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The CEO — and the board — own the trust agenda

May 10, 2023

Who, specifically, is responsible for managing trust inside a company? For the vast majority of leaders heard by Deloitte in October 2022, the CEO is ultimately responsible for trust leadership at the company. But respondents also almost universally believe the board should play a key part in building and protecting stakeholder trust: more than three quarters (77%) say the board shares responsibility with management, while 18% believe the board has primary responsibility.

The Deloitte Global Boardroom Program surveyed 177 board members and C-suite executives in more than 30 countries across the five continents and found that directors around the world clearly recognize the importance of managing stakeholder trust. However, trust management is not yet a regular agenda item at board meetings.

The study shows leaders can be challenged by the complexity of trust as a topic. Many also tend to view trust as an organic by product of organizations doing what they are supposed to do. While organizations may or may not name a formal chief trust officer (recent research shows less than 10% have), they need clear ownership of day-to-day systems and processes to manage and enhance trust

Putting trust on the board agenda

Therefore, survey results suggest that boards have more work to do to embed trust as a prominent feature on the agenda. Nearly two-thirds (53%) say they have no fixed cadence for such discussions—being guided instead by events as they arise. Fewer than one-third (28%) of respondents say their boards put trust on the agenda twice a year or more, and 10% report that they do not discuss trust at all as a board.

The authors — Jo Iwasaki, Dan Konigsburg and William Touche — suggest some topic areas directors seeking to nurture and build trust among their stakeholders can use to foster productive conversations:

  • Defining trust

“What is our working definition of trust as it relates to the organization and our relationships with stakeholders?”

  • Delineating the board’s role in trust management

“What are the board’s responsibilities for earning trust with stakeholders and how do these differ from or align with management responsibilities?”

  • Measuring trust

“What metrics is our organization using to measure stakeholder trust? What could we do to improve the quality and accuracy of these metrics?”

  • Evaluating current priorities and anticipating shifts

“What are our current trust-building priorities and how will these evolve over the next few years?”

  • Evaluating the impact of ESG strategy and progress on trust

“To what extent does our commitment to sustainability and broader ESG factors support and reflect our broader commitment to building and maintaining stakeholder trust?”

Source: Deloitte Insights