To make change happen, you need to build trust

It feels as though 2019 could be the year of ‘trust’. It just keeps coming up in conversations with clients, both existing and prospective. Why trust? Why has trust declined? Why should we care? And what can we do to rebuild eroded trust?

We’ve been looking into the topic of ‘trust’ for a little while now and it’s always interesting what you find. First, trust is generally defined as being “a person or thing in which confidence or faith is placed.’ That said, there are organisations out there that measure trust and the results aren’t great. Just two years ago, the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer revealed that trust was in crisis around the world. They said that the general population’s trust in all four key institutions: business, government, NGOs, and media, has declined broadly – a phenomenon not reported since Edelman began tracking trust among this segment in 2012.


Fast forward two years – we have read the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer Report and it was refreshing to read that trust has modestly increased. Generally, the percentage levels of trust in employers are high but there is high pressure on employers and CEOs to perform, with 58% of all employees looking to their employer to be a trustworthy source of information.  However, the percentage who say that CEOs should take the lead on change rather than waiting for government to impose it has significantly increased by 11pts to 76%. Change on things like equal pay, prejudice and discrimination, training for the jobs of tomorrow, personal data the environment, sexual harassment and fake news. 71% of employees agree it’s critically important for their CEO to respond to challenging times, industry issues, political events, national crisis, and employee-driven issues. 78% believe that how a company treats its employees is one of the best indicators of its level of trustworthiness. In other words, when your organisation invests in its employees, you are investing in trust. And this ultimately impacts on your bottom line.

We still have a long way to go. The 2019 Report indicates an urgent desire for change but there are still troubling statistics around trust, such as:

  • Fears of job loss remain high in the developed world and most are pessimistic about the future, and
  • Australians do not believe they and their families will be better off in five years’ time.

It’s not surprising that trust is considered the most important factor in business today. It’s also no surprise why it has eroded. We’re no experts on trust so we’ll speak only to our experiences on the topic. Most of our eroded trust has come about from personal experiences. Whether it’s requesting a quote for some work at home from a tradie, then not hearing from them again; or sending an inquiry through to ‘’ and not getting a reply; or buying a piece of clothing online and it falls apart after two washes; or watching our national game (cricket) crumble before our eyes because of a cheating incident; or reading the news and questioning whether it’s true or not; or seeing a revolving door of Prime Ministers and not trusting the government to lead the country; or digesting what’s been happening at the numerous Royal Commissions (into child sexual assault, banking and now, aged-care) and being horrified that the incidents reported actually happened. The list seems to go on and on. We feel as though we’re consistently disappointed, let down, ignored and not having faith or confidence in those around us to do what they said they would or what they are supposed to do.

Another interesting and surprising piece of information that we found in the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer Report (particularly the Australian section) was the finding that of the five factors driving a lack of trust (corruption, eroding of social values, globalisation, immigration and concern over the pace of change), Australians have identified eroding social values, immigration and globalisation as key drivers of their lack of trust. There are always two sides to every story but how much of this is true and how much is driven by our fears? Fear of the unknown, fear of change, fear of disruption, fear that we won’t keep up, fear of populism.

So what?

Well, we think this is a big deal. We can’t go back to a world without globalisation or immigration. But we can change our perspective. Are our social values eroding or just shifting? We reckon our grandparents hated the 50s and 60s when our parents grew up, and they in turn hated the 70s and 80s when we grew up and pushed the boundaries. As for the pace of change – it isn’t going to slow down, it’s only getting quicker. We are doing more and solving more issues than we ever have, because of the pace of change. It’s all about perspective.

There’s no quick fix to this. What we do know is that just like in a relationship, trust is earned, not given away freely. You don’t build trust because you put on a training session, sent an email to staff or launched an advertising campaign. We need to find a balance to both sides of every story, we need to connect people together, we need find ways to build trust by demonstrating trusting behaviours. This is a leader’s responsibility – to lead by example. Here’s a few other suggestions from the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer Report:

Finally, (and this will probably get more reaction than anything else we’ve written above), find ways to operate for the greater good, rather than our own self-interests. Find ways to get off the ‘binary’ decision making line of right/wrong, yes/no, black/white and work towards a third non-binary position. That’s tough we know, but it’s doable because that’s where most change happens. Oh, and it will take time, effort, consistency and above all, respect. Easy, right?

Making change happen is all about building trust – and it’s in the hands of leadership.

We’re working on different ideas, telling a different story, and getting radically different outcomes than what others usually see.