Trust – Part IV: Corporate Social Responsibility

This is the fourth piece in a four part series on Trust and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). In this series we’ve explored:

Trust – Part I: Need for Trust
Trust – Part II: What Is Trust? ( introduced a model/framework for working with trust)
Trust – Part III: Building, Destroying, Restoring trust


Trust and CSR – Part IV: Corporate Social Responsibility

A quick refresher:

Model of Trust

Trust is about relationships, whether with another person, a company, a product, or a brand. Trust forms the foundation of all relationships. Trust is about the degree to which one can rely on the veracity and continuity of the three elements of trust: ability, sincerity, and history.

(“They” refers to the person, company, brand, product, etc being trusted.)
Ability: Do they have the skill, knowledge, tools, or capacity to do the task (to our satisfaction).
Sincerity: Do they have the desire, interest, motivation, or inclination (to our satisfaction) to do the task.
History: Do they have a history, record, or pattern of doing the task (to our satisfaction) in the past.

Our degree of trust is determined by the sum of these elements.

What are the implications of this model in business? CSR? Sustainability? Leadership? PR?

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Sustainability are new for many companies. Corporations may be excellent at producing breakthroughs in pharmaceuticals or be masters in architectural design, yet have few skills in dealing with CSR. Where does this leave us with trusting them?

How can a company’s CSR activity engender trust from the doubting public towards that business?

Let’s apply the three elements of trust approachAbility, Sincerity, and History.

It is not about one event or one CSR report. That would be insufficient. There is not enough History. It may show Ability. The Sincerity could be intermittent. The public will have their green-washing skeptic glasses on.

What we are looking for is consistent and continual work on corporate responsibility, ethics, social programs, etc. – a History of behavior and philosophy.

What is even more likely to engender trust in the public is a history of CSR/ Sustainability/ GRI/ Global Citizenship reporting and activities. This would show a commitment (Sincerity) to the concept. They can track progress (Ability & History), and they can see what what was learned, what went well and what didn’t (Ability).

The good news is that as corporations are showing more interest in corporate social responsibility and sustainability, tracking their progress, and reporting on it, a picture is emerging to all stakeholders about the level of trust we can have with a company.

Do their actions align with their words?
Is this a company I would wish to invest in, buy from, work in, or even sell to?

Conclusion:

The best way maintain that trust in this time of economic upheaval is to build a history of capable, sincere behavior through active and strategic corporate social responsibility. It is prudent to be innovative and cost conscious as well as to build community belief and trust.

If businesses are to regain trust, they will need to adopt a strategy of Public Engagement, by means of a shift in policy and communications. The essence of Public Engagement is the commitment of companies to say – and do as they say.Edelman Trust Barometer.

End Notes:

In future writings we will explore building, restoring, and maintaining trust with respect to specific CSR activities:

  • Ethics, quality, human rights, leadership, volunteer activities, philanthropy, reliability, law, solvency, credit worthiness, corporate citizenship, and the relation of core competencies and CSR activities

Feel free to contact us in regard to your own company’s specific trust and CSR concerns.


Copyright ©2010,2011 Matthew Rochte, Opportunity Sustainability℠ – Share with attribution

Opportunity Sustainability℠ is a Midwest-based sustainability and corporate responsibility consulting firm specializing in green innovation and seeing opportunities where others see burdens. Matthew Rochte LEED AP is an experienced, operations-based sustainability director, working with company management to navigate and realize the opportunities in taking their company green and growing sustainably.

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