Issue 14 - December 2016

BUILDING TRUST IN CIVIC SCOTLAND

By Gary Devlin, Partner and Head of Public Sector Audit, Scott-Moncrieff

Trust is a deeply personal affair. It is grounded in personal experience and knowledge, but in today’s modern age, it can often be formed through hearsay or by evaluating others’ experiences. Sometimes, through the power of social media, this can result in us being influenced by the opinions of people we don’t even know.

So it’s little wonder that trust is becoming increasingly important to public facing organisations, such as those who deliver the services many of us interact with regularly.

Developing a culture of trust should be a critical aim for all organisations; however this is particularly true for public sector bodies who are accountable to taxpayers.

Developing a culture of trust should be a critical aim for all organisations, however this is particularly true for public sector bodies who are accountable to taxpayers.

Trust in organisations is vital to long term success, and good leaders focus on developing and nurturing trust – both within their organisation, and externally, with their customers and stakeholders.

Scott-Moncrieff has just completed comprehensive research aimed at measuring the trust we place in our organisations. The table below details the professions we most and least trust to be truthful in their communication and interaction with us, ranked from highest to lowest. It shows that we tend to trust health professionals and the NHS most and government ministers, politicians in general and big companies least. Why does this matter? What can we learn from the results, and where does this leave Scotland’s public organisations?


 

In understanding trust, it is important to recognise that it is an outcome. Trust emerges from a range of cultures, behaviours and actions of individuals, teams, and organisations. It can come down to quite a simple belief that individuals or organisations will be completely honest in their dealings with you and do exactly what they say.

Trust is reinforced every time we remain consistent in what we say, how we behave and in what we deliver or do and, similarly, it gets eroded every time our actions are inconsistent. This is true for us as individuals and how we behave in teams or with customers and clients, as much as it is for institutions.

If there is a disconnect between what an institution or individual states publicly as a value and their actions then our trust will be eroded. Once lost, it can be very difficult to win back and the loss of trust can have a damaging impact on your reputation and business. For businesses, this means lost customers or employees who will switch to a more trustworthy rival and, for the public sector, it erodes confidence in our institutions, in civic life and the society we are all a part of.

Trust is an outcome from our cultures, behaviours and actions. It is integral to the success of any organisation and should be given more priority and focus to connect better with stakeholders and service users, especially in the public sector.

It perhaps comes as no surprise that the research found the public tend not to trust politicians, bankers and journalists. Some feedback suggests the public believe this group are trained to lie, which does give an insight into how deeply they distrust some opinion formers and business leaders in our society. People also make a distinction between professions with high levels of trust (police officers, doctors and nurses) and administrators who manage those functions (NHS managers and civil servants).

And, as one would expect, organisations which exist to provide a public service are seen to be more trustworthy than those that exist to make money. Perhaps less predictable was the distinct age differential uncovered, with younger people more likely to trust organisations, particularly public bodies, than the older generation.

Knowing how much or how little the public trust our organisations and institutions is important, particularly if this knowledge can contribute to the improvement and development of civic Scotland. When the research delved deeper, it discovered that the key determinants of trust are all things that organisations have the power to change – transparency, how staff are treated, ethical behaviour and good leadership.

Trust is an outcome from our cultures, behaviours and actions. It is integral to the success of any organisation and should be given more priority and focus to connect better with stakeholders and service users, especially in the public sector. It should then be used to shape services to meet these needs much more obviously. This focus on trust will help the public sector connect better with the people it is there to serve and, by doing so, will benefit wider society.

Gary Devlin is Partner and Head of Public Sector Audit at Scott-Moncrieff

By Gary Devlin, Partner and Head of Public Sector Audit, Scott-Moncrieff

Issue 14 - December 2016

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