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8 proven ways Canadian businesses can start building trust today

February 15, 2018

Yesterday the Edelman Trust Barometer released its Canadian results to a packed room at the Toronto Board of Trade. While an all-star panel called on Canadian business leaders to “step up” to capitalize on Canada as the most trusted country of origin globally and to reverse the erosion of trust domestically, there was little concrete direction on how to do that beyond “changing the narrative” and pinning our hopes on millennial CEOs. Edelman cdn highlights

To be fair, former minister of justice and attorney general, Hon. Peter Mackay, did point out that government, media, NGOs and business have to focus on “outcomes over optics” and Kirstine Stewart, President and Chief Revenue Officer of TribalScale, called for “systematic fundamental change.”

So if you want to start building trust today, what does that look like in a very concrete way? 

From strategy to tactics, here are 8 proven ways Canadian businesses can start building trust today:

  1. Be trustworthy. Look deeply into your operations and ask yourself these 10 ethical questions to bullet-proof your business. This is not solely the purview of millennials. These are questions from Aristotle, St.Augustine, Locke and Adam Smith. The most trusted companies have been doing this from the start. Think of Interface, Rhino Foods and many of the companies listed as Best Employers, Most Ethical Corporations, etc.
  2. Appreciate trust-building as a framework for performance, value creation and risk management. Businesses that are trusted have better results, a licence to operate, dedicated customers, less regulation, less time spent managing crises and more resilience during a crisis. Trustworthy companies attract and retain great employees. I could go on. Instead, here’s my list of  22 business benefits of trust identified in academic studies. (These don’t even cover psychological and sociological benefits.)
  3. Show benevolence. Rahul Bhardwaj, President and CEO of Institute of Corporate Directors, said “employees want to know their leaders have their interests at heart.” This is true of all stakeholders. Benevolence, or goodwill, is the key differentiating factor for trust, without it, it’s just a credible transaction. Invest in your communities. Protect the environment. Pay out pensions before investors. Offer generous bereavement leave or professional development. Go the extra mile for customers (WestJet and Southwest are great at this.) Benevolence is the antidote to the perception of self-interest. Are you aligned with your community and customers’ values?
  4. Set your employees and your partners up for success. They are your best ambassadors. Here are 12 proven and practical ways to build trust internally and with your partners. They include setting norms, communicating, formal and informal governance mechanisms and my MA in a nutshell.
  5. Prove your point and build coalitions. Make your case with facts to engage the mind and with stories to engage the heart. Media messages need empathy, information and action. Advocacy efforts should involve a coalition of supporters to show broad benefit as opposed to self-interest. As the spokesperson for a national insurance company, I never expected reporters to take me at face value. I always provided contact information for a regulator, an academic or another industry leader – a credible third-party “expert” as identified in the Trust Barometer.
  6. Embrace outcomes that are bigger than your business. The Trust Barometer shows Canadians want businesses to: “drive economic prosperity, invest in jobs, innovate, guard information quality and ensure equal opportunity.” Globally, we’re seeing that leadership with ambitious plans for electric cars set by car manufacturers, not by governments. The Co-operators Group recently announced a significant increase in mental health benefits, not because government made them but because they are acting on an important social and business issue. If you don’t believe me or the Trust Barometer respondents, the need to embrace social purpose is exactly what Blackrock Chairman and CEO, Larry Fink, is urging in his recent letter to CEOs.
  7. Tell your story across different channels. It’s never been harder to reach your audience in a meaningful way so it’s important to have a consistent message across multiple channels. First, ensure your employees are your best ambassadors – nothing beats face to face communications. Second, ensure your customers are fans and give them an opportunity to say so in online reviews. Although this year’s Trust Barometer shows that trust in “people like me” is down slightly, online reviews have been proven to drive purchasing decisions. Never erase negative reviews, rather, use them as an opportunity to recover the customer and to use the feedback to improve operations or processes. Third, ensure you’ve got the right mix of: (A) earned media (news stories in traditional media generated by press releases are traditionally seen as more credible); (B) owned media (your website and the social media accounts you control should have great usability, helpful and accurate content and a user-focus); and (C) paid advertising (just make sure your ads hit the mark, unlike the recent, costly Pepsi fiasco.)  Another form of paid placement that simultaneously allows you to build bigger outcomes is investing in partnerships and sponsorships that align with your brand and your customer’s values.
  8. Build Canada into your brand, especially if you operate globally. It’s not just the Olympics that have us waving the Maple Leaf. Global results for the Trust Barometer show companies headquartered in Canada are the most trusted in the world. Edelman Canada CEO, Lisa Kimmel, attributes this to stable regulation, a skilled workforce and our values. So let’s strengthen those norms and values, keep investing in our workforce and enforcing good regulation. Let’s also not be complacent about serious issues like food fraud, price-fixing, kick-backs, system-wide harassment, precarious work, etc.

The Edelman Trust Barometer is important because it sparks conversation from Davos to dinner tables. At the same time I’d like to see that conversation shift towards macro-solutions – actual mechanisms- that address global macro-trust problems. Canadian businesses can start that process now.

One panelist said yesterday that “Leaders have to have the courage to have these conversations in the workplace.” I just don’t understand the hesitation that exists around embracing an amazing value-creation and risk management opportunity.

Embracing trust-building is incredibly cost effective with a potentially incredible ROI for the organization and society writ large.

You can do this in your organization. It’s easy to start. Years ago, I led a series of internal town halls with staff from all levels of a national organization to identify: What can I do to build trust?; What can my department do?; and What can the company do? The results were distilled and presented to each department which integrated its top 3 take-aways for the year’s corporate plans. That focused attention on the importance of trust and sparked concrete corporate action.  It’s not a branding exercise. It’s an ongoing process.

Related posts: Reflections on the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer; 

Respond to the global trust crisis: 12 Weeks To Trust now updated


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