What is the role of trust in stakeholder capitalism?


What you'll learn on this podcast episode

Is trust the ultimate currency of stakeholder capitalism? If so, how can corporate leaders create a culture of trust inside and outside of their organizations? In the final episode of season 7 on the Principled Podcast, host Jen Uner talks about the role of values in building organizational trust—and frameworks to help you get there—with LRN Director of Advisory Services Emily Miner.

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Guest: Emily Miner


Emily Miner is the Director of Advisory Services at 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.


Host: Jen Üner


Jen Uner is the Strategic Communications Director for LRN, where she captains programs for both internal and external audiences. She has an insatiable curiosity and an overdeveloped sense of right and wrong which she challenges each day through her study of ethics, compliance, and the value of values-based behavior in corporate governance. Prior to joining LRN, Jen led marketing communications for innovative technology companies operating in Europe and the US, and for media and marketplaces in California. She has won recognition for her work in brand development and experiential design, earned placements in leading news publications, and hosted a closing bell ceremony of the NASDAQ in honor of the California fashion industry as founder of the LA Fashion Awards. Jen holds a B.A. degree from Claremont McKenna College. 


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.

Jen Uner: Is trust the ultimate currency of stakeholder capitalism. If so, how can corporate leaders create a culture of trust inside and outside of their organizations? Hello, and welcome to another episode of LRN's Principled Podcast. I'm your host, Jen Uner, strategic communications director at LRN, and today, I'm joined by my colleague, Emily Miner, director of advisory services. We're going to be talking about the role of values in building organizational trust and frameworks to help you get there. Emily, thanks for joining me today on the Principled Podcast, by the way, our final episode of this season seven.

Emily Miner: Yeah, thanks for having me, Jen. I'm happy to be here and honored to be rounding out an incredible season on the Principled Podcast.

Jen Uner: It has been a great season, and I think we're going to have an opportunity to touch on some of the folks that we've had on the podcast. To get us started though, recently at Aspen Ideas Fest, Fortune senior editor, Ellen McGirt, asked a great question of her panel. She said, "Is trust the ultimate currency of stakeholder capitalism?" It's how we started our conversation today. I of course will say yes, but recently, you spoke with David Bersoff, head of Global Thought Leadership Research at Edelman, and he worked on the Edelman Trust Barometer. You had a chance to speak with him earlier this season, and I'd love for you to recap for us some of the insights that stood out to you.

Emily Miner: Yeah. I think based on the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer, which is a fantastic annual look at levels of trust in key societal institutions, business, government, media, I think that the 2022 Trust Barometer report would say that the answer to your question and to Ellen's question is yes, trust is the ultimate currency of stakeholder capitalism. In fact, what Edelman found in their research is that business is the only institution in our society that is trusted, and that's actually a first in the 20 plus years that they have been running this type of study.

Actually, for the second year in a row is business the most trusted institution. That was one of the takeaways from the Edelman Trust Barometer, and that David helped unpack when we spoke earlier this podcast season. Given that, if business is the only trusted institution for the second year running, it really underlines the question, what does this mean for leaders? How can they ensure that business remains trusted?

People are looking more and more to business to help solve or address the problems of the world because we don't trust government, because we don't trust media, because we don't trust NGOs. With that mantle of being the only trusted institution, a lot more is falling on business and specifically business leaders and the expectations for them are a lot higher. I think that that really ... That was a current through the Aspen Ideas Institute that you mentioned through the conversation that took place there.

Jen Uner: It really does put a lot of pressure on CEOs and leaders then. One of the stats that I thought was so interesting was how I think it was 60% of employees, they're basing their employment decisions now on the values of the companies that they're looking at and the positions that companies take around social issues, and of course they expect the company to have a position on a social issue, which I thinks it's a rather new thing. Would you say?

Emily Miner: Yeah. I don't know if it's new in the past few years because I do feel like this has been a trend that I've observed in the research maybe up to the past decade or a little bit less, but it certainly every year seems to get to ... It grows. I think, first, it was a healthy minority of the global workforce or of the workforce in the United States, and now it's tipping to be a majority of the workforce. You see some of this in demographic changes as millennials grow in the size of our workforce and now Gen Zers as they're entering the workforce and the expectations that those two generations have for their employers.

But it's certainly not a concept that millennials invented, but it does seem to be growing. Something that's interesting to me now where despite ... We're potentially heading toward a recession in the United States, and despite that, it's still very much an employee market out there. We're still in the midst of a great resignation, which is now really being more called a great reshuffling because it's not that people are dropping out of the workforce so much as they're leaving their jobs to find better jobs.

What some research has shown is that it's not so much that I can find another job that pays me better, but it's that people are no longer satisfied with the status quo and they're looking for opportunities where they can feel more values alignment, where there's more culture of inclusion and equity in the workplace, where they feel that their company is doing something that's contributing positively to the world.

Those are strong drivers of why people are jumping ship and looking elsewhere. It'll be interesting to see how that shapes the narrative and the importance of values and multi-stakeholder capitalism more generally as we continue to hopefully be coming out of the COVID pandemic and this great reshuffling in spite of some of the more negative trend lines with respect to our economy.

Jen Uner: Yeah. I was just going to bring that up. When you have a business environment that's marred by an economic downturn, that puts a lot of pressure. There's then the business financial pressure on decision-making and performance for the company. Then you layer on top of that some of the social and political challenges that are happening and this need to have a position, and can you have a position on everything? Which are the things that you need to prioritize?

I think often corporate leaders in ethics and compliance, our field, chief ethics and compliance officers, for example, the people listening here, they find themselves in a role of counselor to the C-suite as the company and as leaders are facing these kinds of tough decisions. One of the things that really struck me at that Aspen Ideas Institute conversation was Allstate's CEO, Tom Wilson, was one of the panelists and he spoke about a societal engagement framework. I know you had a chance to listen to his presentation. Can you tell me about their approach to decision-making and how they engage on hot button issues?

Emily Miner: Yeah, absolutely. I am so inspired by this framework, and beyond that, there's so much common sense in it, and Tom Wilson talked about this societal engagement framework as something that Allstate developed a little over a year ago in response tom, he didn't use this word, but a deluge of social issues that were coming their way and that the company was being asked to take a stand on or take a position on, sign a letter that's going to be on the front page of the New York Times or what have you.

It got to this point where they said, "We've got to pause and really think about how we're making these decisions." They developed what they call a societal engagement framework that they run all of these issues or questions through. The way that it starts is, first, as an added outset, how does this issue stack up against our values and the way that we do business? There needs to be a level of values alignment before they'll even entertain going further. But assuming that the issue does, they have four filters, as Tom called it, or you could also think of it as just four questions to ask.

The first is, does this issue or does our taking action on this issue help us better serve our customers? The second is, do we, Allstate, have any institutional knowledge about this issue? Third is, can we affect change on this issue? What is our agency here? Then the fourth is, what impact does this issue have on our employees and our reputation? If issue A passes through all four of those filters, then Allstate will come out and they'll take a public stand, and more than just take a public stand, as in the CEO pens a letter that gets published somewhere, they'll actually come out and lead on the issue, engage on it.

An example of an issue that passes this values track and the four filters is climate change. Allstate, obviously, an insurance company, and we know from science that the rate of forest fires in the west of the United States, for example, in the intensity of forest fires is ... The climate change plays a role in that. Forest fires are burning down Allstate customers homes. Does taking a stand and working to address climate change help them better serve their customers? Well, absolutely. That's an easy one. Do they have any institutional knowledge about the issue of climate change?

Yeah, there's a lot of math and science that goes into determining what policy plans and rates are and the risk of different issues to someone's particular home. They have a lot of institutional knowledge about that. Can they affect change on the issue as a large insurer of homes as well as, of course, other things? Their voice carries some weight. They've worked with the government in the State of California to help shape and advance legislation and regulation, as well as perhaps other jurisdictions at the state level, or nationally as well. Then finally, what impact does this have on their employees and their reputations?

Well, they know that climate change is an issue that their employees care about, and so it passes that filter. One distinction that Tom made that I thought was really helpful was that if an issue doesn't pass through the filters, it doesn't mean that they're not going to do anything with it. One of the examples that he gave was the Supreme Court recent ruling that overturns [inaudible 00:12:54]. Allstate's healthcare plan has always covered abortion care, and given the impact that the Supreme Court decision might have on some of their employees that are located in states where abortion care is no longer an option, Allstate has said, "We'll reimburse the travel, et cetera, for our employees in order to access that care."

They're responding to that issue, but they're not coming out and taking a public stand on it. They're not taking a lead on reversing the reversal, shall we say, because does it help them better serve their customers? Well, they're not a healthcare insurer. Do they have any institutional knowledge about abortion care and the impacts of abortion or access or lack thereof? No. Et cetera. It doesn't pass the filters, but that doesn't mean that they're not doing anything about that particular issue. Having this societal engagement framework is a way for them to bring some discipline and structure and consistency into how they engage on the increasing number of social challenges, political challenges, climatic challenges that we as a global society and as businesses are faced with.

It also tells everybody else, all of their stakeholders, their employees, their investors, their customers, it tells everybody, "This is how we do things. This is our process, and we go through this process." At the end of the day, depending on how you feel about the outcome, at least you know what that process was. I just think it's such a brilliant example of bringing that level of clarity into how they're operating in this multidimensional world and connecting it back to the Edelman Trust Barometer that we were talking about into the role of them as business leaders in fostering trust.

Jen Uner: I think this clarity of where you stand and on which issues is an interesting one, because you can't necessarily stand for everything, right? You need to decide where is it your business, really? I think it's interesting how Allstate has chosen to filter a topic and arrive at a conclusion on it. This whole thing about how do you filter and how do you decide, I just find so fascinating. We had Scott Sullivan, he's the current chief integrity and compliance officer for Newmont Mining. We had him on the podcast with Joe Henry, former US compliance officer for Braskem, and they were talking to Susan Divers on our team.

They were on a recent podcast and they were talking about some of the challenges they've both faced in decision-making, and one of the things that stood out for me was how they both used values to guide their decision-making and to guide their counseling of their colleagues in the C-suite, because they were both leaning into values and those corporate values might be stated differently or might be prioritized differently between the two organizations, they would arrive at different outcomes. Right? One of them would say, "Well, our policy around vaccines and masking is that you've got to do it, and no one's allowed back to the office without it."

Then another organization might prioritize something else that says, "Well, it's up to you. You get to make that decision. You can work from home forever if you need to." I think it's really interesting that values plays a really important part and has a real impact on how corporate policy and ultimately behavior, how that comes to be. I don't know if you could talk to me a little bit about that, because obviously you spend a lot of time consulting on values with companies. Tell me about how that shapes company policy and behavior.

Emily Miner:   Yeah. An interesting byproduct of the COVID pandemic I think has been that ... I perceive that the role of values has grown in prominence in terms of the discourse about the role of values in companies has increased. I think it's because the decisions around COVID are so hard. How do we ... Do people come in? Do they not come in? We're risking lives in making this decision. How do we keep, but we can't employ people if we don't have the money to pay the salaries? We have to keep on producing whatever it is that we produce in some level, but how do we do that? These are incredibly complex decisions.

When you're in a situation where you have to make these really challenging decisions and there isn't necessarily a playbook for it. The last global health pandemic was over 100 years ago. I think a lot of companies have come out and said, "We didn't have a plan in place," because this wasn't something that was anticipated. When you don't have a playbook, or to use terminology that's common in our industry, ethics and compliance, rules or regulations about something, values help to fill that void and they guide us on what we should or shouldn't do as opposed to a playbook or a rule, which says what you can and can't do.

Of course, we need rules, we need regulations, we need to know what we can and can't do and where the lines are. But there are always going to be these unforeseen situations, the variant on the scenario that we didn't anticipate when we wrote the rule, and that's where values come in. I think a lot of leaders, a lot of business leaders turned to their company's values, as well as I'm sure their own personal values, to help them navigate the incredibly complex decisions companies had to make surrounding COVID.

I've read a number of accounts from business leaders that have talked about how helpful that was, and they're talking about values more internally and externally. I hope that that's a lens that business leaders will continue to use as strongly coming out of COVID, and that's at the company level, but it trickles down to the individual employee level too, because most companies offer some type of training or onboarding, or you have a code of conduct or you have policies. We have all of these resources that should tell us, again, the cans and can'ts, as well as the shoulds and shouldn'ts.

But I think it's something like humans can only keep three or five things in their mind at once. We can only remember so much. Having the presence of really strong values where the values actually mean something, they're not just a nice recruitment tool on your website, but they really mean something, that's going to be infinitely more helpful guiding behavior on a daily basis across a global workforce and all the variation that comes with that. I've really been encouraged by how values have become a more dominant part of the conversation in the business community.

You're right, depending on what your values are, you might have completely different outcomes. But again, it comes back to that transparency of the process and the fact that there is a process, the structure of the process that, at the end of the day, most of us can get on board and accept what it is because we understand how we got there. That's what I think is so key. It's just that transparency on how we got there. It's not so much about the end as the journey, so to speak.

Jen Uner: Yeah. That makes total sense. I know in our code work, in the consulting work that you do with our clients, speaking of employee level work, we often include frameworks for decision-making, right? That work at the employee level. What are some examples of these tools that can help not just leadership, like we were just talking about a societal bigger picture one, but on the individual level? How does that play out?

Emily Miner: Yeah. Actually, after watching Tom Wilson talk about Allstate's societal engagement framework, I actually went online and just Googled Allstate's code because I was curious, how do they ... do they have something similar, a similar framework that they share that they've developed for their employees? In fact, yes. In their code, they have a whole section on ethical decision-making that lists nine questions that employees should ask themselves when they're faced with a decision or a situation where the decision or the course of action is unclear. Is it legal? Okay. Yeah, that's an obvious one, but does it conflict with our values?

What are the consequences of this? How would your family and friends perceive this decision or course of action that you take? These are some of the questions that Allstate included in their code that I think we ... The majority of us could probably take any number of tough, sticky, gray area situations and go through it, and is it legal? Okay, well, maybe I'm ... I don't know the law, but how would I feel if my mom knew? How would I feel if this was on the homepage of CNN? We all know how we would feel about that, and that's such a helpful ... It connects to our humanity, the human heart level.

It's just really helpful framing that Allstate's providing to their employees. We help a lot of companies write their codes of conduct. Ethical decision-making models or a code in and of itself is a guide for behavior and breaking out different risk topics into what are the behavioral expectations, et cetera. But having a decision-making framework or a list of questions or whatever it is that ... It's issue agnostic, it's situation agnostic, it's just something that anybody can pick up and use. That continuity of Allstate at their company level, as well as how they translate that down to employees, it is just something that I wanted to note.

But it's something that we include in most of our codes that we create for our clients. Some of my favorite examples, one of them is John Deere. Their code is beautiful, and it's who they are. It's their culture written down, which is what we always strive for. They include a decision-making framework as well and it include ... There's a series of questions and it's an interactive. You ask yourself this question and then you click yes or no, and it reveals guidance for what your next step is. But also, it starts out with is it consistent with our values? Centering the values first and then going into consistency with rules.

They also ask, "Would this build trust with employees, customers, shareholders, or communities, or would it harm trust?" That is how we started at the outset of this conversation around the importance of trust in the business context. Similarly, how would I feel if my actions became public? Et cetera. They have their own framework that's speaks to their culture and to their values. Another example is Corteva, which is an agriscience company, and they also have a framework. Theirs is a little bit different. It asks a series of questions, and then depending on how you answer those questions, they give guidance on who you can consult for advice, and it's going to be different depending on the situation.

That's also nice that you're not on your own, right? There are others in our organization that are here to help and can help, and if it's this situation, contact this group, and if it's this other situation, contact this other group. I also thought that's something that they did a little bit differently. They're all different. You talked about the conversation in the earlier podcast, but the goal is the same, which is to provide guidance for behavior that is reflective and supportive of who we are as an organization, what we stand for and what we value.

Jen Uner: It's really, really important. One of the things that we know from our Benchmark of Ethical Culture, which is a report that you were very involved in, and it certainly steers a lot of my thinking these days. We know from the Benchmark of Ethical Culture that the companies with the strongest ethical cultures are going to outperform their peers by up to 40% in key business metrics, the standard things that you would want to have as a business like employee loyalty, innovation, adaptability, customer satisfaction, and growth.

I think that taking code of conduct seriously, taking value seriously and taking culture building seriously is probably one of the most important things that a company could be doing right now, especially when you look at the Edelman Trust Barometer and the role companies have to take right now in society. Trust becomes super foundational to that. I know you've got some insights that you can share around trust building and how foundational that is for ethical culture.

Emily Miner: Yeah. When we conducted our research into ethical culture globally in a business context, we looked at ... I want to say 10 different dimensions of culture and how people and organizations behave and operate, and we did some fancy statistical modeling to look at are there some aspects of culture that are more important than others? How do they relate to each other? What drives what? And all of that. What we found was that there were some dimensions that rose to the top in terms of influencing other elements of culture, as well as those business outcomes that you talked about, and trust was one of them.

We found that trust had an outsized impact on whether or not people behaved ethically in an organization, and particularly when they were under pressure. I think that that's such an important idea because if you look at any number of corporate scandals, so often, not in every case certainly, but in many cases, the pressure to perform that was set out or pushed by the organization, by leaders in an organization, is part of why people did what they did.

This idea that trust is one of the strongest drivers of whether people behave ethically, especially when under pressure, I think is a big one that certainly makes me sit up a little taller and take notice, because it's something that any chief ethics and compliance officer would say that they're looking for and is a goal of their program. Another area where trust really stood out as a driver of employee loyalty, we were talking earlier about the great shuffling, but I think that also makes it stand out even more for me, just in our current context. People are more likely to stay in your company, you're more likely to retain great talent if they trust you as leaders, as an organization, their peers, and if they feel trusted themselves.

Jen Uner: I think one of the things that was evident too in the research is the value of transparency and building trust.

Emily Miner:   To wrap up a lot of the threads that we've talked about and as it relates to transparency, one of the findings that was so compelling to me from the Edelman Trust Barometer was that the majority of people are expecting CEOs, specifically CEOs, to take a public stand on any number of social issues of our times. But at the same time, at least in the United States, these issues have become so politicized and polarizing. That's a tough bar to set for CEOs. How do they thread that needle? It's why I think that Allstate's societal engagement framework is just so brilliant, because it helps them figure out how are we going to address these issues?

Responding to that majority of the population as Edelman, found they're looking for Allstate CEO and for any number of other companies' CEOs to take a stand. It's a way to respond to that call without politicizing or polarizing or without politicizing the issue, because that's not what it's about. It's not about is this a liberal cause or a conservative cause? Is it a Democratic cause or is it a Republican cause? It's four questions. Does this help our customers, do we know something about it, do we have agency over it, and what impact does it have on our employees?

It really takes all of that noise out of the decision-making. I just think it's such a great example of how leaders in general can take up that mantle of society's expectations of business to help solve and address our social issues without having that response fall into any political trap that's going to alienate you or with your employees or with customers. It's such a great example and one that I hope other business leaders take inspiration from.

Jen Uner: Well, I think it just really speaks to how important it is to set up those frameworks in advance so that you're not caught in panic mode or in defensive mode when it's not even necessary to be that way. Right? If you've set up those mechanisms in advance, you're going to probably come out ahead because you will have already created a framework that's going to prioritize the human response.

Emily Miner: Absolutely. Absolutely. Because what's the next COVID? What's the next unexpected thing? To already have that framework in place is going to be so helpful.

Jen Uner: That's why we say rules are good, values are better.

Emily Miner: Exactly.

Jen Uner: Goes back to that. Emily, thank you so much for joining me on the Principled Podcast today. It's our final episode of season seven, as we take a summer break and we'll resume with season eight in September. In the interim, we'll share encores of our favorite episodes from this season. To close out. My name is Jen Uner, and I want to thank you all for 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 lrn.com to learn more. 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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