Bas Burger, Chief Executive Officer, Global Services, BT Group
The erosion of trust has been a key theme of the last decade, and one that all business leaders must engage with in the years ahead.
The continuous change we’re seeing and the rapid pace at which it’s taking place can be unsettling. People worry that their basic rights and freedoms may be infringed, while various studies show confidence in governments and institutions is declining. Despite this, more than three-quarters of people globally told an Edelman survey that they trust their employer to do what is right, while a similar proportion believe companies should act in a way that improves economic and social conditions.
Fostering trust is not only about the greater good or ethical compulsions – it’s also beneficial to the bottom line. Employees at high-trust companies report they have more energy at work, are 50% more productive and are more engaged than those at low-trust companies, according to a study published in the Harvard Business Review. And research also shows that customers are motivated to buy from brands that embody their values and beliefs.
The World Economic Forum’s new Davos Manifesto calls on all private corporations to act as trustees of society, as part of its vision for stakeholder capitalism. Companies, governments and organisations are all guardians of society, offering reassurance and confidence while also promoting innovation.
So how can we move forward and keep innovating, while also preserving and extending trust?
People are spending more and more time online and almost every aspect of life now has a digital dimension. For customers, the amount of information and choice can seem bewildering.
By demonstrating strong values and expertise, company leaders can help bring clarity and simplicity, giving people the tools to make informed decisions. Businesses can only do this if they ensure they’re keeping pace with the risks, while complying with all global privacy and data protection regulations.
Companies also have a responsibility to work with governments to help develop policy. Global initiatives such as the Cybersecurity Tech Accord or the principles for AI aim to foster collaboration and promote safer online worlds.
Working together like this is one of the best ways to combat the existing level of cybercrime. At the Annual Meeting in Davos this year, BT and the Forum’s Centre for Cybersecurity will step up efforts to strengthen the defences of the global telecommunications industry, making the ‘barrier to entry’ for attacks far more robust and the penalties for attack much stronger.
Bringing everyone along
Making sure no one is left behind is another key element. It’s vital to be transparent about what’s being done and why, educating as you go, to ensure people understand.
Trust can be eroded when people don’t understand the technologies available to them or don’t know how to use them. It’s not enough to expect this to be addressed in school or college. The rapid evolution of our business environments makes lifelong learning more important than ever, and all businesses must play their role.
In collaboration with other firms, BT is involved in a number of initiatives, including Future.now and the Skills for Tomorrow platform, aimed at ensuring both existing and future employees have the training they need to stay relevant in the years ahead.
Spreading the influence
Business leaders also have a responsibility to ensure their wider ecosystem embodies the same values. To do this they must actively engage with their supply chain.
At BT, we’re continually working with our wider ecosystem to make sure our partners and suppliers embrace the same standards as us, especially on our environmental impact. We can all do more to look deep into our network, beyond direct contacts, to expose other risks.
Here, technology is an important part of the solution. Blockchain and robotic process automation allows every step of the supply chain to be tracked and verified, while similar technology in the financial space can shine a light on the flow of money, highlighting suspicious behaviour.
These examples highlight how trust is a long-term project, and one that must be built over time. It’s about transparency, integrity and collaboration and the balance between allowing innovation to take place while safeguarding privacy and security.
Davos brings the worlds of business, government and civil society together, offering a unique opportunity to debate and share ideas about building and maintaining trust. At this juncture, we need a new type of leadership, one with stakeholder capitalism at its heart.
As we strike out in the digital age, it’s hard to imagine how wide-ranging the changes to our lives will be. That’s why we need to act today: because fostering faith in what’s happening ultimately stands to benefit us all.