Wednesday 27 August 2014

Whom Do We Trust?

Whom Do We Trust?

Do you want the good news or the bad news first? The good news is that some countries do have even less trust in their governments than we do – the Germans, the French and the Spanish, for example. The bad news is that the Brits are becoming almost as sceptical, with only 29 per cent of the general public saying they still trust the government.

The 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer has confirmed what you may have suspected. We have seen a huge chasm open up between the public’s expectations of government and what they think it actually delivers. Take managing our finances, which is considered the most important task of government. There’s a gap of almost 60% between expectations and performance. The same picture is true for the top handful of tasks the public expect government to perform, such as listening to citizens, acting transparently, creating jobs and opportunities, and building communities.

The public simply don’t believe politicians will tell the truth, and the vast majority think the country is on the wrong track. Lower levels of trust in government were fuelled by perceived broken promises, the response to the economic crisis and the growing divide between rich and poor. In addition, given the radioactive half-life of the MP expenses scandal, and seen through the prism of phone hacking, the relationship between politicians and the press may also be driving these numbers down.

But it’s not just a story about trust in government. Trust in business remains in the doldrums, and trust in CEOs has slipped further, with people trusting almost every other type of spokesperson higher than the boss. The CEO is now one of the most distrusted authority figures – with an almost 10 point decline. Inevitably perceptions around big pay are driving this. We’re in a place, fair or not, where the title CEO is inextricably linked to unjustified high levels of pay.

The challenge for business is that to become more trusted – to move from simply protecting its “licence to operate” to establishing a “licence to lead” – it needs to move beyond operational excellence to addressing society’s priorities. And that is one of the key findings this year – large numbers of the public expect business to do more than just make money and create jobs. They expect business to improve the world it operates in for the better, act ethically, treat employees well, and help local communities. This is the difference between responsible, respected companies and distrusted ones. This is the trust fulcrum for business.

The picture for media companies is just as complex. While we saw a rise of 15% in trust in media companies this year, with more that 60% of the public distrusting it’s hardly time to break out the champagne. If we go below the top-line figures, you see that most of the increase is driven by trust in credible “upmarket” media – TV, broadsheets and radio. Perhaps this is no surprise given our reliance on TV correspondents to explain in plain English the complex world we inhabit.

It’s clear that there is a separation taking place in the media. Like two continents splitting, an ocean is opening up between trusted media and distrusted media – between serious news and entertainment. Despite selling millions of copies, only 14% trust the tabloids to tell the truth. While broadsheets command around 50% trust, TV and radio is almost 60%. For media companies it may be time to decide whether you’re in the entertainment business, or whether you’re in the serious news business.
Like the breakdown in party allegiances and the emergence of massive volatility in the electorate, trust and perceptions of trust shift quickly. The one message that is loud and clear, and pertinent to all institutions – act with integrity, in an open and honest way, and deliver results, and you will be trusted.

Ed Williams, UK CEO, @EdWilliamsUK

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