Insight article

It’s a question of trust

As the furore about RBS's Stephen Hester's bonus, banks and senior executive pay reaches boiling point, news emerges that trust in CEOs has plummeted, as, according to PR Week, 'members of the public increasingly look to 'people like themselves' for credible information'. And these levels of trust are declining. By nine per cent, year-on-year, it seems.

Edelman's annual Trust Barometer tells us that only 30 per cent of UK respondents found CEOs to be believable spokespeople for their organisation. And let's not forget here the CEO – and his leadership team – of the country: the government. According to Edelman's findings in 17 of the 25 countries surveyed, government is now trusted by less than half to do what is right.

As someone with a background in PR, I know only too well that journalists would far rather talk to a CEO than a PR agency or in-house PR team. CEOs are more likely to answer tricky questions than your average PR; they're more newsworthy, and as a leader of the business a CEO is more likely to give a wider perspective and more significant insights than a more junior spokesperson would be able – or prepared – to provide. This creates a sticky situation. The very people being sought to share information about their company are those whom, apparently, we trust the least. So as employees how can we follow them with commitment? And as customers how can we buy from them with confidence?

The inference of course is that from an organisational point of view, trust lies in the lower echelons of businesses. PLU's. People like us. And if that's the case there has to be far better communication within organisations so that the 'trust carriers' are well informed, well-briefed and treated with respect (let's not forget how social media and the immediacy of sharing news has played havoc with traditional channels of communication, where the fall-out of an ill-placed, insincere or untruthful message can be immense (facebook's membership alone equates to the size of the fifth largest country in the world). Put a foot wrong and millions know about it, instantly.

And it's not just consumers who want a voice…to share their experiences and opinons online with a massive, faceless community. Employees do too. They want to be heard. They want what they say to be valued. They want to see their leaders walking the talk, not just paying lip service. Never more has a culture of collaboration, empowerment and involvement been so important. It's PLU's, see, who are at the sharp end of business; who really know 'what's going on'. And they want their say.

So is the implication to give more power to the people to act as the mouthpiece of the organisation, or to rebuild trust at the top? Well, it's both. The clever CEO will recognise that being a true and authentic role-model to his people, while listening to their views and opinions (and acting on them) is the way forward. And encouraging his leaders and teams to act and behave in the same way.

Nailia Tasseel