edelman TRUST BAROMETER findings present important tea leaves for business this year. Coupled with the fact that trust in all four institutions (business, government, NGOs and media) has declined is the reality that business now faces a global population that largely believes the “system is no longer working for me.”
What’s more, the 2017 Trust Barometer reflects a public that is eager for increased regulation on business, whose fears about the future are fueled by business’ very actions. As case in point, more than half the general population surveyed say that the pace of change in business and industry is moving too fast. Half believe globalization is taking us in the wrong direction. Sixty percent worry about losing a job due to foreign competition.
True, business is more trusted than government. Given public sentiment, however, business should recognize that if it, too, disappoints, business risks falling victim to the rising tide of dissatisfaction that has impacted government in so many parts of the world.
What is the road forward?
It begins with a recognition that in this environment, listening to and engaging employees is a fundamental step. The Trust Barometer reveals that no action is more integral to building trust than treating employees well, and employees are also the most credible spokespeople on every aspect of a company’s business. Moreover, if the majority of people around the world believes the system isn’t working, business should assume that their employees are a subset of this population. In a climate of disillusionment, remaining connected to the mood and concerns of the workforce becomes increasingly important. It is about being “with the people.”
Simultaneously, given society’s fears — especially around the pace of change — business needs to focus more on the economic and societal impact of its innovations and actions. For example, while business has done a masterful job of illustrating the benefits of technology, it hasn’t addressed these advances in all their complexity, especially the downsides. Driverless cars and trucks may mean potentially safer roads, but what is the plan for those who drive vehicles for a living? As business works to maintain trust, it needs to speak to the real fears and uncertainties in the room, partnering with government and NGOs to advance policy solutions, in tandem with embracing the disruption. Without this kind of integrated, people-focused approach, we can expect continued declines in institutional trust and further turmoil in society — neither of which are good for business.