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Preserving Trust Through 2021

Bruce MacLellan

2020 was a year of dramatic change with a pandemic that caused both tragedy and turmoil, racial inequalities came to a boiling point and we were plagued by political scandals and economic hardship for many.

The one constant was uncertainty, and that can be a fuel for mistrust or an opportunity to build trust.

The 2021 Proof Strategies CanTrust Index tells the story of Canadian trust levels, and who Canadians believe is trustworthy in this world of ever-increasing misinformation, conspiracy theories and keyboard warriors.

Our advice

As we have been saying throughout the pandemic, the big three drivers of trust are ability, benevolence and integrity. They are all important but for this crisis, the difference-maker in organizations is benevolence, or goodwill. People feel threatened and insecure. Combined with the length of restrictions, fatigue is common. They need leaders and organizations to display concern for their interests and care about their well being. This requires continuous kindness and empathy during communication. The findings of the 2021 CanTrust Index reflect these needs.

How to preserve your organizational trust

Organizational trust has been so important during this current period of disruption. Trust helps employees, managers and leaders effectively navigate challenging events and respond constructively to change. Trust underpins organizational agility and resilience.  When employees feel trusted in their workplace they are more actively engaged in their work, they exhibit attitudes that are more constructive, and they report having a much greater sense of well-being. One of the most prominent aspects that this pandemic is our foundational need for trustworthy and safe working environments that support us in doing our work and accomplishing organizational goals.

Disruption serves to threaten trust when organizations need it most. Our most recent CanTrust Index shows that employees already give their employers a poor grade (C+) for building trust.

Team members should practice empathy vertically and horizontally, reinforcing and protecting core organizational values and goals that underlie trust in the employee-organization relationship.

The dual challenge for leaders

Leaders that actively develop and maintain positive relationships with their teams and more broadly across their organization will help build a more effective trust culture. Every CEO in the country feels sustained pressure from this pandemic. The dual challenge is for leaders to practice empathy while also requiring accountability. By asking questions and listening to people, goals and expectations can be developed collaboratively. In addition, leaders should communicate openly about their own limitations and build teams around them with people who are comfortable navigating uncertainty, making decisions and moving ahead. 

The best way to preserve trust in an organization is not to erode it in the first place

An important question is what can organizations effectively do to preserve the trust they have during a crisis?

The following set of actions represents a “how-to” for leaders who want to continue weathering this uncertainty in a way that preserves the trust they have and provides their employees with a renewed sense of engagement and well being.

Wrong Way Signs

We should also watch for “wrong way signs” that signal organizations are losing trust and require action.

Just prior to this pandemic, our research found that only 54 per cent of Canadian employees were willing to confide in their leader about issues that are affecting their work. Significant uncertainty can bring out self-protective behaviours and the following examples provides additional insight on what to look for in the event you suspect the “willingness to be vulnerable”, (defined as trust), might be eroding in your organization:

To talk more about preserving and building trust, please contact Bruce MacLellan at or Kathleen McGinn at