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Mar 06, 2018

Approx. 4 min. read

The Jury is Out: Building Trust is CEOs No. 1 Job

The Edelman Trust Barometer for 2018 reveals us interesting data regarding the trust people place on governments, media, corporations, NGOs and on...

The Edelman Trust Barometer for 2018 reveals us interesting data regarding the trust people place on governments, media, corporations, NGOs and on other people.

From the point of view of companies and working life, the most interesting results deal with trust toward CEOs, employers, experts and peer-to-peer knowledge. CEOs and Board of Directories, spokespeople, influencers, employees, and people as individuals are interwoven in the network of trust around which lives any company culture lives and thrives.

Related: Effective Internal Communication Relies on Company Culture

This year we saw a significant shift in what Edelman describes the "ecosystem of trust", as peer-to-peer trust took a dip, whereas confidence in "experts", CEOs and employers rose.

“People’s concern about fake news and their willingness to listen to experts show that they yearn for knowledge.”

-Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman

The search for a reliable truth - the quest which Edelman beautifully describes a “yearn for knowledge” - is a logical consequence of our saturated surroundings of fake news and populist media outlets and platforms. The figure below presents the change of trust between 2017 and 2018 towards the most important components of companies - technical experts, academic experts, peers, employees, CEOs and Board of Directors.

Edelman Trust Barometer 2018 Figure

“How credible do you consider this source?”, from 2017 (red) to 2018 (blue)

The figure reveals interesting data especially concerning the decline of peer-to-peer knowledge and the trust placed upon CEOs.

Peer-to-Peer Trust Is Low: It’s the Time for the Experts to Speak

Last year 60 percent of people trusted "a person like yourself", whereas now the figure has dropped to 54 percent, an all-time-low in the 18-year run of the Trust Barometer. The bar for sharing information online is now lower than ever and anyone can post anything without having to justify their area of expertise or the credibility of their sources. Doubting and hesitating peer-to-peer trust makes sense in an environment where consumers struggle with finding out what information is real and what isn’t.

Alas, in step the experts. We are seeing a rise in trust towards expert voices: technical experts, academic experts, entrepreneurs, and analysts. Trust in academic experts is at 63 percent and trust in technical experts is at 61 percent, both rising from previous years.

From a company perspective, this is both good and bad news. The fact that people are trusting experts is thrilling news to anyone whose company’s prime product or service is built on is knowledge and expertise, especially tech companies. The bad news is the impact of low peer-to-peer trust, which may cause problems in internal knowledge sharing and in internal communications. Now that we are experiencing a declining trend to trust “people who are like you”, it is the job of the management and HR departments everywhere to step up and foster a culture of collaboration, trust and honesty, which will enable a culture of trust in peer-to-peer relationships as well. Which brings us to the next point - the rising hopes and demands towards employers and management.

Trust in CEOs and Employers Is Rising

Good news for CEOs: we are seeing a notable bump in trust metrics when it comes to people’s trust in CEOs as sources for information. Last year the share of people who considered CEOs very credible or extremely credible sources was 37 percent, and this year we saw an increase to 44 percent.

This trust works in two ways, though. While trust is granted towards CEOs, they are also expected to be in charge of building trust in their organization. So much so, that a staggering 70 percent of those surveyed felt that building trust was nothing less but the most important job of a CEO. Building trust was deemed so valuable it rose even before the argument that CEO’s the most important job is to make high-quality products and services.

Trust in employers has also risen globally - as many as 72 percent of those surveyed believe employers will “do the right thing” - that is, take action to both increase profits and improve social and economic conditions. Besides a few minor or major dips (such as Argentina with their alarming -18 percent dip in employee trust), we are looking at rising numbers of trust globally. In several countries, such as UK, Canada, Poland and Australia, trust in employers rose more than 10 percent. While people in the U.S. are experiencing a general decline of trust, their trust in employers climbed up to 79 percent - a nice 12 percent rise.

It’s All About a Corporate Culture of Trust Now

So what does this mean? CEOs and employees are trusted and they must acknowledge the importance of being trustworthy. In 2018 where fake news create confusion and peer-to-peer trust is low, it is up to the CEOs and employers to step up and respond to the trust bestowed upon them. The era of open and honest knowledge sharing is here. As people are losing trust in information channels and sources, it is more and more important experts and leaders take charge of delivering news the public knows to be reliable. At this stage, an internal knowledge hub with professional and reliable information is more necessary than ever. CEOs and managers must take responsibility in leading the change to an open and honest knowledge sharing culture.

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Written by

Mia Mäkipää

Mia Mäkipää

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