Reading this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer report, I started to reflect on what we have lived through over the past two years. A global pandemic and war in Europe are pretty severe in themselves, but let’s not forget some of the other pressing issues of our time: the climate emergency, biodiversity loss, and increasing social inequality being some of the bigger ones that loom more prominent every day. I wonder who on earth will get us out of this mess.
For most, if not all of us, fear has been an unwelcome and constant companion over the last two years: fear of losing loved ones, fear of losing livelihoods, fear of our own demise, fear for the places we love, fear for the future of the planet. In this landscape of constant uncertainty and ambiguity, fear is driving many of the behaviours we see around us.
It’s clear that trust and belief are two things we all desperately need more of right now. But instead, as the report notes, ‘we are ensnared in a vicious cycle of distrust’. As trust in government and media plummets, more and more people are placing expectations on businesses to lead the way, with companies emerging as a ‘stabilising force’, outscoring government by 53 points on competency and 26 points on ethics.
Although it is organisations that we trust the most, they are not recognising and honouring this trust by addressing the issues that keep us awake at night. With increased trust comes increased expectation, and many believe businesses are not doing enough to address societal problems. Of all respondents, 52% want companies to tackle climate change, 49% want businesses to confront economic equality, and 46% believe companies need to do more to help with workforce reskilling.
Now, more than ever before, stakeholders of all kinds are prepared to hold businesses to account. Of customers, 58% ‘will buy or advocate for brands based on their beliefs and values, and these ethical priorities are also reflected in employees and investors: 60% of employees ‘will choose a place to work based on their beliefs and values and 80% of investors ‘will invest based on their beliefs and values. We all have a crucial part to play in holding our organisations accountable for making change happen.
The organisations that prioritise trust and take responsibility for their role in confronting societal issues are the ones whose approach can be described as human-centred. Human-centred organisations are ones in which ‘both people and productivity thrive because they build from a clear moral centre and are aligned towards their highest, most human purpose’ (more on Human-centred organisations). With people and purpose at their heart, these organisations pay close attention to building and maintaining trust with their employees, customers, and other stakeholders, fostered through open communication, mutual respect, high levels of engagement, fairness, and a focus on relationship building. Human-centred organisations pursue goals in ways that strengthen human society, regenerate the natural environment, and create value for people. They value the trust that people put in them by demonstrating that business can and must be a force for good.
Businesses may not solve the world’s biggest challenges alone, but with the right human-centred approach, it can drive innovation and change in many areas of society – just look at the speed with which businesses transformed themselves in response to the pandemic. As customers, employees, and investors, we must trust our organisations and hold them accountable for adopting human-centred practices, innovating, and embracing business as a force for good.
Sam Carey is Global Lead at Impact.