Building Trust: with Purpose

by Rhian Johns

Posted: 12 Nov 2018

The latest results from the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer make difficult reading. Trust in business fell to 43 percent and trust in Government, NGOs and media remained low.  Some of the reasons cited for the low levels of trust in business include: the differential pay that executives receive compared to average workers, the tax contribution of large companies and a lack of transparency. However, the survey also found that building trust is now viewed as the number one job for CEOs. 

Why is trust important? Ultimately if the public don't trust a business, they won't buy from them, or want to work for them or invest in them. Pressured by 24 hour news cycles and an increase in activist investors, business leaders feel they need to report on short-term results, but to regain trust, business leaders  should look beyond their traditional stakeholders - the shareholders - and communicate their purpose and the long term value they create for a much wider group of interested parties. 

As a marketer, when I hear talk about culture, trust, purpose and strategy, my ears start burning! Brand plays a central role in translating strategy into an organisation's culture, making sure that the way it thinks, feels, acts and looks all align. What is the 'brand promise' but the trust engendered in the customer that you will deliver what you say? But it's perhaps an organisation's purpose that most closely aligns with both brand and long-term value.

With the power to engage and inspire employees, generate customer loyalty and drive sustainable growth, purpose is the constant and guiding light for organisations in a rapidly changing world. Like brand, it is built on past achievements and present actions, but its greatest value is perhaps its long-term, self-sustaining nature.

For example, is the value of a tech start-up based mainly on the success of its current product range or investors' belief that it can successfully ride the next wave of technology and continue to delight customers? If you agree with me that long-term value lies in the latter, then purpose is central to its success and brand will play a key role in communicating and enabling it.

In 2017 EY joined forces with the Coalition for Inclusive Capitalism, a global not for profit organisation aimed at restoring trust in capitalism. The Coalition led the establishment of a group of leading global CEOs to work on the Embankment Project for Inclusive Capitalism, an 18 month proof of concept of our original framework. Later this month, the insights gained from this collaboration will be published, including some practical next steps.

The Edelman Trust Barometer tells us that the public expect company leaders to rebuild trust in business. And, so whilst financial and operational acumen remain important, the skills required at the senior level of an organisation are changing. Critical now is the ability to create a culture built on organisational purpose, to translate purpose into sustainable growth and to demonstrate and communicate long term value creation to a much wider group of stakeholders.

About this author

Rhian Johns leads the marketing for EY's Assurance service in the UK&I and also leads the UK Centre for Board Matters, a programme for Non-Executive Directors.


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of St Paul's Institute or St Paul's Cathedral.