When trust breaks, where to from here?

Corporates in South Africa (and globally) are facing a crisis of trust. In fact, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres opened the General Assembly at the end of 2018 with the observation that “our world is suffering from a bad case of ‘Trust Deficit Disorder.’”

In some respects, I imagine the South African public is feeling let down by its relationship with those in charge – the smart people we trust with our wellbeing and to keep the economy turning have been found in compromising positions and worse than that, don’t seem interested in changing their behavior.

As in any relationship when one party is found to be less than honest, and in some cases downright guilty, it blemishes all future relationships and we don’t trust in the excuses that were once taken at face value.

Justifications of ‘industry standards’ are no longer acceptable when an entire industry has lost the trust of the public. Cries of ‘regulation’, ‘Ts & Cs’ and ‘legislation’ fall on deaf ears when the public doesn’t believe that these are created in any interest other than protecting big business.

Notable industries have seen the end of businesses that 10 years ago would have been unimageable. We can only hope that those tarnished with the same brush are going to take the lead in rebuilding the trust with clients and consumers.

Building this trust by focusing on reputation takes time. But there is opportunity for industry leaders to take the bull by the horns, to promise to do better, to acknowledge shortcomings and ultimately to show the change.

If corporates don’t change their approach, put an emphasis on the value of reputation and own a new narrative, we will continue to see the South African public hold them to account – on social media where the truth doesn’t thrive, but the loudest voice can tap into the pain of the public’s broken trust and ultimately force a change that wouldn’t necessarily have been the industry’s first choice.

Clare O’Donovan; Director & Crisis Specialist at FleishmanHillard SA