Building trust in business

17 May 2018

9. Abbie ReynoldsThe media has a made a lot of the 2018 Acumen Edelman Trust Barometer, which reported on the low levels of the public’s trust in New Zealand’s major institutions of government, non-government institutions (NGOs), business and media.

The Barometer shows that business trust has been low and static at 47 per cent in the past two years. While that is higher than for the media (31 per cent trust in it), it is lower than for government (51 per cent) and NGOs (48 per cent).

But it’s not all bad. There were several findings in this report offering business insight and hope.

Broadening your business mandate

Most (60 per cent) of the survey’s respondents said they want CEOs to take the lead on change, rather than wait for government to impose it. That means they want business to broaden its mandate and take action on societal and environmental issues, as well as economic issues.

And that is great news, because so many Kiwi businesses and business leaders are already out there doing great things.

Take for example, Toyota New Zealand and its work with Work Inspiration. The programme offers high school students work experience and the chance to gain a deeper understanding of the world of work and potential career pathways. International research has shown young people are five times more likely to get work, if they have four or more interactions with employers while at high school.

Another great example is Vector’s OnGas plant in Papakura, where staff are hired from the local community, paid a living wage, provided with breakfast and lunch, and have access to extra support through policies, such as a domestic violence policy that recognises what happens outside work can also impact performance and wellbeing at work.

And Ngāi Tahu Farming has partnered with Lincoln University to develop technologies and practices that minimise water use and nutrient loss, establish bio diversity and use a variety of plantain feed that reduces nitrogen leaching.

Aurecon and Silver Fern Farms have developed an innovative way to reduce emissions and waste, with the ‘Bubbling Fluidised Bed Boiler’ that burns waste sludge mixed with waste wood, reducing the need to use fossil fuels.

Tips to build trust

But here’s the crux. It is often difficult to get recognition for good sustainability initiatives or projects.

A recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) article highlights this and suggests businesses fail to get their stories out there in-part because they use one-size-fits-all communications. After all, the investor, customer, employee or corporate watchdog will receive and respond to a sustainability report or slick marketing campaign totally differently.

In summary, the HBR article suggests each audience reacts to communication in the following ways:

Corporate watchdogs such as NGOs, regulators or social media activists will take the time to read and understand annual reports and data sets.

Consider joint projects or stakeholder engagement initiatives with them, which build constructive working relationships and address environmental or social issues.

Employees want to find meaning in their work because it gives them purpose and pride.

Talk about your company’s values and purpose, and show staff how their work contributes to it.

Customers look out for organisations that take a lead on important issues. Many take notice when companies like Countdown, The Warehouse and SKYCITY introduce family leave policies to support staff affected by domestic violence.

Investors like to read a clear story in an annual report or CEO letter, which shows how sustainability delivers competitive advantage, reduces costs and drives growth.

Initiatives or projects in this space often deliver the best results and the greatest community impact.

The high level of executive and managerial engagement in company projects, and our own Sustainable Business Council initiatives, shows just how eager Kiwi businesses are to do the right thing. If their work goes well and is communicated right, I’m sure trust in business will grow.


Abbie Reynolds | Executive Director | Sustainable Business Council

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