Trust, what is it and why does it matter
In this current political climate where words like honesty and integrity are only spoken about in a negative context, we have seen an erosion of public trust in our democratic institutions and inglorious leaders. I’m no expert, but in this blog, I’ll attempt to briefly outline what’s gone wrong in this political circus and what lessons small businesses can learn from these failings.
Loss of trust is not without reason, as it is fuelled by a series of breaches: lack of integrity, basic honesty, transparency and failure to deliver on promises.
In his book The Speed of Trust, Stephen Covey describes trust in basic terms: “Simply put, trust means confidence. The opposite of trust – distrust – is suspicion. When you trust people, you have confidence in them – in their integrity and their abilities. When you distrust people, you are suspicious of them – of their integrity, their agenda, their capabilities, or their track record. It’s that simple.”
Handling of scandals and misconduct
Scandals and misconduct, unfortunately, do happen in government, but it is how they are handled that determines the level of trust citizens have in their leaders. In recent years, the UK government’s handling of such incidents has raised eyebrows and created doubts about their integrity. Instances of a deliberate slow response, lack of accountability, and attempts to sweep misconduct under the bulging rug have only further eroded trust in the government’s ability to hold itself to a high standard and to account.
Misleading the public
Transparency is at the core in maintaining trust, but the UK government stands accused of deliberately, misleading the public on many occasions, whether it’s providing incomplete information, cherry-picking data to support a specific narrative, or making promises that are later broken. Sound familiar? When people feel they cannot rely on their government to be honest and forthright and find difficulty in trusting information it naturally breeds suspicion.
Opacity in decision-making processes
When decisions that affect the public are made behind closed doors, without clear explanations or opportunities for input, it creates a perception of an inaccessible and unaccountable government. Guess what… trust is a victim once again.
Lack of accountability
In recent years, there have been instances where the government has been perceived as avoiding or evading accountability. Whether it’s a failure to take responsibility for mistakes or lack of consequences of overt wrongdoing, or a perceived culture of class impunity (all of above), these factors all contribute to the decline in public trust.
Broken pledges and unfulfilled commitments
A government earns trust through its ability to deliver on promises, but often pledges made during election campaigns for example, have little grounding in reality and remain unfulfilled, leaving the public justifiably frustrated and disillusioned.
In addition to broken promises, there have been instances of repeated policy or project failures that further erode trust. Whether it’s the botched implementation of major initiatives or the persistence of problems that were promised to be resolved, With an accumulated pattern of inefficiency and ineffectiveness, is it any wonder that these failures undermine the government’s credibility.
- 2 in 5 people in England (41%) now say that democracy is not working. People see the biggest current threat to our democracy as a loss of trust (32%) followed by corruption (16%).
- 76% of the public in England don’t trust MPs to take decisions that will improve their lives, while 73% don’t trust the UK Government on the same measure.
- 46% of the public in England selected honesty and integrity as important values for the government to exemplify. Yet 61% do not believe that the current UK Government reflects these values at all, while 23% believe they ‘slightly’ reflect these values.
Source: Carnegie UK Trust
So what’s the harm? The loss of trust in the government has had a profound impact on our democratic institutions, such as the erosion of checks and balances and undermining of democratic principles. It has also resulted in a growing skepticism among the public, loss of faith in political leaders and disengagement from the political process. Not something to be taken lightly.
This far from comprehensive charge sheet illustrates the implications of a crew of incompetent self serving office bearers navigating with a misguided moral compass and clearly a distinct lack of ethics. Moving away from Westminster and into the business realm we find parallels in that clients and consumers are rightly demanding greater transparency, accountability and good honest working practice from the businesses they engage with.
Historically, tradespeople appear to be one of the worst examples of poor business practice. However let’s not get complacent, they are far from alone! A study by Which? Magazine revealed that 38% of homeowners lack trust in tradespeople, with builders and roofers scoring the worst!
“Three weeks in a row we make arrangements, agree a time, he doesn’t show then silence on the phone”
“Why can’t people just do the thing they say they are going to do?”
“Is there any other industry where it is so common for people to be so unreliable and not have basic business norms like a good website, telephone answering, published references, guarantees etc.?”
If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell six friends. If you make customers unhappy on the internet, they can each tell 6,000
Jeff Bezos, President of Amazon
The importance and benefits of good practice and ethical trading cannot be overlooked. In the design industry, for example, their business role involves creating visuals and experiences that shape consumer perceptions and drive brand success. However, as consumers become increasingly conscious of the impact of their purchasing decisions, design agencies must also prioritise ethical trading practices. Apart from fulfilling societal expectations, ethical trading brings tangible business benefits. By aligning their practices with ethical standards, businesses can build trust with clients, enhance their reputation, and attract and retain loyal socially-conscious customers.
So how do we proceed? Here’s a few nuggets that highlight good working practice in stark contrast to the failings of our elected members.
Be Accountable. We are human, mistakes happen. Hold up your hand and put it right.
Be Transparent in everything you do. Maintain good documentation and administrative systems.
Delivering on your Promises. This is key to the perception of your brand and how you will be judged.
Project Success. Demonstrating your competence is a given, can you add additional value over and above?
Project Failure. In the rare occasion that it doesn’t go to plan, can you learn from it and put it right?
Build Trust. Clients are more likely to engage and form long-term partnerships with businesses who are aligned with their brand values and share their ethical vision.
Clear Communication. Outline your decision-making processes and project strategy early on and seek the client’s or customer’s engagement and endorsement. Provide regular project updates.
Selecting Suppliers with Integrity. Before partnering with suppliers, businesses should evaluate their social and environmental practices. This includes assessing factors such as fair labor practices and sustainability initiatives.
Value your people. Encourage personal development and respect their workers’s rights. Promote equal opportunities and diversity in the workplace. Create a culture of respect and appreciation, rewarding them with fair wages and last but not least, provide a safe environment.
It’s clear that embracing good working and ethical trading practices is not just a moral choice; it also brings numerous business benefits. When businesses actively and honestly pursue ethical initiatives, they create positive associations with their brand that can build trust and enhance their reputation, increase word-of-mouth referrals and attract customers and clients who value sustainability and social responsibility. Now do we think our elected members could absorb any of these pointers?
Truth and honesty, oh, that’s what we need to hold on to
The good stuff we believe in
Before we land up loose and sad and free
Before we find out that it’s gone
We could pull it back together, truth and honesty
Aretha Franklin, ‘Truth and Honesty’