Distrust in Rising and it is Costing Your Company Money


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The 2011 Edelman Trust Barometer is out and contains some distressing news for businesses in the USA and UK. There are, however, some insights on how a company can turn this situation into an opportunity.

Trust in business in the United States and United Kingdom dropped so dramatically over the past year that both are now considered “distruster” nations. Scary, they rank just above Russia at the bottom of the scale. Interestingly, the emerging economies who are coming out of the recession ahead of the USA and the UK, all rank near the top as “Truster” nations.

The lack of trust cost businesses money.

Without trust, things cost more, take more time, and exert more strain on an organization. Stakeholders will double-check every word you say before cooperating with you. They’ll make almost any task more ponderous and exhausting. (Jennifer Scott )

Before you dismiss this as an over-generalization, stop and think about your own interactions with someone you don’t trust versus someone you do. 

In his book, The Speed of Trust, Stephen Covey provides tangible evidence contrasting the burdens of low trust with the benefits of high trust relationships. Here is what Covey says about high trust.

In a company, high trust materially improves communication, collaboration, execution, innovation, strategy, engagement, partnering, and relationships with all stakeholders. In your personal life, high trust significantly improves your excitement, energy, passion, creativity, and joy in your relationships with family, friends, and community.

What company doesn’t want all those improvements? But, if you substitute “customers” for that of “your personal life” it becomes evident that trust not only impacts transaction but customer passion and desire.

The Preventive Nature of Trust

In the past few years, numerous well-known brands have had a crisis that suddenly trashed their reputation. Social media is explosive. But trust can prevent these kinds of disasters. According to this year’s Barometer, if a company is distrusted it only takes 1-2 negative stories for a person to believe them. If a company is trusted, it only takes 1-2 positive stories to achieve belief.

Of course, there are some brands and companies in the USA and UK that people trust, interestingly the terms energizing, passion, desire are use to describe them.

When trust comes up with executives, I frequently get the reaction, we stand behind our products, we are a trustworthy company. That might be so, but that is not the type of trust that is top-of-mind with customers these days. They are interested in the trustworthiness of the relationship – can I count this company to help me have better experience and better outcomes today and, to do so as I face a fast-changing and increasingly complex or confusing future.

The Opportunity

Where is the opportunity? Take actions that separate your company from the crowd – differentiate by taking actions they build trusting relationships.

How do you build trusting relationships? Build on two findings of the Barometer. First,

Trust is no longer a commodity that is acquired but rather a benefit that is bestowed, earned through action, reinforced by transparency and engagement.

My view of earning trust through action goes like this – customers are less interested in products or things and increasingly interested the experiences and outcomes the things help them achieve. If the relationship demonstrates a genuine interest helping a customer achieve better experiences and outcomes, trust increase. If it does so consistently the trust in the relationship has future value, it becomes an expectation. Once established, customers seek these relationships to help them turn the challenges of change into new experiences and opportunities. Not be forgotten, this sort of trust stimulates advocacy.

Apple, one of the trusted and energizing brands, is a good example of this sort of trust. When they came out with the iPhone people camped out overnight to get their hands on one. Yet, no one had ever seen one before and iPhones were nearly twice the going rate for a cellular phone. This leap-of-faith trust was repeated when Apple brought the iPad to market.

Who’s Credible and Who’s Not

The second finding has to do with who is credible and who isn’t. Over the past few years people-like-me and peers, even online, rose in trust. This year they took a tumble. It seems that a lesson we have learned is people-like-me don’t always have the expertise to offer up qualified opinions. Too often peer’s views are based on a limited range of experience.

This year greater believability came from proven experts starting with academics, technical experts, financial analysts and CEOs, in that order. In my opinion, this mirrors a growing desire for help in making sense out of the rapid change and unrelenting innovation that confronts us. We want help in figuring out what is meaningful and of value – to us, not someone else or some average. This takes not only insights, but also an effective way to communicate, “what can be” and, a credible relationship.

Unlike other countries, only one third of CEOs in the USA and UK were judged credible. Another opportunity for competitive differentiation for those who make the effort to be trustworthy.

John Todor
John I. Todor, Ph.D. is the Managing Partner of the MindShift Innovation, a firm that helps executives confront the volatility and complexity of the marketplace. We engage executives in a process that tackles two critical challenges: envisioning new possibilities for creating and delivering value to customers and, fostering employee engagement in the innovation and alignment of business practices to deliver on the new possibilities. Follow me on Twitter @johntodor


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