The Connection Between Trust and Company Culture

6 min. read

What is a healthy community in a workplace, and what is the connection between a company's culture and how much people trust the organization?

For the past 22 years, the Edelman Trust Barometer has tapped into the global attitudes towards trust in the media, government, and business. In the last ten years we’ve seen a radical shift from people with academic qualifications and people in positions of power to ‘someone just like me.’

This year there’s been another big shift. Distrust is now society’s default emotion. Media and government institutions are feeding this eroding cycle of distrust through disinformation and division. One side effect of this climate of distrust is a greater expectation of business to step up and take a more active societal role. And people are making their voices heard:

  • 58 percent say they will buy or advocate for brands based on their beliefs and values
  • 60 percent will choose a place to work based on their beliefs and values
  • 64 percent will invest based on their beliefs and values

It’s time to take stock of your mission and values. “Business must now be the stabilizing force delivering tangible action and results on society’s most critical issues,” said Richard Edelman, CEO of Edelman. “Societal leadership is now a core function of business.”

How to Build a Company Culture That Increases Trust

The culture of a workplace is determined by the conditions that collectively influence the work atmosphere in an office or workplace. These can include policies, norms, and unwritten standards for behavior, values and company philosophy, structure, motivation, and communication standards — as set by executives.

To a large degree culture is set by the yardstick of the behavior of the executives of a company. The attitude towards fellow colleagues and employees by managers and executives will trickle down into the attitudes of their juniors because they lead by example. Organizations with stronger cultures outperform their competitors financially and are generally more successful over the long term.

People believe business is not doing enough to address issues such as climate change, economic inequality, workforce reskilling, and giving out trustworthy information.

If you’re not addressing these issues, see how you could put a program in place to do so. If you are already doing your bit, make sure that your stakeholders know what you’re doing. Audit your programs and see where you could improve. How effective are your CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) and DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) initiatives?

Do all your stakeholders know what results you’ve achieved in the last year?

60 percent of employees want their CEO to speak out on controversial issues they care about, and 80 percent of the general population want CEOs to be personally visible when discussing public policy with external stakeholders or work their company has done to benefit society. Once that is done, look at all the areas that affect how your stakeholders perceive your company.

Build a Stronger Sense of Community

Whereas culture is a more general articulation of a company’s approach and internal philosophies on conducting business and how working conditions are affected as a result, community is more of a description of how the group of professionals working there feel toward one another. Community is a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you will all become best friends and spend every waking minute together at social gatherings outside of the office, but it certainly speaks to the level of camaraderie within the workplace.

A great place to work has a feeling of family among the professionals working there — that’s the community we’re talking about. Of course, the company’s Culture contributes to this from the top down, including hiring practices and deciding who would be a good fit, but from there on, it’s firmly on the shoulders of the team to maintain and nurture that community.

What contributes to a healthy community in a workplace? Communication is one area that holds up a strong community. If the professionals in an office mostly keep to themselves and the Culture of an office is to keep your head down and get your work done, there obviously won’t be much of a feeling of community there. On the other hand, if colleagues are encouraged to work together and communicate openly with one another, help one another in times of challenge and share in each other’s successes — you’re well on your way to developing a lively community. Communication is the tie that binds.

Communication is the Key

Communication is one of our most fundamental skills that make working together in any group, no matter the size, either a pleasant and productive endeavor, or a complete disaster. Whether it’s the customer service representative communicating with your consumers, or it’s an executive directing those professionals who work under him or her, communication is essential — and good, effective communication even more so.

Unclear directions, wishy washy orders, barking aggressive answers or requests — these all add up to an unpleasant and unproductive environment. Whereas clear and kind communication, taking care to listen and understand what’s needed to get things done — that’s starting to sound more like a fun and productive place to work, isn’t it?

That’s not to say that things don’t ever get tense or stressful in a company. Sometimes it requires a great deal of urgency to get something done. Time can be of the essence and getting things done right the first time is absolutely a necessary skill in some positions. In some cases, lives depend on it.

But effective communication is still needed, whether you have a week to complete a task or a minute. You can still have a sense of urgency, without being unkind. In the words of Steve Wozniak from the film “Steve Jobs” — “It’s not binary. You can be decent and gifted at the same time.”

Communication has a hand in every aspect of a workplace. From the transparency of management, to clearly stated job descriptions, acknowledging when good work is done, helping a colleague when they’re having trouble, chatting around the water cooler, or even making it safe for employees to talk with their higher-ups or HR. The whole machine falls apart without good and effective communication.

This Trust Barometer report shines a light on the urgent need to examine your company beliefs, values, and policies. Also, how effectively you are at addressing the societal issues that are on people’s radar. Given the high percentage of people who are using this as a yardstick for picking a company to work for, buy from, or invest in, CSR is no longer just a public relations strategy – it needs to be a core function of business. It could have a direct impact on your bottom line.