CIPD Annual Conference 2018: Transparency not the answer to building trust, says keynote speaker

Academic and author Rachel Botsman encourages HR professionals to focus on ‘small actions’ that will restore trust in business

The desire to make organisations more transparent is not the most sensible way to tackle the trust crisis engulfing business, Rachel Botsman told HR professionals as she delivered the opening keynote address at this year’s CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition in Manchester today.

Botsman, a lecturer at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School and author of the bestselling business book Who Do You Trust?, tackled the issue of how to define and shift the concept of trust during her session, drawing on examples from across the business world.

She said the issue of trust was critical because the world was entering “a very precarious time in the relationship between trust, truth and evidence”, citing the Brexit vote as an example of where traditional faith placed in experts and institutions had broken down in a highly public way. But trust also mattered to individuals and organisations, she added, because we are asked to make decisions about who to trust on an ever-faster basis. 

Organisations sought to build trust by being more transparent with employees and customers, said Botsman, but this was not necessarily the way to build lasting trust.

“People think a way to build more trust is through transparency,” she said. “But it’s not true… trust is about having a confident relationship with the unknown. Trust and transparency are not interdependent. If you need things to be transparent, you have given up on trust.”

Instead, Botsman urged her audience to focus on the “small decisions and actions” they could undertake every day that would build trust with individuals. And she outlined four key areas where people judged trustworthiness: competence (whether someone has the skills, knowledge and experience to deliver on their promises); reliability (how respectful an individual is of time, and the consistency of their behaviours over time); integrity (the alignment of someone’s intentions with their actions); and benevolence (being able to walk in another’s shoes and genuinely care about them). 

Earlier, CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese had opened the conference by suggesting HR had a crucial role to play in developing jobs that were good for people. The concept of good work, said Cheese, was a growing concern being discussed by policymakers and business leaders alike. And it played into the concept of professionalism embodied by the new CIPD Profession Map which is being launched in Manchester. 

The map aims to examine and codify the skills and behaviours that will be required to lead the people profession into the future, including the concept of being “principles led, evidence based and outcomes driven”.

“We should be seen as experts in people, but also experts in work and organisations and change. We have to create cultures that can adapt and be agile… leading to the idea of a purpose for the profession of championing work and working lives,” he said.