The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer has a telling revelation around Covid-19’s impact on trust across the globe. While the crisis led to widespread erosion of trust, the report notes that business emerged as the most trusted institution vis-à-vis the government, media and NGOs.
This finding is indeed a reminder for business leaders like us of the tremendous responsibility that we carry at a time when economies are being rebuilt. As we try to do the best for our companies, clients, employees, business partners, investors and communities, trust will be the fabric that will bind everything together.
The question is, what does trust mean to different stakeholders in the post-Covid scenario?
The Multi-Faceted Dimensions Of Client Trust
Over the past 18 months, I have seen trust being experienced by our clients in a manner that has enhanced its power in multi-dimensional ways. In the initial restoration period, transparency and speed were its cornerstones. The ensuing recovery period brought in the additional traits of collaboration and consistency. Today, as we forge ahead with the spirit of co-creation with our clients, I am convinced that trust must add yet another dimension. It must ensure the right intersection of physical, technological and emotional trust.
In the physical aspect of trust, we need to assure our clients that our locations are safe and that we have built a secure ecosystem of people, processes and tools. By embedding the right digital transformational systems for efficiency and accuracy, with the right cybersecurity protocols to protect their data and transactions, we can build technological trust. Being transparent with them and acting with propriety, aligned to their business objectives and culture, will give clients emotional trust.
For example, as reported by the Financial Times, Paypal made itself more relevant to its customers during the pandemic by launching new initiatives that enabled their merchants to handle contactless payments. In fact, the company enabled the transfer of over USD 1 billion in federal loans under the US Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program.
Nurturing Employee Trust In The Age Of Hybrid Workplaces
As hybrid workplaces increasingly become the norm, building trust with employees will hinge on the responses we give to the numerous questions on their minds. “How safe can I feel in my workplace?” will be the foremost one as far as physical trust is concerned. From an emotional point of view, trust will take on different hues: “When I work remotely, will I be empowered enough to do well? How will my work be assessed and recognized? How transparent will my company be in answering questions regarding their future plans? How can I be sure that they will do everything to support me?”
While I am convinced that organizations with an empathetic people culture and open communication policies can address these aspects well, it is the technology aspect of trust that I find exciting. And here’s the reason why.
Flexibility to work from home is looked upon as a benefit, but it also brings about a diminished experience when it comes to engagement and the leverage that employees can have through physical interactions. A recent analysis showed that while remote workers were productive as individuals, they were more detached as collective teams. Thus, equipping them with innovative digital tools of learning and collaborative working will infuse them with greater trust that their employers are committed to their progress.
Building An Ecosystem Of Trust With Partners And Society
When it comes to our partners, trust hinges on the assurance we give them of our good intentions. Are we taking the same precautions to protect their organizations, especially in the absence of physical interactions? On the emotional front, they will look for understanding in meeting the challenges they too have faced during this crisis. Morrison’s, the UK’s fourth-largest supermarket chain, moved quickly during the pandemic to reclassify their “small suppliers” by bringing those with up to GBP 1 Million of business (from the existing GBP 100,000) into a scheme for providing immediate payment terms.
Covid-19 has provided an immense opportunity for businesses to display public leadership and earn the trust of the society and communities in which we do business. Building social trust is critical, especially as we move into the future, with lessons learned from a crisis that has shown that we are all in it together. For example, the coming together of business process management (BPM) industry leaders and the Indian government to liberalize guidelines for service providers and thereby create inclusive job opportunities across Tier 2 and 3 locations in India is a great symbol of collective public leadership.
The strong emergence of environment, social and governance (ESG) agendas has brought issues that are significant in our personal lives into the professional realm to create a continuum of responsible business practices. I am convinced that this will create strong bonds of societal trust that will propel nations to robust economic growth, healthier citizens and stable governments.
As business leaders, we need to balance stakeholder trust with purpose, competence and honesty. Amidst the disruption Covid-19 has unleashed, it has also given us a great opportunity to lead with trust so that organizations and communities can together thrive. The time is now to show intentional backing for trust in all the spheres where business intersects with life.