Building trust

Only 19% of Americans say they trust the federal government, according to Pew Research. The report says that the highest trust levels occured during the Cold War and just after 9/11. (Nothing like an enemy to unite us behind Uncle Sam.)

So what is trust?'s first two definitions are: on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence and 2. confident expectation of something; hope.  

The federal government has many disparate agencies with different agendas and communicators, making any trust-building effort extremely difficult. Government representatives say different things…let the refugees in, vet them better, we can't adequately vet Syrian refugees. Who do you believe – the FBI or the executive branch? 

This is an organization that can't protect its own employees' data from computer hackers.  It's hard to instill "reliance on the ability" in this environment.  

Fortunately, your company is not as big and unwieldy as the government.  You can secure your public's trust through sound public relations: saying what you're going to do–and doing it–and then communicating what you've done. Whether it's delivering high-quality health care to an injured worker promptly, shipping a sweater on time or making sure the meat you're serving is free of e. coli, you demonstrate integrity. Words are important, but they aren't enough.  Action is what counts.

Here are some suggestions for building trust in your organization.

  • Identify the organization's mission
  • Clearly communicate the mission and your plans for executing it.
  • Make sure your actions (and products and services) support the mission.
  • Align all communications around your core message
  • Do things the way you promised you would
  • Say you're sorry when things go wrong,  take responsibility, explain what you'll do to fix problems, then give the outcomes when the problem has been corrected
  • Let your audience know the good things you're doing

You should continually review your products and services and how they're delivered against your core business ideals. I've known smart companies to jettison tangential product lines that took their focus off their core businesses. ​It takes time and consistency to build trust, and just one "isolated incident" can damage it if is not handled correctly.  Acknowledge and correct problems quickly. Don't over-promise and under-deliver. 

Actions speak louder than words; do the right thing the first time so you don't endanger the public's trust or have to spend a lot of resources cleaning up your mistakes.