“People will do something — including change their behavior — only if it can be demonstrated that doing so is
in their own best interests as defined by their own values. This is Natural Law.”

— Marshall Goldsmith, Author, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

As Marshall Goldsmith astutely points out, we’re all wired differently and as such, our self-interests and drivers vary. Earlier in our careers, we are likely to crave elemental rewards including:

  • Money — I need a raise, stock options, a golden parachute
  • Power — I need to be the boss
  • Status — I need a larger office, bigger title, more company perks
  • Popularity — I need everyone to like me

With the passage of time and life’s experiences, we may covet rewards that tend to feed our soul:

  • I must create a lasting legacy
  • I must be an inspiring leader
  • I must build a great company
  • I must fulfill my higher purpose

While still keeping the above in mind, let’s hit the pause button for a moment as we switch gears and head down the organizational trust rabbit hole.

How is trust trending?

Organizational trust continues to tank as trust issues continue to abound. The 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer revealed that while business trust levels are the highest in 16 years among college-educated adults who fall within the top 25 percent income bracket (dubbed “the informed”), trust is below 50 percent for the general population in over 60 percent of the countries surveyed — with the barometer having barely moved since the Great Recession. The chasmic divide between the informed and general population accounts for a 20 point spread in the U.S. followed by the UK (17 points), France (16 points) and India (16 points). Not surprisingly, the general population’s trust in family, friends, people like themselves (members of the general population) and regular employees significantly exceeds their trust in CEOs and government officials. Additionally, the general public “…is more likely to trust an employee compared to the CEO for information on the treatment of employees (48 percent versus 19 percent) and information on business practices and crises (30 percent versus 20 percent).1 Rich Edelman, President and CEO of Edelman asserts, “We must go beyond the ‘Grand Illusion’ that the mass will continue to follow the elites…the democratization of information, high-profile revelations of greed and misbehavior, coupled with rising income inequality, have squashed those beliefs. The trust of the mass population can no longer be taken for granted.”

Why aren’t leaders responding to the abysmal “we don’t trust the CEO” statistics?

Ever hear of the term “illusionary superiority”? It’s defined as a cognitive bias whereby we human beings overestimate our qualities and abilities relative to others. Psychology Today claims that this bias results in the vast majority of leaders, including CEOs, not being interested in cultivating leadership trust because they’ve concluded that the low trust statistics simply don’t apply to them. It’s not a personal problem.2

But…it’s about to become very personal!

What could possibly turn the “CEO trust” tide?

Enter Marshall Goldsmith’s original assertion reworked into a question — can it be demonstrated that it’s in the CEO’s best interests to increase trust, as defined by the CEO’s own values? Perhaps one of the following trends might catch the attention plus speak to the self-interests and drivers of CEOs running trust-gone-amok organizations:

Research pressure is mounting. In one survey, more than half of the 1,322 CEOs interviewed across 77 countries are concerned about preparing their businesses today for the complex customers of tomorrow. They’re beginning to realize that high levels of trust are needed not only to drive business performance by attracting new and retaining existing customers, but to create high-trust cultures where employees want to stay with their companies, partners want to collaborate and investors want to entrust stewardship of their funding. (19th Annual Global CEO Survey, PwC, 2016) In a separate survey, 32 percent of senior executives say building trust is one of their biggest challenges, second only to expansion and top line growth over the next one to two years. (Global Consumer Executive Top of Mind Survey, KPMG, June 2015)

Customer pressure is mounting. By the year 2020, E&Y predicts that social networking will allow people, including social collectives with huge buying power, to gather in mass to scrutinize, punish, boycott and instigate cyber wars against companies and leaders who cause customer frustration and who behave in a socially irresponsible manner. (Business 2020: A Futurizon Report, EY) That’s certainly not a stretch when we consider the impact entities like Change.org are making weekly if not daily. Prime example — with 100,000 signatures in hand, Jordan Figueiredo (a solid waste specialist and Founder of UglyFruitVeg.org) and Stefanie Sacks (culinary nutritionist and What the Fork Are You Eating author), met with and convinced Whole Foods Market’s company executives to sell “less than cosmetically perfect” produce at lower prices in a world where 17.5 million households are facing hunger while food is being massively wasted. Whole Foods and Giant Eagle have since joined the UglyFruitAndVeg Campaign, with Jordan and Stefanie now setting their sights on Walmart, Kroger and the other majors.

Employee pressure is mounting. More companies like Glassdoor are breaking onto the scene as they offer anonymous reviews, company ratings, CEO ratings and their very public “best” and “worst” companies lists. Media outlets, including Bloomberg, Forbes and CNN, who published Glassdoor’s The 50 Best Places to Work (2015), are certainly taking employee ratings seriously. But employee pressures aren’t stopping there. Glassdoor culled 50 jaw-dropping HR statistics from a variety of credible sources, with the below clearly illustrating growing company tension, employee unrest and heightened worker expectations:3

  • 90% of recruiters say the market is candidate-driven in 2015, up from 54% in the second half of 2011. (Recruiter Sentiment Study 2015 2nd Half, MRI Network, 2015)
  • 51% of employees are considering a new job. (Workforce Panel, Gallup, November 2015)
  • One in three employers are concerned voluntary exits will increase. (Harris Poll for Glassdoor, February 2015)
  • 89% of Glassdoor users are either actively looking for jobs or would consider better opportunities. (Glassdoor U.S. Site Survey, January 2016)
  • The average CEO approval rating on Glassdoor is 69%. (Glassdoor Data Labs, December 2015) Note: in my world, a rating of 69% falls somewhere between a “D” and “C-“.
  • 61% of Glassdoor users report that they seek company reviews and ratings before making a decision to apply for a job. (Glassdoor U.S. Site Survey, January 2016)
  • 69% of active job seekers are likely to apply to a job if the employer actively manages its employer brand (e.g., responds to reviews, updates their profile, shares updates on the culture and work environment). (Glassdoor U.S. Site Survey, January 2016)

World pressure is mounting. In an everyone-is-watching world, brands are continuously, scrutinizingly and exponentially exposed. Here’s just a sprinkling of trust-related topics making recent headlines:

  • University of Chicago and University of Minnesota business school professors reported that “… 7 percent of financial advisors have been disciplined for misconduct ranging from putting clients in unsuitable investments to trading on client accounts without permission”, with some large, well-regarded firms in the mix. “Nearly 20 percent of financial advisers at Oppenheimer & Co., with more than 2,000 advisors counted in the study, have misconduct records…” The data was derived from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s BrokerCheck Database, covering almost 4,000 securities firms employing about 640,000 brokers. (It Just Got Even Harder to Trust Financial Advisors, Bloomberg Business, 2016)
  • Since the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, the SEC has paid 23 whistleblowers a cumulative sum of $55 million, with $37 million being doled out to 8 whistleblowers in 2015. So far the largest check issued to a single whistleblower has been $30 million. (Here’s How Much the SEC Pays Whistleblowers, Fortune, 2016)
  • The Third Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, backing the National Labor Relations Boards (NLRB), found that technology consulting company MCPc had violated an employee’s rights when they fired Jason Galanter. The senior solutions architect had complained at a lunch meeting that the company’s engineers were being overworked and that more engineers could have been hired to handle the workload if MCPc hadn’t recently hired an executive making $400,000 per year. (Court: You Can’t Be Fired for Criticizing Your Boss’ Salary, Corporate Counsel, 2016) Interesting. Apparently Jason is currently working for Glassdoor’s 2015 #1 rated “best company” Airbnb.
  • “The SEC is moving forward on rules that will help expose the gap between the pay of the CEO and the performance of the companies’ shares in the stock market. Furthermore, some mutual funds and pension funds began to better exercise their fiduciary responsibility by more frequently voting down some of the most outrageous CEO pay packages.” (The 100 Most Overpaid CEOs: Are Fund Managers Asleep at the Wheel?, AsYouSow.org, 2016)
  • “The former president of Pilot Flying J, the large U.S. operator of truck stops, and seven employees have been indicted on charges that they participated in a scheme to fraudulently withhold diesel fuel price rebates from customers…in order to boost Flying J’s profit and their own sales commissions.” (Former President of Pilot Flying J, Employees Indicted, CNBC, 2016)
  • The Department of Justice indicted the former chief executive of Chesapeake Energy Corp., Aubrey McClendon, for violating antitrust laws, claiming that he conspired to rig bids to buy oil and natural gas leases in northwest Oklahoma. Once-billionaire McClendon died in a car crash the day after his indictment, with investigators suspecting suicide. (Aubrey McClendon Indicted Tuesday, U.S. News & World Report, 2016)

The bottom line

The planet is, quite frankly, overflowing with “how to build and sustain a culture of trust” recommended articles, books, strategies, tactics, coaching, training, programs, methods and tools. The best approach is multi-tiered —  identifying the root causes across organizational levels since mixed trust-deteriorators are typically in play — then course correcting. All of that aside, until CEOs of trust-troubled small, mid and large-scale companies: 1) are compelled to discover their “true north” values; 2) commit to those values; 3) change their behaviors;  then 4) influence plus cement trust within their leaders and organizations, all of the resources available to humankind aren’t going to make a material trust dent. That’s not to say that those below the CEO get a free trust pass. In trust-challenged  organizations it’s quite possible that many of the executives and senior leaders may also be suffering from “illusionary superiority”.  Maybe that’s the reason behind the Justice Department now tracking white collar crime prosecutions in their Transactional Access Records Clearinghouse (TRAC) database.

Thought Provokers: Consider this…by the year 2020, E&Y predicts that social networking will allow people, including social collectives with huge buying power, to gather in mass to scrutinize, punish, boycott and instigate cyber wars against companies and leaders who cause customer frustration and who behave in a socially irresponsible manner. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg as more CEOs in trust-troubled companies find themselves (and their brands) fatally exposed by consumers, employees, researchers and the media. So ask yourself this question…how deep are your organization’s trust issues? Do you know with fact-based certainty and if “no”, how can you accurately gauge your customers’, employees’ and the general public’s trust in your CEO, Executives and Senior Leaders? If your organization’s or your team’s trust issues are moderately to severely deep, what can you do to either lead your organization or team to a place of trust or influence your manager so he/she takes the lead?        


1 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer Finds Global Trust Inequality is Growing, PRNewswire, 2016.
2 The Real Reason Why Most Leaders Aren’t Thinking About Trust, Psychology Today, 2015.
3 Top HR Statistics: The Latest Stats for HR & Recruiting Pros, Glassdoor, 2016.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This