Predicting the global trends and disruptive forces that might shape the business landscape in the coming years is essential for survival and growth. Yet there is one theme that will remain a constant in the world of business and politics: trust.
One of the many popular images on social media during the World Economic Forum earlier this year was a list of ten skills workers would need both in 2020 and in the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution. Problem solving, critical thinking and creativity commanded the top three spots - perhaps unsurprising given how technology is transforming the workforce and the competitive environment.
But what if this list were re-written for CEOs or other business leaders? While problem solving and creativity would undoubtedly be among the required attributes, I think they would both be surpassed by the ability of a leader to engender the trust and confidence of their people, their customers and the wider public.
The alarming evaporation of public trust in business and government revealed in last year’s Edelman Trust Barometer served as a wake-up call, with fears that economic growth was being constrained by this collapse in confidence. Twelve months on and trust in business and government has reached its highest level since the Great Recession.
As welcome as this revival is, there are also some worrying findings. Not only did this year’s Edelman survey show a trust gap between the richest and poorest in society, it also revealed that nearly 60% of UK employees do not trust the company they work for. One of the main causes of this disconnect – in addition to the corporate and political scandals of recent years - is a lack of transparency.
Sometimes transparency can be uncomfortable. But I believe that being open about the challenges we, and others in business face, will help stimulate debate and action on issues that matter, such as diversity. For example, last year we took the decision to publish details of our gender pay gap, outlining the different measures we would take to address this. Establishing targets and encouraging transparency have both been important factors in improving levels of gender diversity in UK boardrooms and I believe will be especially valuable in the campaign to eliminate the gender pay gap. The response among our own employees to this greater level of disclosure has been positive and it was reassuring to see the recent announcement by the UK Government to put in place legislation requiring companies to publish their gender pay gap. I believe this will be an important step in achieving greater gender parity, for pay and representation, at all levels and I think it will also go some way to repairing the trust between CEOs, their employees and the public.
The public’s trust in leadership, according to the Edelman survey, is partly influenced by expectations that CEOs should focus not just on ensuring company profitability but also on being a responsible business providing a long-term benefit for society. At Deloitte, this societal benefit includes being more open about the work we are doing to increase social mobility in the UK. By doing so, we hope to create a dialogue with our people, the broader business community, and the government on how to address what is a significant issue for our country.
Later this month we will publish the details of the socio-economic and educational background of our partners and employees. While this data makes for difficult reading, it will be vital in helping us evaluate the impact of recent changes to our recruitment processes and make sure our ongoing strategy can really shift the dial on improving social mobility. My belief is this will also demonstrate that everyone can thrive, develop and succeed in our firm, helping remove the perception that the professional and financial services sectors are a so-called ‘closed-shop’. I hope by publishing this data Deloitte will encourage other businesses to do the same, helping in some way to remove barriers to progress.
Undoubtedly, transparency is a powerful tool for influencing all aspects of corporate behaviour and the perception of that behaviour. The fragility of trust means it can only be protected by strength of leadership and a willingness to embrace a culture of openness and transparency.