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Blaire Palmer

That People Thing

Author, speaker, agent provocateur for senior leaders and their teams

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Edelman Trust Barometer 2024: Innovation in peril

What does the state of trust look like in 2024, against a backdrop of technological innovation? Leadership coach Blaire Palmer examines findings from the Edelman Trust Barometer 2024 and offers leaders guidance on building trust in an AI era.
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As HR leaders, trust matters to us. People don’t arrive at work neutral each day. They have lives which impact how they feel, what matters to them on any particular day, how tolerant they are of others and how receptive they are to change and uncertainty. 

But it isn’t just what’s going on in their individual lives which impacts how they behave. It’s global trends and the culture they experience that influence their opinions, their expectations and, of course, their level of trust in leaders. 

Measuring trust across four institutions

Every year The Edelman Trust Barometer details global levels of trust in four major institutions – the media, government, NGOs and business. For the last 24 years it has tracked how our perceptions of these institutions have shifted and how that impacts the way we see each other and the world. 

If people generally distrust authority figures, are sceptical about the reliability of information and are afraid about the future, how enthusiastic are they going to be about the introduction of a new tech system in the business? How reassured can their CEO make them feel about their job security? How engaged will they be with the organisation’s latest ‘Embracing Healthy Conflict’ webinar? 

When people are already distrustful, you have to prioritise creating a trusting environment before you can successfully do anything else. 

The threat of technological innovation

It won’t surprise you to know that the theme of the 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer is technological innovation. Generative AI was the big news of 2023 and, against a backdrop of general distrust in authority and the sources of information, there is a significant distrust in this and other forms of new tech.

39% of people surveyed believe tech innovation is poorly managed. Of those who believe this, 54% say tech is moving too quickly and leaving people like them behind. Even amongst those who believe tech innovation is well managed, 32% believe it is leaving them behind.

Of those who believe tech innovation is poorly managed, 69% believe society is changing too fast and not in ways that benefit people like them. The number is 42% even for those who believe tech innovation is well-managed. 

People want their CEO to talk publicly about issues such as skills of the future, the ethical use of technology and the impact of automation on jobs.

This is reflected in distrust in the whole capitalist system. 82% of people who believe tech innovation is poorly managed say the system favours the rich and 57% say capitalism as it exists today does more harm than good in the world. For those who believe tech is well-managed, the figures are 53% and 40% respectively. 

This distrust varies depending on the type of innovation people are asked about. Generally people are more optimistic about the impact of green technologies. But trust deteriorates when they are asked about AI, gene-based medicine and GMO foods.

What is the UK picture of trust?

The UK is one of the most distrusting countries in the world. Only 39% of people trust Government, Media, NGOs and Business on average, a drop of 4% in the last year. 

66% of people in the UK say the government is not regulating emerging innovation well because it doesn’t understand the tech and its implications.

In general, levels of trust in business are low in the UK and worsening. While, globally, business is the most trusted institution, in the UK less than 50% of people trust business. However, government is even less trusted. And the UK is right down the bottom of the league table when it comes to trust in the media at 31% (down 6% since last year’s report). 

The better news… Trust in employers

In a world where the sources of information (social media especially) are not perceived as reliable, we turn to our own employer in search of information we can believe. Trust in ‘my own employer’ is up this year, even in the UK. 77% of people in this country trust their own employer. And while scientists and teachers are the most trusted source of information, ‘my own CEO’ is a close third.   

People want their CEO to talk publicly about issues such as skills of the future, the ethical use of technology and the impact of automation on jobs. They would feel more confident about emerging technologies if business partnered with government and believe business is better placed than NGOs, governments and the media to integrate innovation into society. 

While people want scientists and experts to lead on the implementation of innovation, they want business leaders to take an active part in managing how tech is impacting society, not just how it is impacting their own organisation. 

You might think you’re just introducing a new accounting software or a new CRM system, but to many of your employees you are unquestioningly embracing tech that they don’t trust. 

Giving people a voice

I’ve been speaking and writing about how to engage people in change for more than two decades. In my new book Punks in Suits (due for publication in April 2024), I purposefully made my first chapter about technology and the impact on work and how we lead. I feel strongly that these innovations are so significant that they mark a leap in our society as significant as the industrial revolution. 

While, as a society, we have been through unprecedented change over the last 30 years, we now face a huge risk to the integrity of our society. If business leaders don’t take this seriously and try to brush aside the fears and distrust they see in their people as simple resistance to change they could deepen the polarisation and dysfunction of our society. 

You might think you’re just introducing a new accounting software or a new CRM system, but to many of your employees you are unquestioningly embracing tech that they don’t trust. 

Advice for leaders on building trust

People say clearly that they want their concerns to be heard by business, NGOs, governments and the media. They want to ask questions. They want the pluses and the minuses to be shared in an unbiased way.

Do not try to ‘sell’ technological change. Be balanced and allow people to make up their minds based on evidence not spin. Give people control over their future so they feel they have agency over how innovations will affect their lives. 

Remember:

  • It isn’t necessarily personal. If people in your organisation are sceptical of authority figures in your business and distrusting of your comms, keep in mind that they start from a place of distrust which doesn’t have anything to do with you. Be sympathetic rather than dismissive. 
  • Deal with facts and hard data. Don’t try to manipulate information to tell the story you want to tell. Whether you like it or not you need to let people make up their own mind in the light of evidence. 
  • Recognise that your perceptions might be different to theirs. The ‘informed’ public are more trusting than the general population. Those of the left politically are more trusting of new tech than those on the right. Different countries experience trust differently. Don’t assume that, just because you don’t fear the future, the same is true for everyone in your organisation. 
  • Get involved beyond your own business. An isolationist attitude won’t work here. People are looking to business leaders to engage in conversations about how tech will impact society in future. They want you to partner with governments, scientists and other experts to shape tech implementation and regulation. Don’t put your head in the sand. 

Distrust will undermine your efforts to bring about any change, to inspire your people about the future and encourage them to step out of their comfort zones and embrace new challenges. Be trustworthy and treat people with trust. Be honest and open. Trust people to handle complex information. And trust people to make up their own minds. The alternative is that trust will worsen and it will be even harder to engage with your people. It’s now or never folks. 

Interested in this topic? Read Businesses are moving from opacity to transparency to increase trust

Author Profile Picture
Blaire Palmer

Author, speaker, agent provocateur for senior leaders and their teams

Read more from Blaire Palmer
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