We lost trust in our institutions, leaders, businesses and so much more in 2020. Can that trust ever be regained? Yes, but it's not easy (and it shouldn't be). 

This year put our trust to the test. Institutions failed us, leaders divided us and society shocked us. Our collective confidence waned as the truth blurred, and emotions became sensitive, ugly and raw. However dramatic this may sound, civilization cannot exist without trust. It’s what enables us to function and make decisions. It minimizes doubt and reduces risk. It is easily lost, but it can (potentially) be regained. 

As we enter 2021, there is incredible work to be done to regain trust. It may take years, decades or even generations to right the wrongs from 2020, but all hope is not lost.

1. Start with Truth

To rebuild trust, we must first start with the truth. It’s the foundation of all stable relationships. Do not sugar-coat, hedge or refrain from uncomfortable conversations. Own up to mistakes and explain (do not defend) what happened. If your company wasn’t prepared, say so. If a leader made a lousy call, accept it. People can be forgiving and even empathetic when given the truth. 

2. Make a Commitment

Actions speak louder than words. Take ownership of rebuilding trust by committing to improvement. Set a clear goal, announce it publicly, be open to feedback and don’t let up. It’s easy to make promises in the heat of the moment. Don’t commit to anything if you’re not ready, willing and able to put the time, effort and resources behind the promise. Failure to commit will only make you less trustworthy.

3. Execute a Strategy

This is the hard part of rebuilding trust. Talk is cheap. You must do the work, and you don’t get to decide when the work is complete; your audience does. While it may take the USPS two on-time deliveries to regain the trust of a customer, it may take law enforcement years to rebuild what was lost. Don’t let time deter progress. Trust is essential.

4. Be Transparent

Rebuilding trust is not a poker game. You must lay your cards out on the table for everyone to see because mistrust lives in the shadows. Use your website, email, social media and earned media (when appropriate) to communicate updates and setbacks. Identify a spokesperson who can deliver an impactful message.   

5. Prioritize Trust

Unsavory business practices and unethical leadership always comes at a cost to reputations and bottom lines. Trust is the currency of the next decade and beyond. If someone trusts you, they will do business with you. Trust is invaluable in all of its complexity and something no one can afford to ignore, especially if your competitors make it a priority. 

We launched our PR offering, Upright, in 2020 with the mission to help good companies earn the trust they deserve. Even if we had a crystal ball, we couldn’t have timed our launch any better. Trust, or a lack of it, is one of the most significant challenges facing society today and 2020 added fuel to an already smoldering fire. Sir Winston Churchill is credited with first saying, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” The new year is an opportunity to start anew and make a long-term commitment to building trust. Are you ready?