Trust culture and organizational behavior

Every day and every interaction becomes another opportunity to showcase your company’s commitment to honesty, integrity, and justice


Kelly Maxwell, Content Marketing Specialist, OneTrust
March 9, 2022


The Great Resignation isn’t just about employees leaving low-paying jobs for more money; they’re moving on to find jobs that match their values at companies they trust. Companies with a strong corporate culture will survive this period of upheaval and change, will be better equipped to navigate any future shifts, and will benefit from better performance, higher employee retention rates, and so much more. Shifting our collective focus from profits and bottom lines, corporate culture is fast becoming a fundamental reason for employees to stay or move on. When your organization walks the walk and talks the talk, people stop and take notice.

Everyone is talking about trust. If you want to remain competitive in the marketplace, you should be too.

Request a free Ethics Training Demo today.

Making the business case for trust culture

More companies are measuring trust as a key metric for both internal and external partners, formalizing trust initiatives, and naming chief trust officers. So, what is behind this monumental shift? In the shadow of the Great Resignation, companies are taking a fine-tooth comb to their corporate culture, polishing up their policies and procedures, and building better relationships with consumers and shareholders alike.

The numbers don’t lie: 70% of customers say trusting a brand is more important now than ever before. And trust isn’t just about your external relationships. If a prospective employee has the choice between two companies, they will now, more often than not, gravitate towards the organization with a better reputation for ethical behavior. It is so much more than attracting new talent; it is about retaining current employees.

Trust allows brands to:

  • Win Brand Relationships
    • Trust (53%) is second only to price (64%)
  • Accelerate Down the Funnel
    • Nearly 1 in 3 loyal customers have a brand relationship built on the strongest trust level
  • Earn Loyalty & Attention
    • People with high brand trust (75%) will only buy products of that brand
  • Protect Against Headwinds
    • People with high brand trust (78%) are likely to recommend and defend the brand

Source: Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Brand Trust in 2020

Dismissing this movement as a side effect of the pandemic would be a mistake—after all, the Business Roundtable published its statement on stakeholder capitalism and the purpose of a corporation in 2019, months before the pandemic began. Organizations who don’t embrace trust-building will miss out on this real opportunity for competitive differentiation. Building trust is increasingly important as hybrid teams grapple with the resulting erosion of trust that comes from dispersed teams. Today, brands need to go above and beyond simply solving consumer problems and focus on how their work can inspire, educate, and enrich consumers’ and employees’ lives.

Organizational behavior and Expectation management

A culture of trust is based on much more than words. Think back to “Blackout Tuesday” in the summer of 2020 when brands were posting black squares to their social media pages. The backlash was almost immediate—consumers saw the gestures as empty when they weren’t matched by action. Consumer trust is hard-won and easily lost, placing more emphasis on your company’s actions. Gone are the days when a brand could make grand claims and never actually follow through.

So how does a company gain and keep trust among its consumers, employees, and the community in which it operates? Expectation management is a top priority when developing organizational trust; nothing breaks the trust of an employee or a consumer faster than a grand promise that never turns into action. This principle can be applied across your organization to solidify your corporate commitment to building trust. For example, managing the expectations of a whistleblower is just as important now as hearing their concerns in the first place. If a report is made with the unspoken expectation that a report will result in an official getting fired, and their expectations are unmet, that employee may never come forward again.

Reinforcing trust culture through Organizational justice 

Trust culture can’t exist in a vacuum; without the tactical steps of regular testing and refinement, the words will ring hollow. A high performer may hit their sales quota every quarter, but their exemplary performance should not insulate them from the consequences for wrongdoing. Trust culture is refined and reinforced at the intersection of employees’ willingness to speak up and management’s willingness to act.

Without the organizational justice element—that is, holding employees accountable regardless of their rank or department—your trust culture will be undermined rather than strengthened. If the process is fair and transparent, then the findings will be more trustworthy. When you go to the gym, you don’t get stronger without constant tear and repair, so think of your organizational trust culture as a muscle needing exercise and testing to improve. Put those reps in!

Leadership and Trust: Setting the tone from the top 

Becoming an emotionally intelligent manager isn’t easy. Setting the tone from the top means making every interaction, both at the micro and macro level, an opportunity for executives to demonstrate the company’s commitment to building trust. Just like representation in media matters, seeing ethical behavior in action can make it feel more accessible and even aspirational. But don’t think this means all executives need to be saints; when leaders own up to mistakes and show up as their whole selves, they actually help build trust in the workplace.

10 ways to build trust in professional relationships:

  1. Address conflicts as they come, following through for resolution
  2. Practice what you preach
  3. Strive for honesty and be direct when mistakes are made
  4. Clarify and respect boundaries
  5. Give and take, on both a short and long-term basis
  6. Assume positive intent
  7. Aim for consistency in your words and actions
  8. Crowdsource when possible, avoiding the appearance of playing favorites
  9. Give background information where possible, when making important decisions
  10. Recognize achievement and excellence

Cultivating a trust culture doesn’t need to be an overwhelming enterprise. Trust has its advantages, in the marketplace, board room, and in the office. Every day and every interaction becomes another opportunity to showcase your company’s commitment to honesty, integrity, and justice.

Request a free Ethics Training Demo today.

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