Building trust in an increasingly distrustful world

Building and maintaining trust with stakeholders is more critical than ever for modern businesses. From customers to investors, stakeholders across companies place utmost importance on transparency, authenticity, and ethical conduct.

The rise of social media and digital communication channels has also made it easier for stakeholders to voice their opinions and hold companies accountable for their actions. As a result, any misstep or perceived lack of integrity can quickly tarnish a company’s reputation and erode trust.

With the constant scrutiny from the public and the evolving expectations of consumers, what are the challenges in fostering trust and what strategies should leaders employ to navigate them effectively?

Building trust publicly

Building trust publicly as a brand requires authenticity, transparency, and consistent communication. It’s essential for leaders to align their actions with the company’s stated values and commitments. This involves not only promoting positive initiatives but also owning up to mistakes and addressing them openly. Additionally, engaging with stakeholders through various channels, such as social media, community events, and customer feedback mechanisms, helps to build credibility and foster trust.

In today’s digital age, trust with customers is indeed more challenging to establish and maintain. The abundance of information and the speed at which it spreads mean that one misstep can have far-reaching consequences. Customers are more discerning than ever, demanding not only quality products and services but also ethical behavior and social responsibility from the brands they support. The erosion of trust in UK companies, as highlighted by the Institute of Business Ethics, underscores the urgency for leaders to prioritize ethical conduct and transparency in their business’ operations.

Engaging with stakeholders

As organizations interact with an increasingly diverse array of stakeholders, leaders must adopt a proactive approach to engagement. This includes identifying key stakeholders, understanding their needs and concerns, and involving them in decision-making processes whenever possible. Meaningful engagement fosters trust and loyalty among stakeholders, leading to mutually beneficial relationships. The insights gained from these interactions can also inform strategic decision-making and help mitigate potential risks.

Strategic crisis planning

How leaders navigate unprecedented crises also impacts the public perception of their organizations, as seen during the pandemic. Effective crisis management is a way to ensure public trust and requires strategic planning and preparation for unexpected challenges and events. Leaders must anticipate various scenarios, assess their potential impact, and develop response plans accordingly.

Importantly, employees should be involved in these efforts, as they are often the first line of defense in crisis situations. During challenging times, maintaining employee passion and commitment is crucial for preserving trust in the brand. Leaders should prioritize open communication, employee well-being, and opportunities for growth and development. By fostering a supportive work environment and recognizing employees’ contributions, businesses can strengthen loyalty and resilience, even in the face of external scrutiny.

Reviewing purpose

Considering the rapid changes in the business environment, companies should periodically review their purpose. This ensures alignment with evolving societal expectations and helps reinforce the organization’s commitment to ethical conduct and social responsibility. The Ethics Study 2023, conducted by Principia and Interbrand and partnered with our sister company, INvolve, underscores the importance of authenticity and consistency in communicating purpose and values to stakeholders.

Public feedback can be a valuable source of insights for leaders looking to reassess their business’ purpose, providing opportunities for improvement and course correction. Leaders should approach feedback strategically, actively listening to stakeholders, acknowledging their concerns, and taking appropriate action. By demonstrating responsiveness and a willingness to address issues, businesses can enhance trust and credibility with their stakeholders.

Embedding company values

Embedding company values into everyday operations requires a concerted effort across the organization. This involves fostering a culture that promotes ethical behavior, accountability, and respect for stakeholders. Leaders can achieve this by integrating values into recruitment, training, performance evaluation, and decision-making processes. Leading by example and providing support and incentives for ethical conduct further reinforce the importance of company values, which are becoming not only a priority for stakeholders to see, but also potential new employees, as we discussed in our Talent Acquisition Breakfast event.


Looking to the future, building and maintaining trust is an ongoing journey for businesses, requiring diligence, transparency, and a genuine commitment to ethical conduct.

Leaders must continue to prioritize stakeholder engagement and authenticity, seeking input and feedback to inform decision-making and build trust. By addressing the challenges promptly and aptly, and implementing tangible strategies, leaders can strengthen company trust with their stakeholders and thrive in today’s competitive business environment.