Re-Building Trust, From "Value" to "Values"

It is absolutely right that CEOs and boards should continue to ask themselves the topical and relevant question: How can we regain the trust of our stakeholders?

All the evidence is that society's expectations of business have changed, and businesses must respond. To start rebuilding trust, a company first needs to demonstrate that it is worthy of being trusted. The only way to do this is through behavior that authentically reflects the organization's core values at both an individual and collective level. In other words, embracing and living by the right values is the first step towards creating value in all its forms -- financial, social, ecological and more.

The need to widen the focus from "value" to "values" is a challenge that business leaders worldwide are beginning to take on board. PwC's 17th Annual CEO Survey, published during the Davos meeting, reveals that a significant number of CEOs globally continue to be worried over the lack of trust in business. And there is a high level of agreement on the importance of initiatives such as promoting a culture of ethical behavior and reducing environmental footprints.

Yet, as in previous years, we've found that awareness of the right thing to do is not always following through into concrete action. So, while business leaders have recognized the need to rebuild trust, they are still only part way along the journey towards responding effectively. Against this background, how can businesses demonstrate not only that they "get" the need for values-based behavior, but also that they are putting it into effect? The answer lies in tracking and measuring their progress and achievements against the expectations of all stakeholders.

While it may initially seem counter-intuitive, my experience shows consistently that looking beyond the profit motive and shareholder value as the primary compass for business decisions is the most effective and sustainable way to grow investor returns. To do this, companies need to identify more socially relevant reasons for existing, and then pursue those reasons visibly and consistently. Any business that says one thing and does another -- whose fine words about "ethical" values are not are reflected in their behavior -- will quickly get caught out and suffer a collapse in trust. We can all think of industries where this has happened.

To avoid this kind of value destruction, businesses must identify and articulate a corporate purpose that takes into account their total contribution to society, and aligns the interests and priorities of management, boards and shareholders with those of wider stakeholders. When an organization's purpose has been defined with a genuine commitment to the social good, and that purpose drives consistent values, behaviors and integrity from top to bottom, employees will trust and feel confident in who they are and what their organization stands for. And the public will trust the business too.