6 November 2017


#CBI2017 Blog: Trust in Business

How to improve trust in your business? Insight from our fringe event at #CBI2017 Annual Conference

#CBI2017 Blog: Trust in Business

Why does trust in business matter? Good outcomes on issues like Brexit and the Industrial Strategy are, in part, dependent on the reputation of business.

During the referendum, the business voice was dismissed as self-serving. If people don’t see the value business creates, business will struggle to make a full contribution to society through all its expertise, investments and ideas.

Now, business must show it understands how society is changing. The public’s attitude about who they trust, who inspires them and what they value has shifted.

To explore the factors driving public trust, and identify solutions which can help, we asked our panellists one key question: How can we enhance public trust in business?

What we heard was practical, honest advice based on personal experience and unique research.

The key message back from our panel was that trust needs to be earnt and “it always comes back to behaviour”.

The behaviour which companies exhibit day to day is critical. No amount of PR can cover up and explain away bad business practices, especially to an increasingly aware and active consumer and employee base.

The first step in building trust is to take a hard look, deep into daily business behaviour and ask, are we doing things right, are we doing enough?

Secondly, concentrations of power, whether in business, politics or elsewhere hampers trust. Where concentrations of power occur, divisions are created, between those with power and those without, and this tends to lead to a mistrust in the motives that drive the behaviour of those in power.

People today are looking for simplicity in the motives of others, including business. They want to see behaviours which reflect their own.

Our panel offered 5 tips to companies aspiring to embed trust:

  1. Treat staff like family and customers like royalty.
  2. Engage your employees in the decisions which affect them.
  3. Listen to customers and let them know you are acting fast to rectify and learn from mistakes.
  4. Give employees a say on strategy by setting common goals.
  5. A company purpose must ring true with your team and customers if it is to be believed.  

We also heard that some sectors, like financial services and major retailers, who have been in the firing line, can be afraid to lead from the front and show they have learned from past mistakes.

The panel agreed that any risk of speaking out, if done right, is likely to be outweighed by positive gains in confidence. They urged all companies to proactively set out how and why they act as a force for good, even if this draws the attention of critics.

The panel thought that today’s consumers and employees are looking for greater business leadership, and greater communication from companies.

People want to know business leaders are paying attention to their opinions and their preferences. This means business must do more to reach out.

To that end, getting the communication right is also important, it should be human, simple and clear.

The session ended with an interesting question from the audience – can a company get by, behaving badly, if their product is trusted and delivers for customers? The panel concluded, there is no quick or easy way to maintain business reputation, even with the best product in the world.

The resonant thought which concluded the session came from our youngest panellist, entrepreneur and small business owner, Peter Higgs - “Today, if you are not doing the right thing, you are out of the game before you even get going”.