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Government And Business Face Public Distrust

Friday, Nov. 4, 2011

What happens when you bring corporate executives and public sector ethics experts together to talk about business, government, and the case for voter concern? You learn that the key to trust is relationships, and that while there are many differences between the public and private sectors, both must embrace and support a culture of ethics in their organizations.

I just returned from Southern Methodist University (SMU) where the Cox School of Business partnered with the Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility to engage panelists from both sectors to exchange viewpoints on the topics of ethics, trust, and transparency. The underlying issue was “the case for voter concern.”

Matthew Harrington, CEO of the public relations firm Edelman, spoke of the lack of public trust in business and government. He cited his company’s “Edelman Trust Barometer” that shows trust has plummeted in virtually all sectors: business, government, media, and even non-profit organizations.

The recovery formula he suggests is a simple one—accountability plus transparency equals trust. The idea of building a “trust savings account” may help when a good organization experiences a crisis, he said, but “a deficit in trust is as dangerous as any economic problem.”

Some other key points from the speakers representing business:

• Trust is intangible, but it means delivering every day what you have promised to your customer.

• Transparency must be exercised in both word and deed.

• Disclosure is the act of giving the facts; transparency is explaining what it all means.

• Encourage employees and members of the board of directors to speak up – to be a “devil’s advocate” if necessary.

• You can make the great even better, but the mediocre cannot jump to greatness.

Next week I will write about the role of transparency and ethics in government, and the benefits of a strong culture of ethics in both the public and private sectors.

I welcome your comments.

Tags: Ethical Leadership, public trust, transparency

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