Trust is at stake, and other insights from Edelman's 2022 Trust Barometer

What you'll learn on this podcast episode

Trust is foundational to business and society, so much so that the global public relations firm Edelman releases an extensive annual survey covering whom and what the public trusts. However, their 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals a concerning insight: people are increasingly more inclined to distrust than trust. In this episode of the Principled Podcast, host Emily Miner explores key findings from the 2022 report, “A Cycle of Distrust,” with David M. Bersoff, Head of Global Thought Leadership Research at Edelman Data and Intelligence. Listen in as the two discuss what drives trust, why public trust in certain institutions is eroding, and how businesses can help rebuild trust moving forward.

Principled Podcast shownotes

  • [1:59] - David explains the Edelman Trust Barometer.
  • [3:35] - Why business was voted the most trusted institution for the second year in a row compared to government, media and NGOs.

  • [11:41] - The increased engagement of businesses on important global issues.

  • [14:35] - What should business leaders be doing or thinking about now that the spotlight is on them to a greater degree than in years prior?

  • [25:20] - The expansion of responsibilities being taken on by businesses.

  • [29:07] - Advice for business leaders to rise to the increasing expectations without further adding to the trust deficit.

  • [33:32] - Upholding the values and integrity you claim and leading with them.

Get a copy of the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer.

Read our blog post on takeaways from this year’s report.

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Guest: Dr. David M. Bersoff, Ph.D.


Dr. David M. Bersoff oversees Edelman Data & Intelligence’s (DxI) global Thought Leadership research including the annual Trust Barometer and Brand Trust studies. In this capacity, he is responsible for questionnaire development, leading all data analysis and insight gleaning activities, and developing new frameworks for understanding trust, credibility, and consumer-brand relationships.

Prior to joining Edelman DxI, Dr. Bersoff spent 18 years as a consumer insight and marketing strategy consultant at The Futures Company. In his last 5 years with the organization, he served as its Chief Insights Officer and was a member of its global board of directors.

Prior to entering the consulting world, David spent 12 years engaged in social science research at various Ivy League institutions, including 4 years as an assistant professor of social psychology and research methodology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Host: Emily Miner


Emily Miner is a Senior Advisor in LRN’s Ethics & Compliance Advisory practice. She counsels executive leadership teams on how to actively shape and manage their ethical culture through deep quantitative and qualitative understanding and engagement. A skilled facilitator, Emily emphasizes co-creative, bottom-up, and data-driven approaches to foster ethical behavior and inform program strategy. Emily has led engagements with organizations in the healthcare, technology, manufacturing, energy, professional services, and education industries. Emily co-leads LRN’s ongoing flagship research on E&C program effectiveness and is a thought leader in the areas of organizational culture, leadership, and E&C program impact. Prior to joining LRN, Emily applied her behavioral science expertise in the environmental sustainability sector, working with non-profits and several New England municipalities; facilitated earth science research in academia; and contributed to drafting and advancing international climate policy goals. Emily has a Master of Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy from Columbia University and graduated summa cum laude from the University of Florida with a degree in Anthropology.

Principled Podcast transcription

Intro:  Welcome to the Principled Podcast, brought to you by LRN. The Principled Podcast brings together the collective wisdom on ethics, business and compliance, transformative stories of leadership and inspiring workplace culture. Listen in to discover valuable strategies from our community of business leaders and workplace change-makers.

Emily Miner: Trust is foundational to every relationship in life, personal and professional, so much so that the global public relations firm, Edelman, releases an extensive annual survey covering whom and what the public trusts. It's a survey that I personally look forward to every single year and have been reading for a long time. However, this year's report reveals a concerning insight. People are increasingly more inclined to distrust than to trust. And in fact, this year's report is titled A Cycle of Distrust. How can companies take these sentiments and adapt their own practices to better address public concerns?

Hello and welcome to another episode of LRN's Principled Podcast. I'm your host, Emily Miner, senior ethics and compliance advisor at LRN. Today, I'm joined by David M. Bersoff, head of Global Thought Leadership Research at Edelman Data and Intelligence. We're going to be talking about the key findings from this year's report and unpack what this means for organizations. How can business help rebuild trust in our society? David is a real expert in this space, having spent the last two decades leading research, data analysis, and insights initiatives for Edelman and the future company's global insights group. David, thanks so much for joining me on the Principled Podcast. I'm really excited to be having this conversation with you.

David M. Bersoff: Me too. And I appreciate you asking me back.

Emily Miner: David, to get started, I've been reading the trust barometer for years, but for our audience members, for whom this might be new, tell us a little bit about the Edelman Trust Barometer. What is it and how long has Edelman been doing this research?

David M. Bersoff: Sure. So the trust barometer started way back in 2001 with a smaller group of countries than we look at today, but we do have sort of a 22-year history of looking at trust in four major societal institutions: business, NGOs, government, and media. I'll be talking about the 2022 results that just came out, as a matter of fact, at the end of January. This year, we were in 28 different markets. We talked to about 1,150 gen pop respondents in each of those markets. So overall, this global data is among 36,000 or more respondents. We do have some good global coverage. We're in North America, South America, Europe, Asia. It's an online study. And so the sample we get is going to be a bit more representative of the total population or the general population in those countries that have a high internet penetration. And countries that have lower internet penetration, say, like India, the sample is going to be more of an urban educated skew than a traditional gen pop.

Emily Miner: And when you say 28 markets, country markets?

David M. Bersoff: Yes, 28 different countries.

Emily Miner: Great. So you talked about how this reporter, this research looks at trust in four societal institutions: business, government, nonprofit, and media. This year's findings were that, business is the most trusted institution out of those four, and in fact, is the only trusted institution out of those four. This is for the second year in a row. There's so much to unpack in that statistic. So let's start with, why? What is it about business that makes it trustworthy? Or conversely, what is it about NGOs, media, the government that makes those institutions untrustworthy?

David M. Bersoff: Yeah. And there's a little bit of both in the situation we find ourselves today. So business are doing some things right or better than the other institutions, and some of the other institutions are essentially doing things wrong. There's a lot of self-inflicted wounds that's reflected in this year's trust data. But in terms of why business is more trusted globally than the other three institutions, I kind of look at five different areas to discuss. The first one is that when we look at trust, we sort of divide it into two dimensions. There's a competence dimension and there's an ethics dimension. So if I trust an organization or a person or an institution, I can trust them to sort of do what they promise to do. They deliver on what they say the product will do, the product is good, they get it done. So think in terms of, a competent airline is one that gets you safely from point A to point B.

The other dimension is ethics. And that is sort of, what's the level of integrity that the organization has? What are their motivations? Are they trying to make the world a better place? Are they honest? Do they treat people well, their employees, supply chain, or what have you? So that's a somewhat of a separate mention. I can trust an airline to get me from point A to point B safely, but I may not trust them to sort of treat people fairly or to do what they should be doing to protect the environment. And so when you look at the institutions in that way, across those two dimensions, what you find is that business is considered both competent and ethical.

Now, NGOs, in the last year, did squeak into that sort of upper quadrant of ethical and competent. But what we see is that, business is considered more competent than NGOs, while NGOs are considered more ethical than business. And the interesting thing here is that, for some reason, and I think I understand why, these days, people are giving competence a little bit more priority than ethics. And I think that comes down to the fact that people are just frustrated that things aren't getting done, problems aren't getting solved, government seems to be politicized or polarized or paralyzed. And as a result, we're not seeing a lot of leadership coming from government when it comes to solving major problems. This is leading to a general frustration, things aren't getting done.

In the context in which people look around them and see things not getting done, they're giving a little bit more priority, they're giving a little bit more emphasis on doing rather than necessarily having pristine motivations. I talk about the fact that business isn't really the hero of this year's story. They're more of the anti-hero. They are somebody who can get things done even if their history or their morals or ethics are a little bit more questioned versus say, NGOs, which are perhaps seen as being better or more angelic, but relatively less competent. That's sort of reason one.

Reason two that I think business is trusted, goes back to a really interesting finding from this year's study. It's a new question we ask. For each of the institutions, we ask, is this institution a dividing force in society or a unifying force in society? And, of course, you could give a mid point saying that they were sort of neither one. But what we found is that, when you do a net score, so the people who think that, say, government is a dividing force minus the people who think that it is a unifying force, what you find is, in general, government and media are both seen as dividing forces in society. So not only are they not effective at getting things done or doing their job, they're actually seen as making things worse. They're dividing us rather than unifying us.

In contrast, business and NGOs are more often considered to be unifying forces. And so I think that maybe the number one reason why government and media are not trusted is because, at some level, they don't want to be trusted. What's going on here is that, I think politicians and media channels have found success in casting doubt on their institutions by convincing people, not in the trustworthiness of the institution as a whole, but only of that part of the institution that they control. Right? It's not like you can trust government. You can only trust that part of government that we, our party, control. It's not that you can trust media in general, you can only trust the voices coming from us, our channel, our platform, what have you.

In contrast, I don't think a business can succeed by sowing doubt in the institution of business, even as it tries to burnish its own image. And similarly, NGOs are not going to increase volunteerism and donations by undermining people's faith in other NGOs, or in the institution itself. The American Heart Association doesn't fundraise by trying to convince you that the American Lung Association is running a pedophile ring out of the basement of a pizza parlor. The way things are, business and NGOs don't feed on themselves, which is why they're more likely to be trusted and more likely to be seen as unifiers. And I think those two perceptions are strongly related.

Emily Miner: My reaction to that point that you just made about the institutions being dividing versus unifying forces is that, unfortunately, all four of the institutions have found success in their model. So government and media have found success in playing to kind of the wings and to emphasizing the clicks or the campaign slogans. They found success in that and so there's this reinforcing cycle. Whereas, of course, as you said, business wouldn't be successful if they doubt about the concept of business as an institution and nonprofits as well. So although they're sort of polar strategies, each institution has found success in that strategy. And it just, I don't know, it doesn't make me encouraged about breaking the cycle of division that you were describing in the government and media.

David M. Bersoff: It really is an issue of the payoff matrix. The reward matrix for media and government has become contaminated. It's become flipped on its head. It wasn't always that way, but somehow we find ourselves in a situation where you do find the clicks and the money and the votes associated with stirring up people's emotions, stirring up outrage, playing to your base, playing to the extremes because that's where the audience is, that's where the engagement is. And until that reward matrix is changed or forced to change, you're right, I don't see government and media changing on their own because they're not being rewarded or reinforced for changing their behavior.

The number three reason is that I think business has been increasing its engagement on important issues. So if you look at sort of what business is doing out in the world now, compared to what it was doing 10, 15 years ago, they are more engaged in things like climate change and economic equality, access to healthcare, addressing issues around injustice. They are weighing in more, they are becoming engaged. And I think that is certainly helping their ethics score go up, which, as I discussed, is a key aspect of trust.

So the fourth one is that, people feel like they have leverage over business. So we talk about this idea of belief-driven consumers and belief-driven employees and belief-driven investors, and we're finding a majority of people globally really do decide what brands to buy or where to work or where to put their money based on whether or not that business, that corporation, that entity has a set of values and belief that matches their own. And I think, in general, people believe that they have more power to create positive change in society through the marketplace, through working with and through business than they do dealing with government or trying to achieve change through votes. And so this idea that business has power, it has resources, and on top of that, I feel like I can actually have influence on it, that real really puts business in a much stronger position to be trusted, to be my go-to institution for making things better.

And then sort of associated with that, the fifth element here, is that business, especially business as employer, and to some extent, certain brands, they have a local feel about them. And that's in keeping with the idea that these days, people's trust circles have shrunk. They're getting smaller and smaller. It's getting more and more local, but even within the context of that shrinking trust circle, that place I go to every day or the people I interact with every day and have a personal relationship, my employer, they're still in that circle. There's some brands that have been part of my family or part of my household or part of my life, literally for decades. Again, they make it within that circle. So even within this idea of a shrinking circle of trust, business, especially as employers, especially through their brands, continue to reside within my circle of trust.

Emily Miner: That's so fascinating. And so much of what you've described resonates with me on a personal level as I just think about myself and my own behavior as a citizen, as a consumer, as somebody interested in politics, et cetera. So thank you for breaking down those results. Given that that's where we are today and the reasons why we're there today, what does this mean for business leaders? What should they be doing or thinking about, now that the spotlight is on them to a greater degree than in years prior? So what should they be doing when it comes to their own leadership within their organizations internally, as well as externally, their leadership within society.

David M. Bersoff: I think that business and business leaders, they sort of have two to-do lists. One is, how do they increase trust in their institution, business writ large, as well as the organization that they lead? And then, what do they need to be doing to sort of restore faith in the system as a whole? So the first thing you need to do is give people a sense of progress and optimism. Yes, at the societal level, but also more importantly, giving them personal optimism. We saw some data that I think is really telling in this regard, certainly in countries that we consider to be sort of developed Western democracies. There was no country in which most people felt that they would be better off financially five years from now than they are today.

And even more telling, we found that more than half of people were worried about losing the respect and dignity that they once enjoyed in their country. So there's real sense of this one-two punch. I don't see a future in which I'm doing better. As a matter of fact, I see a future in which who I am, what I've done is no longer considered important. I'm being marginalized. I don't matter anymore. Ceasing to matter is not something that people take easily. It causes them to rail against change. It causes them to scapegoat. It causes them to see unfairness all around them. So it's really important that business and certainly business quo employer give people some sense of optimism and progress. That's more internal. But externally, you also need to help people create positive change with and through you.

When people choose their employer based on a matching of values and beliefs, it's not just because they want to be surrounded by like-minded people. It's because they want to work for an institution that has power and resources. And that, in the context of my job, will allow me to further what's important to me, allow me to affect positive change, to be my partner in change. I don't want to just sit on the sidelines and applaud while my employer does good things. I want to be part of that. And so it's not only giving me personal optimism, a personal sense that things are going for me in the right direction, but it's also allowing me to have a positive impact in society.

The second thing is, manage the change you want to see. So meeting our current existential challenges are going to require major change and transformation, not only in the economy, in certain sectors, but also in people's lives. And right now, kind of going to that point I was talking about, people are feeling left behind. They're feeling like they don't matter anymore. They're feeling like they're not included in people's views of the future. And, to me, it comes down to sort of this idea of basic change management. Within an organization, change management is usually important. If you don't manage change well, your employees lose confidence and trust and morale. They may actually become barriers to the change you want to see. There's all kinds of negatives associated with bad change management within an organization.

Well, I would argue that a lot of what we're seeing at a societal level is the result of bad change management at that societal level. There's too many people seeing a lot of change and feeling left behind or not understanding it or not seeing what's in it for them. So as a positive change agent, and I think business needs to be, you can't just push for change, you have to manage that change. Also, you need to stay authentic to your values as a corporation. There's a lot of CEOs who hear our story about needing to get more involved and more engaged in social issues. They feel uncomfortable about that. They may even feel like they're already doing too much, but the data we have this year shows that more than likely, they're not seeing as doing enough, that there's this push, there's this pressure for businesses to do more.

But you have to keep in mind that the expectation isn't that you engage on every single issue. It's not like if there's any controversy out there, you need to weigh in on it. In the context of weighing in, becoming engage, doing more, you still need to let your sector, your employees, your customers, the communities in which you operate, and your legacy values define where and how you engage. You can't engage willy-nilly. You have to do it in an authentic manner. And then you also need to form meaningful partnerships. And these are not just partnerships in name only. They're not transactional partnerships with other organizations. These are sort of intel inside partnerships. They have to be intimate. They have to be hand in glove and so I think of partnerships with NGOs to gain expertise in some of these social problems, social issues you're being asked to engage on; and partnering with government in order to get the reach and power that only government has.

Also, keep in mind that the aim here isn't that business needs to replace government and media, even though those two institutions are failing. The idea is to fill the current leadership void while working to renew people's faith in all institutions. And that sort of brings us to the other list, which is how do businesses work or act to restore faith in the system as a whole. And I think the first thing they need to do is act as an agent of stability. They need to fill that leadership void that we've been talking about, the fact that government and media aren't working, they're in that very poor, lower left-hand corner, where they're not seen as terribly ethical or terribly competent. That needs to be done.

But more importantly, business also needs to redefine and defend the center. The center is not holding. The center needs a voice. The center needs to be redefined and defended. And part of this is cutting funds and support to agents of divisiveness and extremism, kind of going back to that point where I was making before, that the reward matrix for government and media is out of whack. It's not giving us the kind of behavior we need. And until the rewards in society, be it money or power or influence, are greater for spreading truth than for spreading lies and information and for facilitating cooperation, rather than fomenting divisiveness, we're going to continue to flounder and suffer and weaken our societies.

The second thing that businesses need to do on sort of a bigger level is battle the infodemic. Good information hygiene, we've found to be intimately linked to trust. People who are better consumers of information are more trusting. And I think it's because good information hygiene mediate extremism. It makes people more open-minded and it also makes people more open to ideas that come from outside. And so business needs to not only be a source of good information, but they also need to teach and nurture and facilitate information hygiene among both its employees, as well as people in general. So until we have good information, until we can agree on what the facts are, it's going to be hard to move forward as a society. I think business has a role there.

Third thing is, help close trust gaps by reducing systemic unfairness. If business has any Achilles heel in all of the data that I've seen this year, it's that there's a little bit of a tendency to see businesses more likely to be serving the interest of the few, rather than the interest of sort of everybody equally and fairly. That's where business is at risk of losing its trust and trust advantage. So they have to be very scrupulous about as they engage in these issues as they offer solutions and policies that they're seeing as fair.

And then finally, what business needs to do is help redefine and reinforce the social fabric that's traditionally served as sort of a binding force, a touchstone for compromise and shared interest, particularly in democracies. One of the most disheartening data points I found in the survey this year is, 62% of people saying, the social fabric that once held this country together has grown too weak to serve as a foundation for unity and common purpose. And I do think that this is, in part, a result of the fact that government and media are seen as divisive forces, but to the extent that we don't have this social fabric. We don't have this shared sense of purpose and values. It's going to be hard to overcome the tribalism, the divisiveness that we're seeing in the country today. We need an entity to help remind us that there's more that unites us than divides us.

Emily Miner: On that last point that you just made, does that statistic reflect your global results or is that specific to the United States? I'm just trying to get us sense of how pervasive this idea is.

David M. Bersoff: So globally, it's 62%. In the US, it's 64%. So it's a generally held opinion. I mean, in my mind, democracy is more fragile than I've seen it in a long time and really is in a position where it could fail. And if we don't learn how to have constructive civil debates, if we don't learn how to respect people who may have different opinions, if we don't see ourselves as sort of being in this together, if we don't have a common sense of purpose, some values that can serve as a touch point or a unifying point for everybody, it's going to be really hard to strengthen our democracies to get through this situation, particularly if media and government keep throwing fuel on the fire.

Emily Miner: One of the points that you raised about what does this mean for business leaders was the idea of business as change management experts in all the change that we are going through and need to continue going through as a society, including in business, but also external to business, and this idea of business being a teacher almost. I'm connecting that to some trends that we've observed at LRN within our own business. And so one of the core ways that we support companies around the world is by developing training and education.

We've certainly seen a rise in the number of companies that are requesting support in, how do I teach? How do I help my people have respectful conversations in the workplace? How do I help my people to understand that our differences make us better, make us more successful, make us more innovative? And to celebrate those differences in our diversity rather than to challenge it or feel threatened by it, how do I help my people understand in the United States the legacy of systemic racism and how that shows up at the workplace? And what can we do to try to break down that legacy in service of a more equitable workplace and a more equitable world?

We're seeing a number of businesses kind of take on that challenge, of supporting these types of conversations and mindset shifts in the workplace, outside of what several decades ago would be focused more on. How do I train you to do your job and your specific skillset that's needed? How do I train you on the rules and the regulations and the dos and the don'ts? Those elements are of course still important, but we're seeing this expansion of the responsibility that business is taking on. I see that as encouraging, having a greater willingness to take up the mantle that's really been placed upon them due to this leadership void that you were talking about.

David M. Bersoff: It's an interesting parallel, the one you draw about. In the old days, because of, say, failures in the education system, it fell upon employers to teach their employees how to do their job. And that may have included some remedial education and mathematics or English, or what have you. But these days, fast forward, now we're looking at businesses and the need for businesses to teach people how to consume information in the new information aid, how to get along with others. It's another form of remedial work. It's almost like the country, the world has had a collective stroke and it needs to relearn how to do these basic things, like keep themselves informed, like how to have civil discussion.

And it's really, I think, incumbent on businesses, especially businesses as employers because that employer-employee relationship is trusting. It's strong. And I think it's vital to rebuilding trust. But using that frivolous position that business has to help people relearn these things, that's really going to be an important foundational step towards rehabilitating the trust environment and strengthening our fragile democracies. And it heartens me, I didn't realize, that you were receiving increased requests for training in these areas because I think it's absolutely vital.

Emily Miner: One of the key takeaways from the report that I found really interesting and also challenging is that CEOs themselves are expected to be the face of change and to inform policy, although not to inform politics. So making that distinction there. And you found that globally, a healthy majority of respondents believe that CEOs, or expect CEOs to shape the conversation and to shape policy around issues like jobs in the economy, wage, inequality, technology and automation, climate change. These are some threads that we've been talking about throughout the course of this discussion, people feeling like they're being left behind and not optimistic about the future. And I think all of these jobs, economy, inequality, technology, automation, climate change, those all are a tangled web that work together to influence that.

So this idea, it's a tough needle to thread for CEOs, I would imagine, particularly when so many, if we want to call these, societal issues are politicized in the US, I mean, speaking from where I'm located. So what advice do you have for business leaders on how they can rise to these expectations of influencing positive change in these societal issues without kind of further adding to the trust deficit with people thinking that their action is actually polarizing? What advice do you have for business leaders?

David M. Bersoff: Sure. And actually the situation is more fraught than even you just painted it because not only do the CEOs and business leaders need to worry about their own actions and how they communicate, but there's going to be outside forces attempting to politicize the organization, the company. They're going to try to sort of paint you with that woke brush. In the US, we look at political affiliation, Democrat versus Republican. This is the first year we've been tracking that, where business is actually distrusted among Republicans, traditionally, the party of business. And I think this is a direct result of sort of this conservative rhetoric around companies that are weighing in on issues being considered woke. Right? That becomes kind of an insult or a damning characterization. So, it's not just that CEOs and businesses need to be mindful of what they're doing, they are going to be buffeted about by outside political forces, attempting to co-op them or attempting to sort of paint them as being political. So it's a really tough, tough problem.

In terms of what I would recommend, the first step in avoiding being politicized is don't be political. So don't be a Republican company or a Democratic company. There's no way, no shape, no form in which we are recommending that the way forward, the way for companies to become more engaged in society, is to affiliate politically with one party or another. You don't want to adhere or don't want to be seen as adhering to political ideology. What you want to be seen is being values-driven. So be a company that champions equality or protecting wellbeing or improving education or any other value that's authentic to your organization, and then work to translate your values into policy. And remember, policy is about fostering positive outcomes against the criteria of fairness and efficacy. If we ask people to do this, if we set up a law or a rule that they have to do this, is it fair? And will we get a positive outcome?

That stands in contrast to politics, which is really about gaining power. Good politics is evaluated in terms of, did we win? Did we get an advantage? And so while any one issue can be politicized, and that's completely out of your control as a business, it's going to be hard to politicize you as a company if your actions can be traced to a consistent set of values that manifest and support for policies that either bridge political divide, so this idea of redefining the middle, or at least policies that are not consistently associated with the same party. So if you're out there leading with your values, your values are authentic to who you are, and it results in you supporting policies that are either in the middle or not consistently aligned with one side or the other, that's about as good as you're going to be able to do in this day and age.

Emily Miner: I think what you said is so powerful that I want to just say it again. We talked earlier about authenticity and how businesses don't need to jump into every single issue, but what is relevant for your business, for your consumers, for the communities in which you operate, for your employees, taking that multi-stakeholder view to help navigate where you're stepping in and where you're not. But leading with your values as a way of responding and behaving authentic to who you are, that's such a powerful statement. And I think it's reinforced by so much other research and storytelling about the role of values in how businesses operate.

Values are something that employees can understand and connect back to the context, the why are we making this decision? If you have a clear framework of values as an organization, and if you talk about what that means for us, if you translate that into how we operate, how we behave as individuals, as a business, there's a sense of logic there that I think helps people to make sense of why we're doing what we're doing, even if it might not be something that I like or agree with. But I can connect it back to the values and so I understand. So I just appreciate that you raised that.

David M. Bersoff: So let me just build on that point because I think you're absolutely right. Especially, if you have values that predate the policy or predate you weighing in, you're right, there's a certain consistency there. There's a certain logic to what you're doing. There's a certain integrity to it. And by the same token in this day and age of belief-driven employees where people choose where they're going to work, to some extent, based on the values and the beliefs and the type of engagement that that organization manifests, there's a tacit agreement that when you go and then work for that company, that part of the reason why you're there is because they champion these values. And so later on, when they're actually out there championing those values, you're already sort of bought in. You may not love the particular manifestation of those values around a particular policy, but there's a logic to it. There's a consistency to it. And there's at least this understanding that yes, I at least appreciate the value even if I don't love the way you're sort of operationalizing that value or manifesting that value in policy.

Emily Miner: So the point that you made about people increasingly choosing where to work and also who to support with their dollars, being aligned with values, one of the ways that we've helped companies kind of increase that broad buy-in to the values is to actually engage the employee population, maybe it's defining values because they didn't previously exist in the organization, or maybe it's, "We have a set of core values that we've used for however many years, but we want to kind of take it a step further to really clarify what does this mean behaviorally." And so creating spaces and communication channels for employees to weigh in on that, what does this value mean for me? What does this mean for my role? How do I see this play out in action? What does it mean to live this value? And having that be a participatory process, really also helps to cement the values being a tangible thing that are really taken off the wall and are operationalized and increase that buy-in of the employee population.

David M. Bersoff: Absolutely. We looked a few years ago at what we considered the emerging or the new employer-employee compact. And what we found is that there's sort of three areas that people use to evaluate an employer. The first one is sort of the basics, which is, are you offering me a good job at a fair wage where I can sort of grow? The career basics. This has been an important certain aspect of deciding on jobs and where to work since the beginning. You need to know that your financial future is in safe, fair hands. It doesn't mean you have to guarantee me a job for life, but it does mean that if something happens, you're going to treat me humanely and fairly.

The next level up from that is this idea of empowerment, sort of what you were alluding to. People want to have a voice. They want to feel heard. They want to be able to participate in decisions. They want to have input. They don't want to just be a cog, but they want to be a vital part of what's going on. And then above that is this notion of coaction, that I can work with and through my employer to create positive change in the world. So you see all these things playing together.

The first thing you need to do is sort of bring my blood pressure down, make me feel safe and secure in my living and in my finances, then make me feel empowered. Give me power, give me a voice. And not only give me power and voice in the context of company operations or business decisions, but also in the context of what that business is doing in terms of engaging on some of these larger issues. That point I was making before about, I don't want to just sit on the sidelines while my company does good. I want to be part of the good that my company does. I want to use my empowerment to work with the company to affect positive change.

And part of what this means, going back to your point about values is, that mission statement, that values statement, what we stand for, can't be something that you spend time developing, and then it goes up on a shelf and gathers dust, and doesn't really have an impact or an influence. The big difference between values, as I think about them today, and maybe values as they've been traditionally been treated or thought about, is that now those values that you develop, the mission statement, what's important to you as a company, what is your goal in society overall beyond, say, making money or returning value to your investor, those values need to be part of your DNA as an organization. It needs to show up everywhere. Your values need to show up in your marketing, in your supply chain, in your hiring, in your policies, everywhere, consistently. And if you do that, then this idea that we've been talking about, which is lead with your values and you'll be as okay as you can because what you do will be seen consistent and make sense and organic and authentic, that's how it all works.

Emily Miner: In some research that we conducted at the end of last year, we saw that organizations that kind of led with their values or use their values to help them navigate COVID and the disruption and confusion that has resulted and continues to resolve from COVID, those organizations actually were more successful on a number of metrics. I think that that's a really important point as we're facing increasing cadence of global crises, that there's a resiliency in leaning on your values to help navigate how we're going through the world. And there's a morality to that. A rule kind of tells you what you can and can't do, but there isn't a rule for every occasion and we need guideposts that help us figure out what we should and shouldn't do. And I think that's where values come in.

Well, David, it's been such a pleasure having you on this episode. And I know that we could spend hours talking about this and unpacking the trust barometer but unfortunately, we are getting to the top of the hour. Thank you so much for joining me and for sharing these insights.

David M. Bersoff: It was a pleasure. I love to talk about trust and I particularly love to talk about trust with someone who's obviously been thinking about these issues and are sort of familiar with our data so we can dig a little deeper. This has been a lot of fun.

Emily Miner: Yeah, it has. Well, my name is Emily Miner, and I want to thank all of you for the listening to the Principled Podcast by LRN.

Outro: We hope you enjoyed this episode. The Principled Podcast is brought to you by LRN. At LRN, our mission is to inspire principled performance in global organizations by helping them foster winning ethical cultures rooted in sustainable values. Please visit us at to learn more. And if you enjoyed this episode, subscribe to our podcast on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, or wherever you listen. And don't forget to leave us a review.

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