This month marks the 20th anniversary of the BBB Torch Awards for Ethics Program. When we first presented the Torch Awards, ethics was not discussed much nor was much written about it. In fact, when we were launching the program, the question I received from everyone I encountered was “What is an ethics award?”

Although ethics might not have been talked about much back then, we began the Torch Awards program because it was a unique way to illustrate the connection of BBB’s mission to the celebration of positive marketplace role models. And we know that celebrating trust and ethics is more important now than ever before.

According to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, trust in business has reached an all-time low, having dropped 20 points in the last 12 months from a score of 74 to 54.

However, a positive takeaway from the report is that the same respondents stated they view the # 1 job of a CEO should be their commitment to building trust and ensuring their company is trusted. This ranked above having the best product and highest profit.

Trust in business is no longer simply a nice thing to have. In fact, according to the Harvard Business Review, it’s a critical strategic asset in the contemporary marketplace. To help change the Edelman trust score, ongoing trust-building activities must be a top priority in every organization.

Ethical behavior starts at the top and it begins with all of us. Leaders must talk the talk and walk the walk. Stephen M.R. Covey writes in “Smart Trust” that, “Failing to do what you say you’re going to do as an individual creates a personal reputation or brand that diminishes trust. That’s why the most effective individuals work hard to declare their intent and do what they say they’re going to do in whatever role they’re in.”

Our Torch Award winners are examples of marketplace role models that are doing just that. They understand that an ethical culture helps companies gain respect and support from their communities and that it provides a competitive advantage in the marketplace. An ethical culture also helps to attract individuals who not only demonstrate, but also expect high standards of business conduct.

Winners of the BBB Torch Awards for Ethics go through an evaluation process and they articulate how their company achieves the award criteria called the 6 TRUST! Principles. These TRUST! Principles have been identified through hundreds of interviews, observations, and years of consulting experience with small, medium and large organizations. The principles are based on the premise that the organization’s leaders are the caretakers of the culture and that culture is a constant. To build a culture of TRUST!, requires intentionally, character-rich action on the part of leadership. The principles are defined as:

Transformation at the Top: Leaders are reflective and intentionally work to increase high character in the culture.

Reinforce and Build: Leaders reinforce and build a culture of high character ethics.

Unite the Team: Leaders unify the organization around a clear purpose and compelling convictions.

Steer Performance: Leaders guide organizational performance by implementing high competency management practices.

Treasure People: Leaders prize the intrinsic value of people.

! Enthusiastically Reinvest: Leaders generously support the community that supports them.

As we all work together to change the perception of trust and work to shift the direction of the Edelman Trust Score, I challenge all businesses and nonprofits to review the TRUST! Principles and work toward achieving them within your organization and teams. Doing so will help lead to a more trusted marketplace.

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