Edelman’s 2012 Trust Barometer and the Licence to Lead

Earlier this week, Edelman released the global findings from the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer – the 12th year of the firm’s annual trust and credibility survey.  Next week, we’ll unveil Canada-specific findings at our launch event at Toronto’s Windsor Arms hotel.

I’m confident that it will be a great discussion – our global CEO Richard Edelman, will host a panel of industry-leading experts, including former Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant, Heart and Stroke Foundation CEO David Sculthorpe, Globe and Mail media reporter Steve Ladurantaye and Executive Director, Schulich Executive Education Centre, Alan Middleton.  John Clinton, our Canadian CEO, will act as moderator.

Over the years, we’ve seen a lot of shifts in trust around the world – from the rising influence of NGOs, to trust as an essential line of business, to the rise of authority figures.   Yet regardless of the results, one question tends to come up each year:  why does trust matter  – and what is the true connection between trust and reputation?

Trust and reputation are not the same thing; however, they are intrinsically interrelated.  Think of it this way:  reputation is an aggregate analysis of past behaviour and a company’s conduct over time.  Trust is the expectation of future behaviour based on past performance.   In other words, reputation is what’s in the rear-view mirror, whereas trust is what people expect a company will do in the future, based on their understanding of its past.

With an understanding of this connection, there’s no doubt that companies must be vigilant to nurture and protect a positive reputation among stakeholders.  But just as important is the approach organizations take to earning and maintaining trust, and engaging stakeholders along the way as active participants and advocates.  Trust means a company gets the benefit of the doubt when things go wrong, at least for those first crucial hours. And when reputation isn’t matched with trust?  That’s when we see companies lose public support for a major business decision, struggle for forgiveness after missteps, experience declines in employee motivation – the list goes on.

In this year’s Trust Barometer, we explore how an authentic balance of reputation and trust, built upon both operational and societal performance, is the clear mandate for optimal business success.  It’s a shift that business must make from a licence to operate – to a licence to lead.   Who’s doing it well?  Starbucks (client) – is one impressive example.  What began with CEO Howard Schultz’s call to action for leadership in America has officially transformed into a community-based solution with the creation of a fund designed to stimulate US job creation.  Within two weeks of the November 1st launch, the fund had surpassed $1 million in donations.   This is a true demonstration of a company that’s a community partner, a job creator – a leader.

As Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever (client), recently stated in the Wall Street Journal: “Never has the opportunity for business to help shape a more equitable future been so great.”  We look forward to guiding our clients on this path forward.

Stay tuned for more insights from the Canadian Trust launch next week!

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