Reflections on the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer

“A Battle for Truth” and “Trust Crash in the U.S.” proclaimed last week’s 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer. Then, the usual, ridiculous hand-wringing ensued. Yet, there’s plenty of research in business strategy and ethics that points the way out of this quagmire; and it’s not the inter-personal stuff you may be familiar with. I’m talking real business practices and systems that make your organization more trustworthy and therefore, more trusted. Trust has tangible bottom-line benefits.

The need for macro-level trust interventions is urgent. Here’s what scholars Reinhardt Bachmann and Andrew Inkpen pointed out in the wake of the 2007-2008 financial crisis.

Clearly, the problem has not emerged in that trust has broken down at the micro-level, i.e. in relationships where individuals know each other face-to-face. The trust crisis is essentially due to a breakdown of macro-level trust, i.e. trust in (large) organizations. This is why we urgently need to know more about the development, repair, reach and potential of institutional-based trust. (Bachmann & Inkpen, 2011)

Here are few trust-building tips off the top of my head, inspired by my MA Research and illustrated by 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer slides.

The Edelman Trust Barometer says trust in platforms (like Facebook and blogs) is

Screen Shot 2018-01-29 at 2.22.49 PM

down but trust in journalism is up. That’s a good start. Now…


Newsrooms: Stop slashing staff and chasing clicks. Re-invest in real reporting and fact-checking.

Stop closing local news outlets. Hint: One key determinant to building trust is to provide appropriate resources (or Transaction Specific Investments).

Journalists: Quit the bandwagon journalism and rewarming celebrity stories. Find new stories. The world is full of them. For example:  Is everything ok in Haiti? What about Fukuyama? What’s happening in South Sudan? (Yes, I know you need newsrooms and budgets to do that… see above.) Stop interviewing one another and covering your endless retirement stories! Stop inserting yourselves into the story, especially if you’re lying about it (Looking at you Bryan Williams). Interview the experts on these stories: technical experts, academics, the people involved, the leaders who are responsible. That’s who your viewers trust.

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CEOs: Behave ethically (Really? I have to say that?). For example, Volkswagen, don’t fudge your emissions tests. Require your employees to behave ethically (I’m thinking banks and telcos pushing products people don’t need). Loblaws, don’t engage in price fixing and imagine a $25 gift card makes it all better.

Establish clear norms of appropriate behaviour and penalize those who transgress (#MeToo, enough said).

Communicate. What you are doing?  Why?  How does it impact your stakeholders? Communicate your values and be honest about the world in which you operate.

Show benevolence (Looking at you Tim Horton’s … cutting out paid breaks, give me a break, Mr. Grinch!)  If you partner with NGOs, be sure the power in the relationship is equal, otherwise you’re trying to co-opt them.

Invest in your people, your communities and your business partners. Where you can, cut hierarchy and monitoring in your organizations (those cost a lot) and empower people to do what you hired them to do. Establish longer-term goals so staff aren’t tempted to cut corners to meet quarterly results.

Develop joint plans and mechanisms for joint problem solving for staff, teams or partners  – whichever is appropriate – and ensure compensation rewards collaboration. Resource projects appropriately. Ensure employees can deliver on their promises and have the flexibility to show benevolence (Southwest Airlines does this so well.) Ensure you have role clarity and distributive justice within your organization (Hello BBC!).

Implement ethics as a practice  –  not as a once-a year code of conduct or a once in a while gut check, but a real practice. It can be an excellent lens for risk management – before you get into trouble – as well as a source for value creation.

Show competence. Deliver. Period. Just do what you said you would do. (This reminds me of the Phoenix pay system… what happened there? The government needs to trust its supplier and employees need to trust they will get paid properly.) Ensure your premises – physical and digital – convey trust by showing your accreditations, reviews, awards, etc.

NGOs: See CEO recommendations and use as applicable. Be transparent. Show good governance. Apologize when you mess up. Measure your results. Be transparent. Share your good news – we need it. Show benevolence not just with your clients but by collaborating with other NGOs for the greater good of the community, not the survival of your organization. (I KNOW this is a hot topic. But we need an attitude of abundance. Are you putting the community first?)

I’ll have more to say when the Canadian results come out on Valentines’ Day! For the moment, here are few Canadian results from the global release.

Screen Shot 2018-01-29 at 2.47.55 PM

Despite the fact that Canada is the most trusted country of origin, last year the country fell into the category of distrusting nations. This dubious distinction lands us exactly in line with the 25-country global total and in the neighbourhood of such bastions of democracy as Argentina and Columbia.

Oh Canada! We can do better. In fact, we must.




Source for all graphs: 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer.

Published by Dominique O'Rourke

Public Affairs professional, City Councillor, MA Leadership graduate, problem solver and lifelong learner.

5 thoughts on “Reflections on the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer

  1. Thanks Randy. I laughed out loud when I saw your message.
    I would have tackled government but, frankly, I was out of steam and these are things organizations should know. It’s not rocket science! There’s research!
    Keep fighting the good fight and leading the trust builders.

  2. Hierarchy is a difficult concept to confront, because given any organization or structure, some individuals will strive to move to the top and people’s desires and abilities are not equal.

  3. Reblogged this on Leading with Trust and commented:
    My fellow trust activist, Dominique O’Rourke, recently published her reflections on the results of the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer. I enjoyed her “straight talk” perspective and agree with her conclusions.

    There are obvious steps leaders can take to address the crisis of trust in our major institutions, but it requires strength of character to do the right thing. Often times the right choice flies in the face of the easiest or most popular path endorsed by those who tend to benefit the most from the decision being made. It’s time for leaders of all organizations to quit focusing on self-interest, stop appeasing the desires of the most powerful, and start serving the greater good of all stakeholders.

    We don’t have a crisis of trust so much as we have a crisis of untrustworthy leaders.

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