Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Trust and Social Responsibility


   I’ve been reading the recent research on trust completed by CASS on behalf of the CIPD and am posting a half-way review in the hope that Changeboard will include it in their HR carnival focusing on social responsibility coming out tomorrow.

The research focuses on the need for trust with a variety of different constituents including the mission of the organisations, its customers, leaders, line managers and each other (se my recent post on people like us).

The research strikes what is to me a rather naive and apologistic tone, suggesting that employees need to cut senior leaders some slack:

“The crisis in trust many organisations are facing can be repaired, but not if we continue to blame the economy and focus solely on senior leadership. In reality, we all need to recognise that we each have a stake in the future success of the organisations in which we work. That’s according to new research published by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), which found that the crisis in trust predates the economic downturn and is a function of a breakdown of five types of trust relationship within an organisation*. The report’s authors are warning that relying on any single one of these relationships will not suffice to build the climates needed to enable the economy to grow and innovate.”


So for example, we find out that when leaders started to make decisions which revealed lack of ability, integrity, predictability or benevolence it was down to the pressures of the recession (cop-out!) and that employees should avoid having unrealistic expectations and show benevolence towards senior leaders who are trying to do the right thing in the face of adversity (Chairman Mao couldn’t have said it better!!!).

The report therefore suggests that HR needs to ensure that approaches to management and leadership within an organisation do not undermine genuinely good intentions, eg by balancing its stewardship and business partner roles.

I have to admit, I’m not convinced…


Personally, I don’t think the issue is that the right intentions are being diluted by misaligned policies and practices, I think it’s our intentions which are out of kilter with what they need to be.  In particular, I think we need to start treating employees as the prime stakeholders in their organisations.  Until we do this, until we start seeing employees as people and not as chattels I don’t think trust is going to improve.

I also argued this point last week in my post on HR’s need to focus on employees, not just the business.  Or see a variety of my other posts, for example on HCL’s employees first approach.


The reason I think this is important for social responsibility is that the same argument applies to customers and other stakeholders etc.  Businesses aren’t going to restore levels of trust until they truly put customers and society, as well as their employees, at the heart of what they do.  Not just shareholders.  And particularly not just the fat cats at the top.

But it all starts with the employee.  And I liked the way that John Ainley at Aviva described this in the last edition of People Management in an article linked to one on the ICP’s trust research:

“One of the ways in which we want to distinguish Aviva is by being the company that you can trust,” he says. “We’ve all seen examples of banks putting posters up saying ‘You can trust us’ – well, that doesn’t count for much; people need to feel it. And, in order to do that, we have to have the same feeling among the people who work in the business.”


Those feelings are then supported by people focused action:

The “culture of recognition” that Ainley is attempting to instil is based on the idea that we all need to feel significant. “It’s a human need – like food or air,” he says. “If you don’t feel significant, you look to other ways of becoming so; when you see riots, or crime, it’s often people seeking to be significant. So recognition is about recognising the ‘you in you’, getting to know you as a person. If we do that for all our employees, then our belief is that we’ll have a better engaged workforce, and a better engaged workforce means better engaged customers.”

Practical examples of this approach include… Aviva’s talent management process. “In contrast to a number of other organisations who have ‘star’ talent programmes, we have a very clear statement that says ‘If you work for Aviva then you’re talented.’ Everybody in Aviva will have the same conversation about their development, so all our colleagues, wherever they are in the world, are now covered by the same process.” According to Ainley, this has resulted in annual employee engagement scores rising from 64 per cent in 2009 to 68 per cent in 2011, while recognition scores (in response to the statement, ‘At Aviva I am recognised for who I am; what I contribute matters’) have gone from 67 per cent in 2009 to 74 per cent in 2011. “Every company has a process, but the difference is the level of conversation that you have with people,” says Ainley. “We spend a lot of time encouraging our people to have authentic, honest conversations about their development.”


For me, it’s creating this sort of attitude that will lead to increased trust, and more effective social responsibility, not naively hoping employees will start cut their leaders more slack whilst their existing attitudes remain in place.

I’d be interested in your thoughts…


By the way, I’ll be hosting the HR Carnival here on Wednesday 11th April.  Potential theme, given that it’s Easter: change and renewal?  If you’ve got a blog, please send in a recent post by Monday 9th.  If you’ve not got a blog, what better time to start one?



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  1. I agree strongly with "start treating employees as the prime stakeholders in their organisations." This is key for many reasons (social responsibility trust and more).

    And, as you state the culture and trust go together. It normally wouldn't work well if an organization created a toxic culture then just decided to trust everyone. Building the right culture and building staff go together. It isn't a surprise that every couple years you hear of "rouge traders" losing some investment bank hundreds of millions. They create toxic cultures where, based on many reports, they are encouraged to fleece foolish customers why would you be surprised when the very trait you encouraged is used to fleece you if you are foolish enough to not catch them?

    This is a splashy example, but if you have a culture where people were disrespected for years and decades it isn't surprising that a few people would react to the opportunity to take advantage of the system that screwed them for years if given the opportunity.

    This just means you have to take measured steps to building the right environment as you increase trust.

  2. Great example John and I love the 'splashy' example!


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