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Edelman 2017 Trust Barometer: Most think CEOs aren’t credible

Earlier today Edelman released the findings of its 17th annual Trust Barometer, a poll of 33,000 respondents in 28 countries. This year’s results were strikingly different from their 2016 findings. In fact, trust to “do what is right” declined in all four major institutions: NGOs, Business, Media and Government.

I had the good fortune of an invitation to a pre-release webinar hosted by Edelman on January 13, enabling me to report early on the 2017 Trust Barometer findings.

As Trust Across America continues its mission to help build trust in business, the following are some of the key takeaways from the presentation:

  • Only 37 percent of respondents trust the CEO as a credible spokesperson.
  • CEO credibility dropped in all 28 markets, reflecting a global crisis of leadership.
  • 82 percent of respondents believe “Big Pharma” needs greater regulation.
  • 53 percent of respondents do not believe that financial institutions have been reined in “enough.”
  • The main opportunities for businesses to prove they are “doing no harm” include focus on bribery, executive compensation, tax havens, overcharging for products, and reducing costs by decreasing product quality.
  • The ways business can best show they are “doing more” is through their treatment of employees, producing high quality products, listening to customers, paying their fair share of taxes, and employing ethical business practices.
  • CEOs must engage in talking “with” not “at” people. They should be more spontaneous, blunt, include personal experience in dialogue, and participate in their company’s social media.
  • And finally, Edelman’s survey results reflect a fundamental shift from the old “For the people” to the new “With the people.”

What actions must big business take?

It is incumbent on Boards of Directors, CEOs and their C-Suites to:

  • Acknowledge that they individually have a problem, and collectively are responsible for the growing crisis of trust in business.
  • Recognize that trust is indeed a hard asset and a measurable currency, not an intangible to be taken for granted.
  • Find the courage and take action to elevate trust across and among all stakeholder groups.

Through its *FACTS® Framework, Trust Across America’s research focus picks up where Edelman’s findings leave off. For the past eight years we have been measuring the trust ”worthiness” or integrity of the largest 1,500 U.S. public companies.

We find that industry is not destiny and a handful of corporate leaders are already reaping the rewards of high trust. Edelman’s 2017 findings do, however, support our call for a different “way” of doing business, and perhaps that “way” will find increasing support from big business in 2017.


Barbara Brooks Kimmel is the CEO and Cofounder of Trust Across America-Trust Around the World whose mission is to help organizations build trust. She also runs the world’s largest global Trust Alliance and is the editor of the award winning TRUST INC. book series and a Managing Member at FACTS® Asset Management, a New Jersey registered investment advisor. In 2012 she was named one of “25 Women who are Changing the World” by Good Business International.

*FACTS® is a holistic unbiased barometer of corporate trustworthiness or integrity.  It identifies companies whose leadership is going beyond doing what is legal to choosing what is right in meeting all stakeholder needs.

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  1. Excellent article Barbara and wonderful to see that Trust Across America is on top of what is happening in the world of trust. I like that you have a different criteria for reporting trustworthiness and don't rely on self-reporting to determine which companies are in the top of the trusted ranking.

    Lea Brovedani

  2. It's easy to get discouraged with this kind of news, but no one said changing the world for the better would be easy. The fact that some leading CEOs have embraced trust as a business imperative is encouraging. Boards need to do so too. Old ways die slowly, and the FACTS model shows we are on the right path. Let's, indeed, turn words into action and keep the momentum building.

  3. Thank you Lea and Bob for your comments. I'm hoping this is the tipping point for more leaders to consider the role of trust as something other than a soft skill. I also want to thank Dick Cassin for his ongoing support and willingness to engage his audience in the trust discussion.

  4. As I understand it, 2017 marks the year where millennials outnumber boomers in the workforce. Perhaps, and thankfully, we will all be held to a new level of "trust". Trust in process, trust in decisions, trust in execution … stakeholder trust. Thank you for your leadership Barbara.

  5. Thanks for your tireless work at Trust Across America to mobilise action on the trust crisis in leadership. It is interesting that the incoming President ticks a lot of the boxes in the style, if not the substance, of his communication – 'CEOs must engage in talking "with" not "at" people. They should be more spontaneous, blunt, include personal experience in dialogue, and participate in their company's social media'

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