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Trust: The Foundation of Becoming Crisis Confident

March 15, 2022

The final component of our speed, clarity, and trust architecture that will transform you into a Crisis Confident organization is trust.

The simple quote from Santosh Kalwar, “Trust starts and ends with the truth,” helps us think about the truth and the trust that’s necessary for superior crisis response.

Of the three elements, you may be saying to yourself, ‘this is the most basic; of course we need to have trust and speak the truth.’ But that’s not exactly what I mean. 

Imagine the reputation-impacting situations that could affect your firm. Now think about what you need to have in place to survive. You need trust in the systems that you have in place, the procedures you’ll employ, and the people you’ll be relying on. You need to know that everything – and everyone – will perform to the level necessary to protect your organization and get it out of trouble. That’s the trust I’m talking about. 

Building that trust begins with an honest assessment of the organization: around individual skills, organizational readiness, and whether you’ve put the time in to make sure that everyone is ready to step up if something happens. In short, will you like what you see when you’re in the Crucible of Crisis?

All too often, we’ve been called into a situation where the CEO or board of directors have told me privately they don’t trust the counsel they are getting from their team. Or they don’t trust their ability to get their messages out clearly in an expedited manner. Often they don’t trust that decisions can be made quickly. 

These breakdowns in trust begin with a lack of faith in individuals, systems, or procedures. But, when we think about trust in crisis, it goes far beyond that. It leads to a lack of confidence in what you say and do: a lack of trust in the organization itself. 

However, all of these trust gaps can be repaired and, once fixed, you’ll have an organization that is genuinely ready for crises. It’s not dissimilar to the “trust fall” exercises we’ve all participated in: you know that your organization will be there to step up when you take that leap of faith.

But trust falls won’t be enough to build the necessary trust across an entire organization. So what does that look like in reality? How can you build organizational trust? 

The five elements of trust

We think trust breaks down into five key components, all of which are things you can do with your organization right now to develop the systemic trust that is critical.

We begin with skills training to ensure that everyone has the functional ability to respond to a crisis and have the skills, judgment, and understanding necessary. We fundamentally believe that skills training is the foundation, but it’s enhanced enormously through realistic exercises. Conducting regular team and collective practical exercises allow teams to practice their skills and to build relationships so that trust grows organically.

Next, we need the right leaders to both lead the organization in a crisis and champion the crisis readiness program. This follows skills training and exercises because we can then assign individuals into the right roles based on their crisis abilities, experience, and performance.

Then we need to develop an understanding of partnership with communicators and people within operations, subject matter experts, so we have strong relationships across the organization. These relationships expedite trust, generate speed, and enhance clarity so we know exactly what we want to do next and can put plans into action effectively.

And lastly, we need a growth mindset. Errors are treated as opportunities for improvement. We encourage the staff to speak up: if they see something, they say something. We ensure that we are constantly growing and improving. We don’t just ‘set it and forget it’ because we understand that, just as the issues our organization faces are incredibly dynamic, our ability to learn must be equally vigorous.

Encourage these five elements in your organization – skills training, exercises, leadership, relationships, and a growth mindset – and you’ll be laying a solid foundation for systemic trust. A trust that’s rooted in the truth: the truth about where we stand, it’s the truth about the skill set of individuals, it’s the truth about our organizational setup. 

Now, due to the speed, clarity, and trust you’ve instilled, when you’re confronted by the Crucible of Crisis, you’ll like what you see.

Photo by lauren lulu taylor on Unsplash

Filed under: Blog | Crisis Confidence


Bill is a reputation management, crisis communications and professional development expert, keynote speaker, Wall Street Journal Risk & Compliance panelist, and best-selling author of Critical Moments: The New Mindset of Reputation Management. He has more than 25 years of global experience managing high-stakes crises, issues management, and media relations challenges for both Fortune 500 companies and winning global political campaigns.