C Gopinath

Yours faithfully

C Gopinath | Updated on March 09, 2018

Why it’s important to deal with a trust deficit

It is easier to think of trust in terms of its absence. When there is no trust, we expect to be cheated. Thus, trust is a belief that a person or an institution can be expected to function without deceit or wrong intentions.

Edelman, a US-based public relations firm, has been calculating a ‘trust barometer’ by surveying respondents across many countries. In its 14th survey released this year, 33,000 respondents in 27 ‘markets’ were quizzed on their trust in business, government, NGOs and media.

While I could not find a definition of trust in the report nor a listing of questions asked of their respondents, I found the following general statement on their website, that trust is seen as a ‘forward facing metric of stakeholder expectation.’ In some charts, the organisation captures expectations of behaviour related to communication, social responsibility, quality, and so on.

India trusts

Cynics would be disappointed to know that trust is pretty high in India, ranked fifth. Over 70 per cent of our people trust business, NGOs and media, while only 53 per cent trust the Government. Trust of the Government is very high in China and Singapore. Hmm.

Trust is something Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems keenly aware of. In his first meeting with senior bureaucrats, he assured them that he would work on the basis of trust and not favoritism.

There is a great opportunity for the Government to take a clue from the Edelman survey and see if it can push this idea of trust further down the line. Such as trusting the people of the country in many small ways.

Think back on every interaction you have had with government and quasi-government agencies. You have to submit multiple copies of forms, multiple proofs of your identity and address.

Remember the RBI’s KYC form? It wanted every bank account holder to submit documents not once but every couple of years to prove who they are. Many private firms learnt their management lessons apparently from the Government for they also follow obstreperous procedures.

There is an enormous need for work experts to review all government offices and recommend how procedures and document submission requirements can be based on trust rather than distrust. The few who violate the trust can be severely dealt with, rather than suspect everyone.

A legacy of mistrust

All this has a history that we cannot forget but need to stop using it as an excuse. I refer to colonialism. A colonial power could not trust the people it was ruling for they may gang-up and overthrow it. So it made a lot of sense to device these ingenious bureaucratic procedures. I have heard of pensioners requiring to produce a certificate from a ‘competent’ authority that he or she is alive!

Other results of the Edelman survey are of interest. Companies that are based in BRIC nations are less trusted compared to western-based companies. Interestingly, a majority of respondents in developed countries do not want BRIC to invest in their countries. This bias may border racism. Or, perhaps, this stems from all the bad press of jobs having been lost to the BRIC.

The survey also reports privately-held companies feel they are more responsive to customers needs, more entrepreneurial, respond to society’s needs better, and act more responsibly than publicly-held companies. India’s past governments, prone towards socialism, have historically looked at the private sector with suspicion. The present government will hopefully change that.

The writer is the dean of the Jindal Global Business School

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Published on July 23, 2014
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