When the topic of trust is discussed it often touches ethics and the question is raised how strongly they are interconnected. For example: Can you only be trusted if you behave ethical? I believe there is a difference. A hit-man or a drug-dealer is considered to be unethical as a profession, but they can be trusted for what they do.

From an organisational point of view, I do believe the link is stronger. The elements of trust were explained in my previous blog using the underneath model.


When it comes to ethics there are three elements that link with ethics.

Promise. If your promise to the audience is to behave ethical, they will expect you to keep this promise. And once the promise is made it is not easily forgotten as it is registered in your history.

History. Organisations that hold a history that is linked to the country (e.g. railways, telecommunications, main-ports) or companies that are rewarded with a royal label are expected to behave ethical on a country level.

Authenticity. Social responsibility activities must be evaluated from an authenticity point of view. Does the audience believe the good intentions or do they feel it is a crowd pleasure. This can have a big impact on your trust both positive and negative.

These are the factors that can be controlled by the organisation. It gets more difficult once we have a conflict of interest. Contributing to national safety where possible is something that can be considered as ethical, but if it means breaking your promise to provide secure communications its a dilemma. This is increasingly challenging for smartphone builders and telecommunication providers.

Another example is with social media and fake news. These platforms gave control to the users to create and share content. Side effect is fake news and influencing the masses. From an ethics point of view the audience suddenly expects from the organization to do something where it was never written in the promise.

I believe we should separate the two topics of trust and ethics. Societal norms and corresponding expectations must be seen as a factor that can challenge the tolerance of your audience and must be dealt with in the formulation and execution of the promise.