Protectionism, anti-globalization, increasing citizen dissatisfaction, the voices of populism and the erosion of trust in all areas of business and society.

As a sector, technology, enjoys the highest level of trust with 76% – but trust can be lost fast and the warning signs are clear

They are all related with a mix of diverse potential factors such as feelings of inequality, resistance to change, fear of digital technologies, an inability to keep up with digital transformation initiatives and disruptions, a feeling of not being taken into account by any given ‘power’, prejudice and the failure of organizations and governments to inform, educate and regulate in a proper and transparent way.

Trust is a complex matter. It’s something that, as an organization, you need to earn, not just by words (and the creation of perceptions through words and promises) but most of all by actions. Things people feel in their day-to-day lives. This doesn’t mean that words aren’t important, especially when they create trust through veracity, clarity and transparency.

Trust concept

The human challenge of accelerating digital transformation

As you know our world is changing fast. In fact, this website is practically all about an important dimension of that change: digital evolutions, technologies in human and business perspective, and digital transformation.

As you also know that digital transformations and evolutions are accelerating, often driven by the changing demands and behavior of people. Yet, these evolutions aren’t positive for everyone, often are not properly explained and sometimes simply happen too fast for many, while raising questions and concerns for others. The fear of artificial intelligence and of robots taking away human jobs are just two of them. And the eternal response that in the end these lost jobs will more or less be replaced by others isn’t good enough. Just go and try to explain the virtues of digitalization and automation to the thousands of families affected by another factory closing its doors.

As we once wrote, disruptive organizations succeed because they understand how to leverage technologies better to serve the goals of people. Yet, not all people have the same goals, the same understanding of the impact of technologies (and the pros and cons) or the same vision of the human – disruptive – potential. General statements about technologies such as ‘xyz technology improves the lives of people’ are not to be used just like that either. What is an improved life to begin with and who defines that?

The loss of trust as a test for debates that will dominate the future use of technology in society

All these issues deserve to be addressed. If artificial intelligence will indeed focus on augmenting human intelligence, explain and prove it. If in the long run the so-called fourth revolution, whereby we essentially get technology inside us, will make our lives better, prove it.

And if you can’t prove it yet as it’s still too new, then start by being transparent about it. Yes, people accept a lot of things they didn’t at first but there are always limits and backlashes. Today we face such a big backlash, albeit far from only as a result of technological innovation. Yet, the way we deal with it is a test of how open and receptive we can be – or not – in a not so distant future.

The pace of technological change added to the current implosion of trust.

When dissatisfaction, concerns, pain, fears, misunderstandings and prejudice aren’t heard they create distrust and fertile soil for those who do pay close attention to these growing concerns, channelling them into what we could could populist and protectionist movements. We’ve seen them happen and we’ve seen how the votes of mainly older generations have changed the face of geopolitics and future of younger generations in only a few years.

Pointing fingers and finding culprits is easy. This site is not about politics nor about judging the feelings of others, regardless of age, country or whatever other factor. We obviously have our opinions. Yet, in the end there is only one thing that matters: facts – and what you do with them.

And the facts are that trust has hit an all-time low if we look at the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer. It’s not the only piece of research that has showed a decline of trust in recent times nor is it the first sign that, among others with regards to business and digital evolutions (our main topic), distrust was poised to hit high levels (also read about what IDC sees coming from a privacy backlash perspective in the US) but it’s certainly the most exhaustive one.

So, let’s take a look at 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer for 3 very specific reasons:
  1. We’re pretty sure we’ll refer several times to the research as the crisis of trust affects and will affect many of the topics we typically tackle, from marketing and customer expectations to digital transformation and technology-enabled innovation. These topics concern your business too and it’s better to know than to ignore, whatever the reality says.
  2. As said we are not politicians but it is pretty clear that traditional top-down approaches, in business and government, whereby groups of people feel ignored, might need more revisiting than is often believed. This is certainly the case in the involvement and information/education aspects but in many organizations more will be needed.
  3. The condition for any evolution or change is that it takes into account the trust levels, feelings and concerns of stakeholders if it wants to succeed. Ignoring what better wouldn’t be ignored is the main reason for failure in any project or transformational innovation. This isn’t just the case in a broader context of trust, it’s also the case in specific areas such as digital transformation where the human dimension isn’t taken into account enough. We wrote about this several times before from many different angles such as the human element in digitalization and digital change.

Snapshots from the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer

What exactly did the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer find? Nothing less than a global implosion of trust as Edelman calls it.

Globally, trust towards business, government, media AND NGOs broadly declined in a way that’s unseen since Edelman’s first trust barometer in 2012.

A few key data from the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer press release (more in the SlideShare below):
  • 53 percent of those surveyed believe the ‘overall system’ failed them and see little fairness and hope for the future. Only 15 percent believes ‘the overall system’ works.
  • The gap in trust of the so-called ‘informed public’ versus the ‘mass population’ is wider than before. In other words: polarization.
  • Although the roots of the current implosion of trust are to be found in the Great Recession of 2008, globalization and (the pace) of technological change added to what we see happening now.
  • Trust in media is down to 43 percent as ‘mass population’ sees media as part of the ‘elite’ in a context of “mass population having taken control away from the elites” as Richard Edelman puts it. Moreover, there is also a ‘media echo chamber’ effect whereby personal beliefs are strengthened and differing points of views are shut out. As a consequence the authority and credibility of media has shifted, fake news popped up and people rely more on their peers than on media and even more on search engines than on human editors.
  • Governments overall are the least trusted (with trust levels of 41 percent) and CEO credibility decreased to an all-time low as well (37 percent).

The 2017 Trust Barometer clearly reflects a changing attitude and it goes without saying that the mentioned institutes and businesses need to take it into account.

It’s important to note that the consequences of distrust can change fast. No one can predict whether the populist movement in some regions will continue in other countries as well, for example. Yet, it’s clear that trust – once again – will need to be restored. And in general it’s far easier and faster to lose trust than to gain it, although one never knows.

Whom we trust and why

It’s also important to note that not all is as negative. People still trust other people. To be trustworthy it’s important to understand what makes them trust some more than others.

Trust in media is down to 43% as people see media as part of the elite.

Why is a CEO less trusted than an employee when it boils down to messaging around topics as diverse as innovation, financial earnings and customer relations, for instance? It’s again the distrust of the elite. It’s also about how certain members of the elite have been in the picture for various negative reasons, from fraud and corruption to manipulation and blatant lies.

Moreover, in times of uncertainty, change and fear, people don’t want to hear the traditional speak of politicians and other members of the elite anymore. They want credible information sources who speak the truth in a language that doesn’t just show a genuine understanding but also a clear and direct approach. This doesn’t mean populist speak, it means honest speak. Academic experts, for instance, are equally trusted as peers (60 percent), far more than government officials (29 percent). It most of all means transparent, authentic and human dialog with, as we all know since ages, true listening.

Finally, if you deep diver in the results of the report you’ll see differences whereby some industries, for instance, enjoy pretty high levels of trust (which absolutely shouldn’t be taken for granted as, again, trust levels can change fast when we start messing up).

In technology we trust – for now and with a lot of alarm signs

However, we wanted to focus on the digital evolution and technology perspective. So, let’s take a closer look here.

54% of people fear (the consequences of) automation, 22% fears the pace of innovation

Before we do, note that the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer research was done before massive ransomware attacks and an increase of probably state-sponsored data breaches as we saw them in 2017. And, to give a totally different example, the for many worrying “Facebook Files”, weren’t leaked yet either.

Among the fears, which Edelman found in its 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer, we among others see globalization (27 percent), eroding social values (25 percent) and the pace of innovation (22 percent).

While the latter is most related with digital transformation and technological evolutions, we need to take globalization (the role of data and technology in a globalizing context), eroding social values (have you seen the hate speech and worse on social media recently?), media (reports on cybersecurity breaches and the dangers of AI, robots and the Internet of Things to name a few) and of course businesses and governments (with their messages of automation and digitalization) into account as well.

By way of an example with regards to the perception of automation: while business is the most trusted of all four institutions Edelman tackles, at the same time 54 percent of those surveyed fear automation (think jobs).

Technological change, innovation, transformation and automation are so ubiquitous that it touches upon all other areas.

The condition for any evolution or transformation to succeed is that it takes into account the trust, feelings and concerns of all stakeholders.

The good news for the technology industry is that, according to Edelman, although many concerns of people are rooted in technology-driven disruptions, as a sector technology still enjoys the highest level of trust with 76 percent. Yet, here as well there are some warning signs.

One of the growing concerns with regards to the technology industry, according to Edelman’s Michael Stewart: “about how effectively the sector is protecting their data.” And, as said it’s not just a thing of regions where personal data protection is high on the agenda (the GDPR as an obvious example indeed); it also goes for other regions. To quote from the previously mentioned findings by IDC: “Hyper awareness and growing sensitivity toward data exposure appear to have consumers on the verge of making serious changes in their behavior”.

Michael Stewart, global vice chairman, Edelman: “Tech companies fall short in some key trust-building behaviors. People are not convinced that the tech sector is adequately transparent and authentic in how it operates, nor are they clear on how technology is contributing to the greater good”.

You can read more about trust and tech in the article by Michael Stewart here. You will be surprised by some findings such as the increased trust in the Internet of Things, despite everything that happened in 2016. But you’ll also find some data that spell trouble as long as we don’t listen to and are open for a changing attitude with regards to technological innovation and what it means in practice – with facts, ethics (which can’t be trusted to for-profit businesses alone) and a clear will to communicate instead of spin.

Solutions start by acknowledging challenges for which solutions are needed in an open way. And user trust can vanish before you realize it, also when you’re Facebook. That’s the challenge ahead of all of us.

Top image: Shutterstock – Copyright: Duncan Andison – All other images are the property of their respective mentioned owners.