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Building trust through purposeful behaviour

Where we would traditionally fuel hope and optimism for the future with confidence in our economy, social factors, and the judicial system – now we’re not sure whom we can trust.


Here’s a shocking statistic: the UK is the second-least trusting society in the world – only ahead of Russia.

Even when we faced a frightening, immediate and serious global health crisis, we didn't know who to trust. We were still trying to renegotiate trade and travel after Brexiting from a 47-year relationship with Europe, and we don’t know what statistics to believe. We seek the truth, yet we’re not sure where to find it. We have massive political and economic chasms, but we’re not sure that the people addressing us truly want to bridge those gaps or pit us against each other.

In January 2020, independent communications firm Edelman published its 20th annual Trust Barometer, an exploration of trust in business, government, NGOs and media, surveying more than 34,000 respondents across 28 countries.

It revealed that Brits believe their institutions are less competent and more unethical than the global average.

Six months later, Kantar, a global data mining and analysis firm, reported record-level lows for confidence in the economy and a continued drop in public approval of the UK government.

In June Benny Higgins, who chairs the Scottish Government’s Economic Recovery Advisory Group recognised that:

Trust must lie at the heart of a robust, resilient wellbeing economy. Since the global financial crisis, trust in many components of society has been diminished. During this crisis some have restored trust while others have eroded it further. [Trust] is the glue which binds the pillars of capital together and reinforces our sense of belonging. Our approach to economic recovery must reflect the importance of economic growth, but in a manner that builds trust."

At a time when we still have so much to recover from, trust is at an all-time low. And where we would traditionally fuel hope and optimism for the future with confidence in our economy, social factors, and the judicial system – now we’re not sure whom we can trust, believe or depend on.

Can business fill the ‘trust void’?

It’s clear that trust across society needs to be rebuilt before we can make real progress rebuilding society itself. And while we depend on our governments for leadership and assistance, many of us are looking to private enterprise to step up.

In the UK, 61% of people surveyed want the government to provide a greater social safety net in the future. 90% want CEOs to speak up on social issues (Edelman Trust barometer 2020). If we need to rebuild trust in our society, business has a huge role to play.

If reputation is based on past actions, then trust is based on our belief in future behaviour.

Political and business leaders need to raise their ethical standards, partner on big issues, and deliver tangible change in people’s lives if they are to build the trust of the British public."

Ed Willliams, President and CEO, Edelman EMEA

Edelman’s barometer report shows that trust is best built locally: 53% of consumers believe that businesses should get involved in social issues; 62% of employees would like the opportunity to shape the future of society. This gives business leaders somewhere to start. Local actions will start the momentum for global change.

And that’s the key: action.

Purpose drives change

Mere words are not enough. Consumers see through ‘purpose washing’ – boasts that are unsupported by behaviour. 56% of consumers already believe that brands are trading on social issues rather than effecting change.

I fell out of love with marketing when I saw companies use marketing and branding as a cover-up for unethical behaviour – as if they are separate things. This conflict with my own personal values led me to explore ‘purpose’ as a driver for change, and for changing my business.

I encourage all business owners to take the same journey: identify their individual strengths, passion and purpose, and design their business to allow them to do life-affirming work. This allows us to act consistently, speak authentically, start rebuilding trust and loyalty, and build brands recognised for taking a stand and making a difference.

Earning trust, and building trust-worthiness, comes when we fuse together our values with our purpose. By building upon who we are and what we stand for, we can design our businesses to be a force for good.

The truth is, purpose starts as entirely personal. It must have meaning to you. For some, their purpose might be to be a good mum. For many of us it might be – quite simply – to be kind to ourselves, others and the planet. Purpose is about making a difference in our own way – sometimes big, sometimes small – but consistently through everyday actions in life and work, in our own little space. It does not have to be about massive transformations. Bigger is not better!"

What is purpose, really? April 2020

Your purpose, and any social cause you decide to align with, comes from the core of your organisation. Beliefs, values and commitment show up in the way you treat your staff, customers and stakeholders; these have an impact that is tangible.

Purpose leads to profit

Consumers want brands to act. They expect brands to act! We know that:

In fact, enterprises that are clear on their purpose, committed to it, and able to communicate it forthrightly to clients and customers outperform their non-purpose-driven competitors."

Expressing your purpose through business, June 2020

According to the Edelman Trust Barometer 2019, two-thirds of consumers identify as belief-driven buyers and will switch / avoid / boycott brands based on societal issues.

Branding and marketing cannot solve the problem of trust-erosion. Action and behaviour can.

Which gives us the new construct we’re searching for – a way to guide business and measure performance: consistently ethical behaviour aligned to a clear purpose.

For business leaders who are clear on their purpose and actively working to fulfil it; who attract employees that share their vision, passion and commitment; and who are dedicated to ensuring their business aligns with and contributes to driving purpose forward, Edelman Trust Barometer 2020 recommends three fundamental steps that will display trust-worthiness and build trust:

  • Do the right thing. Push past vague commitment; take tangible action
  • Partner. Collaborate with other businesses and Government to solve big challenges
  • Lead. Embrace difficult change and stand firm as a model of ethical, authentic leadership.

What is your organisation doing to build and retain your customers’, your employees’ and your neighbours’ trust? What commitment to purpose have you made? And as a result, what contribution will your business make to societal change? These are tough questions.


For more support, I can help you to reconnect with your purpose and bring your employees with you to uncover societies’ issues which are most important to you. These become the very stories that unite and inspire, and upon which trust is built.

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