This article aims to hypothesize a model of trust in both senses of the word – a model, as in something to emulate, and a model as in a structural framework that describes its components. Almost all business people agree that winning and keeping the trust of customers, investors, employees and other stakeholders is critical to business success. There is also broad agreement that trust in business and government has been in serious decline over the past few decades, as documented in a number of studies. Ironically, however, there is little agreement on the nature of trust. Researchers and strategists use the word loosely, without a common definition of its components and with no clear understanding of the process by which it is built, nurtured – and lost.
Based on syndicated research and the more than three-decades experience in public relations, the author suggests that trust has both rational and emotional components that arise from stakeholders’ perception of their own affinity with a brand, company or individual, as well as their judgments of its competencies and purpose. Stakeholder perceptions along these dimensions can be displayed within a three-dimensional matrix, which can explain a range of rational/emotional reactions ranging from simple disappointment and begrudging respect to complete distrust and unquestioned trust.
The model of trust is useful for analyzing a brand, company or individual’s present trust position. It will also enable strategists to design a thoughtful, balanced approach to maintaining or improving stakeholder trust. The model allows strategists to articulate a set of actions and behaviors that will build on strengths, fill voids and correct past errors.
This is a theoretical hypothesis that still needs to be tested, but it appears to present a useful approach to considering issues of trust.
The new model builds on existing research to address an issue that has become even more critical to organizations and individuals in a world of instant communication and everyman publishing. Applying the model to business decision-making will protect firms from inadvertently losing stakeholder trust and enhance their ability to build even stronger stakeholder relationships.
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