Author: Marie-Shireen Hadid

Authentic storytelling: Building trust in a divided world

For the last few years, the world has been running at full speed, facing rising inflation and fears of a financial crisis, climate-related disasters, geopolitical wars and tensions. Now the world is exhausted, unsure and in ‘poly-crisis’, as Ipsos Mori’s 2023 Global Trends report points out.  

Deepening divisions 

When times are tough, history has taught us that a few things tend to happen: 

  • Economic optimism and prospects decrease, as personal anxieties and fears begin to rise. We become more cautious, more risk-averse and nervous about the world around us.  
  • Nationalism and localism become increasingly attractive, as the notion of ‘global citizens’ starts to blur around the edges. We raise our barriers, look within our own plot of land more than we look around it, and start thinking more of ‘us’ and ‘them’.  
  • Our belief in those who are meant to look after us decreases: the state, our established institutions, our elected representatives.  ‘If they were doing what they were supposed to be doing, we wouldn’t be in this situation to begin with.’  

 Unsurprisingly this is the case for our current reality, as Edelman’s 2023 Trust Barometer finds. According to the report: 

  • 24 out of the 28 countries surveyed are seeing all-time lows in the number of people who think their families will be better off in five years’ time 
  • The government and the media are seen as sources of misleading information, with government leaders as the most distrusted of institutional leaders 
  • A majority of people in 15 of the 26 countries surveyed agreed that their country is more divided today than in the past.  

As we balance on the tightrope of poly-crisis, our trust safety net seems to be disappearing before our very eyes. And with it, so is the glue that brings us together and helps us plaster the cracks of our differences. Despite all of this there is one institution where trust seems to be going from strength to strength: business.  

Increased expectations of business 

According to Edelman’s 2023 Trust Barometer, business is the only area which is seen as both competent and ethical – observing a rise in ‘ethical’ for the third year in a row.  This puts businesses in an interesting position: one where they are not just expected to deliver quality products or services, but to also step into the void left by the declining trust in other institutions. Increasingly, consumers and employees are looking to the brands they know, love and follow to take a stance and get involved: to stand up for societal issues, to partner with governments and to advocate for the truth. For those who want to leave their mark on the world and create a positive difference, this represents a great opportunity to step into the limelight…provided they have a clear, authentic narrative – a story – about who they are and what they stand for. 

A narrative for trust 

When done right, the essence of a narrative lies in its ability to summarise who an organisation is: where it came from, where it’s going and the choices it’s willing to make to get there. It speaks true to the company’s purpose and values and outlines what most matters for its people. When applied right, it doesn’t just fill in gaps and help to build connections, it also builds trust. It goes beyond the words we share. It can be an incredible tool to help organisations rise to the expectations consumers and employees have set out in the Edelman Trust Barometer.  

Why? Because a business with a strong compelling narrative knows who it is. It knows what it stands for. It is better equipped to not just navigate, but also address societal challenges because it is clear on the ones which matter most. It’s probably already working on solving some of them because they’re intrinsically linked with what they ultimately want to achieve. An organisation’s narrative serves as its golden compass: it helps leaders and CEOs navigate the complexities of a polarised world by guiding their decisions and actions towards the areas which most ring true. This helps businesses not only establish a strong sense of purpose, but also to foster a sense of unity and trust, both internally and externally. 

And while we can say ‘story’ and have the sceptics amongst us think about pretty words on paper that we wheel out when we need to appease the media, I would discourage thinking about this as something which only serves brand image and public relations. Doing so would be taking lightly the true influence that a well-crafted narrative can have. A business’s story can be a powerful tool for cultivating a culture of accountability and integrity, which promotes and reinforces trust. It can be a vehicle for nurturing a shared vision and promoting collective action. It can be a unifying force in a society otherwise being torn apart by distrust and deepening divisions. By embracing transparency and clear communication, followed by the right actions, businesses and their leaders can continue to inspire trust and confidence, as they not only declare but also demonstrate a genuine commitment to  leaving the world a better place.  

So, if you are ready to step forward and pick up the gauntlet thrown by the evolving customer and employee expectations outlined in this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer report, I’d encourage you to start thinking about your own narrative as you do so.  

Do you have one? Is it authentic? Does it summarise who you are and what you stand for? And most importantly, how can you take it out of its box and use it to nurture trust and promote a shared sense of purpose in an increasingly divided world? 

Webinar: ‘Creating an environmental legacy’ with Douglas Millican – CEO of Scottish Water

When an entire nation depends on your services every day, as a leader, how do you ensure that your organisation remains resilient to any new challenge that may impact on delivery?

Scottish Water is trusted to keep Scotland supplied with clean water and take care of the country’s natural environment every minute of every day. With a proud heritage based on innovation, to ensure the organisation remains on the front foot to achieve its delivery targets and environmental ambitions, they’ve unveiled a future vision that gives its committed team of 4,000 employees more ownership over their roles.

In our ‘Stories from the C-suite’ series, we talk to leaders who we believe are expert storytellers about their approach to turning vision into reality to future-proof their business for the long term. In this episode, Douglas Millican CEO of Scottish Water for nearly 10 years joined us to explore:

  •  How the role of CEO has evolved in the last decade
  •  The ways leaders can build a legacy for our planet as well as their business
  •  The role of storytelling in aligning and galvanising employees behind achieving Scottish Water’s future vision

In the years ahead, leaders will need to continue adjusting to recent seismic societal and economic shifts by staying nimble, flexible and creatively future-proofing their organisations. This proved to be a pertinent conversation packed with key takeaways.

Enter your details to watch a recording of the webinar in full.