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Wednesday, Feb 21, 2024

Trusted Advisors: Leading in a Time of Distrust













The general public’s trust in the four major institutions – business, NGOs, government, and media– has taken a hit these past few years. An ongoing global pandemic, social and economic unrest, stark political divides, and the spread of disinformation, all contribute to a growing state of distrust. Our 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer found that 59% of people say that they tend to distrust major institutions until seeing evidence that something is trustworthy. The onus is now on each of the major institutions to prove their trustworthiness.

Amongst this backdrop of distrust, there is both an opportunity and a responsibility for businesses, as it remains the most trusted of the four institutions. Our research found that consumers are seven times more likely to pay a premium price for goods and services from companies they trust and six times more likely to buy from and advocate for a company they trust.

This responsibility for earning trust mostly lies in the hands of the CEO. Today’s CEOs are expected to do much more than focus on high profits and stock prices. Over the past two years, CEOs have had to steer their companies through unprecedented uncertainty and anxiety. Businesses have had to step in to fill the void where the other institutions have missed the mark in addressing societal concerns.

Stakeholder expectations of CEOs have significantly evolved:
General Public: More than 8 in 10 respondents want CEOs to be the face of change, leading on policy including jobs and the economy, wage inequity, tech and automation, global warming, and climate change – but not on politics.

Employees: 6 in 10 employees choose a workplace based on shared values and expect their CEO to take a stand on societal issues while maintaining a sense of authenticity and personability.

Investors: 64% of investors are looking to back businesses aligned with their values. CEOs, effectively the face of a business, must exhibit integrity consistent with these values.

These stakeholder expectations are no longer nice-to-haves; they are nonnegotiable. CEOs that want to lead in this new era must be prepared to take bolder steps to be deemed worthy of trust. CEOs must become savvier, adopting an executive positioning platform informed by what the organization stands for, what the CEO stands for, and what your stakeholder groups crave.

In our history of building executive positioning platforms that inspire trust, there are four common elements that we infuse into our strategy:

1. Embrace an expanded mandate and act on it: Trusted CEOs lead on issues from sustainability and systemic racism to upskilling and employee experience. Stakeholders no longer accept words without action.

2. Lead with facts, act with empathy: Trusted CEOs have the courage to provide straight talk and the courage to model vulnerability. Leaders are forthcoming with information, stand by tough decisions, and address people’s fears and frustrations with care.

3. Provide trustworthy content: Truth is treasure in this infodemic that we’re in. Trusted CEOs distinguish themselves and their companies by cutting through the “noise” and providing reliable, consistent, unbiased information.

4. Don’t go at it alone: Trusted CEOs assemble the best teams to solve a problem rather than taking a lone-wolf approach. They embrace diverse perspectives. They seek valuable partnerships with NGOs, government, and media. They establish advisory councils. They generate feedback loops. They take action together.

Businesses and CEOs that rise to the challenge of gaining trust in this era of distrust will lead the pack for talent, consumers, investors, and public confidence.

Edelman is a global communications firm that partners with businesses and organizations to evolve, promote and protect their brands and reputations.
Learn more at Edelman.com.

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