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Barbara Brooks Kimmel: Recognize a low trust organization, and reap the rewards of a high trust culture

In the prior post for the FCPA Blog, three of our Trust Alliance members talked about what Barclays Bank needs to do to re-establish trust and ethics in the organization.

Not just Barclays but many organizations find themselves in trust traps because they hold on to the notion that trust and ethics are “soft skills.” So over time, trust and ethics in their organizations are overlooked or taken for granted, and eventually decline.

In fact, that’s the pattern of decline we can see across all major institutions, public and private, in every industry and segment.

To avoid falling into that pattern, leaders need to recognize the warning signs of a decline in low trust and ethics. Only by seeing the problem can they bring a solution.

Some of the warning signs of low trust and ethics include:

  • Disengaged boards with minimal diversity. Not only must the board be “on board” with the mission and vision of the organization but research, including our own points to a correlation between high trust organizations and gender diversity.
  • Frequent crises. Identifying core values, practicing and reinforcing them daily heads off many “would be” crises. Leaders who view trust as “soft” often find themselves spending the majority of their time putting out fires instead of improving their culture.
  • Short-term profit maximization at all costs including layoffs and job cuts as a first line of defense. It’s not unusual for companies like Barclays to think the bleeding can be stopped by cutting jobs and divisions, but these are simply bandages and they never cure diseases.
  • Decreasing CEO tenure and increasing compensation packages tied to quarterly earnings. Try tying CEO compensation to some point in the future (3-5 years) and suddenly the focus changes from the short to the long term.
  • Increasing regulation (and scrutiny from regulators) and larger legal and compliance departments. As we have discussed in prior posts for the FCPA Blog, trust simply can’t be regulated. It’s voluntary.

Fortunately the most forward-looking organizations have begun to see the trust trap and the long-term destruction it can do. Those same leaders also recognize the strategic advantages of a high trust culture.

Once a leader understands those advantages, he or she naturally and quickly moves to establish or re-establish a trust and ethics culture in the organization. Without doing that, there is no promise of a better future for the company and its stakeholders.

Some of the business and operational advantages of a high trust and ethics culture include:

  • Fewer crises and the ability to recover more rapidly
  • A large trust “bank account”
  • Faster decision making and improved execution
  • Higher employee engagement
  • Higher customer loyalty and retention
  • Greater innovation (high trust fuels high innovation, not the other way around)
  • Increased long-term profitability

The trust and ethics crisis at Barclays Bank that we talked about in the prior post won’t end until the organization’s leaders – beginning with the board of directors –– not only accept blame and take responsibility, but also put actionable steps in place to clean up the culture.

Will Jes Staley be the CEO who turns Barclays Bank around? Will he walk the trust he is now talking? What do you think?


Barbara Brooks Kimmel is the CEO and cofounder of Trust Across America-Trust Around the World whose mission is to help organizations build trust. Now in its sixth year, the program’s proprietary FACTS® Framework ranks and measures the trustworthiness of over 2000 U.S. public companies on five quantitative indicators of trust. She’s also the editor of the award winning TRUST INC. book series and the executive editor of TRUST! Magazine. She can be contacted at [email protected].

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1 Comment

  1. If CEO Jes Staley takes this article to the chairperson of the board and gains his commitment that the board will follow through on all this, then the trust and culture challenges can be fixed.
    That potent combo of CEO and Chairperson (or outside lead director) can do amazing things.

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