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Jan 23, 2020 Sarah Goodall

Organisations Need To Be Ethical, Not Just Competent



It’s that time of year again when I’m sat, rather sadly, refreshing my screen to see when the latest Edelman Trust Barometer is published and lucky for me, it was published this week!

If you’re not familiar, the annual study is commissioned to evaluate the level of trust across institutions worldwide from government to media to NGOs and business. It’s been going for 20 years so they have a good basis for trend identification and analysis. 


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I enjoy reading the business-related results including the dynamics around how employees trust (or don’t trust as the case may be) their employer and how buyers trust businesses in the digital age.

So, here’s my summary of the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer and in a nutshell, it’s about transparency and trust – more so than ever before. 

In fact, Edelman 2020 Trust Barometer respondents voiced that customers and employees are over five times more important to a company’s long-term success than shareholders. 

As Edelman themselves conclude, competence is no longer enough. Organisations now need to be competent and ethical and, in their assessment, they found - spoiler alert - no institution currently fits the bill.


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At Edelman, we are now probing deeper into “what is right,” measuring purpose, vision, honesty and fairness as the dimensions of ethical behaviour. We have proved the undeniable importance of these dimensions for business through our Edelman Trust Management framework. After tracking trust in 40 global companies over the past year, we learned that ethical attributes drive 76% of the trust capital of organizations, while competence drives 24%.


From what I can conclude, when organisations focus on meaningful and purposeful goals beyond revenue and profit, employees are more engaged and productive.  Not only that, customers will choose to work with them.

In our 2019 “In Brands We Trust?” study found that nearly two-thirds of consumers buy based on their beliefs and 81% agree that “a brand I can trust” is one of their top reasons for purchase.


As millennials and Gen Z enter the workforce and in positions of decision making, these attributes become even more important. This generation wants to work with brands that are truthful and operate with integrity. This is no longer a choice for business.  It’s essential.  


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The Opportunity For Businesses To Transform

However, businesses appear to have the greatest opportunity to change the landscape – it has the greatest freedom to act. This is where it gets interesting because ethical cultures don’t just happen overnight. It takes a leadership team that will listen, a platform where employees can be heard and process that can begin to evolve the culture. It takes change management.

So, when you look at how employees feel today, it’s quite shocking to see that many employees worry about their future. 83% worry about losing their job to the gig economy, automation or their lack of training/skills – just to name a few. 


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Technology is changing at such a pace that employees are struggling to adapt. As markets are disrupted by technology first challengers, businesses that have failed to adapt quickly enough will close. 


Engaging Employees In The Process Of Trust Transformation

But if employees hold the key to transforming cultures and creating ethical businesses, how do they consider themselves heard today?


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There is no doubt that employees expect to be heard. Whether leaders choose to listen is another matter altogether!

73% of employees want to have the opportunity to shape the future of society and 73% of employees want to be included in planning. 

It feels to me that whilst employees are worried about their future role in the workplace, there is a willingness and wanting to be more part of how the business grows. That said, employees are less trusting of their employers when it comes to investing in them.

An overwhelming number of respondents believe that it is the duty of business to pay decent wages (83%) and provide retraining for workers whose jobs are threatened by automation (79%).  Yet less than a third of people trust that business will do these. 


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Activating Employee Voices Is The Key To Trust Transformation

Finally, the chart I love the most is the one that shows who people most trust during their decision-making process. 

I’m not sure whether businesses truly believe the influential power they have working within their organisations but for several years now, the following sources have shown to be very/extremely credible:

  • Company technical expert
  • Academic expert
  • A person like yourself
  • Regular employee

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If organisations are serious about operating ethically as well as competently, it’s time to replace the office walls with glass panels. 

Show your customers how you operate, who your expert influencers are and how you work to delight customers. Give people access what makes your organisation so successful – your people!

Build a program that enables your employees to confidently and safely talk about what they do in the context of their organisation. Help them tell stories. Encourage them to build connections inside and outside of your organisation.

To me, this is the first step towards excepting a modern way of doing business. A way that is open, honest, transparent and just good practice. But more than that, businesses will thrive in this way.

They’ll attract the talent, customers and partnerships that best-fit their working model.  They will create an ever increasing pipeline of relationships that will either turn into referrals or partnerships. 

I believe that trust is what will differentiate brands in 2020 and beyond. Best start your transformation now. 


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Published by Sarah Goodall January 23, 2020
Sarah Goodall