Managing Ethical Conversations at the Leadership Table

By Rob Campbell
IABCLA, Membership VP

Richard Edelman

On April 12, USC hosted its 28th Annual Kenneth Owler Smith Symposium. Richard Edelman, CEO and founder of Edelman Communications, shared his perspective on ethics and trust in communications during his keynote speech. Edelman is the creator of the Edelman Trust Barometer.

His remarks offered a host of information and thoughtful points intended to help communications leaders better manage ethical conversations at the leadership table. Here are a few highlights that may help you take action:

1. Existential challenge of trust: by understanding the media is now considered the least trusted institution globally, communications professionals can advocate for better ethical actions and ideas that change the purpose of a business.  Among media channels, social media is 40 percent less trusted than traditional methods. 

2. Employer reputation: employers are now considered the No. 1 trusted source of information after family, friends, groups, and the media. People are now withdrawing from traditional sources and expecting leadership to speak up and, as a result, businesses have the opportunity to change society.

3. Be your own media company: organizations can and should consider creating and distributing their own news and information to ensure accuracy and transparency. Doing so means owning story tone and language that can and does get modified in social and traditional media outlets. 

4. Perception gaps: be aware that among stakeholders your organization’s reputation can vary greatly, so be prepared to address partners. Reputation perception is key to solidifying and upholding your organization’s ethical status.

If your organization needs to establish ethical standards, Edelman offered the following four steps:

1. Accuracy: organizations should aim for factually and rigorously sharing information with stakeholders. 

2. Transparency: leaders should be accountable for what they promote through transparent communications that provide clarity and deliver information correctly the first time. 

3. Open Exchange: create platforms for consumers and employees that offer an opportunity for an exchange of ideas, conversation and, as needed, feedback. 

4. Ethics training: train employees at all levels about the importance of ethics and what it means to conduct business with moral responsibility.

In summary, the consensus during April’s symposium was communications is the vehicle by which an organization can lead change and be an advocate for a better community. Ethical communications can alter a business, give purpose to a brand, and can help solve societal problems.