The challengeBosses are trying to rally disengaged employees as their companies limp out of the recession.

Employees want to fire their bosses or quit.

Short term leadership decisions that punted thousands of employees into unemployment lines without regard  to refilling the ranks is now coming back to haunt boards of directors.

Leaders are scratching their heads wondering where they are going to find qualified people to fill evolving information jobs while there are not enough capable  welders to stick their ideas together.

The times — they are changing.

A study released by Hill+Knowlton Strategies shows that businesses in America – and around the world – are struggling to communicate something the company calls “character”: the interaction between brand, reputation and behavior. The study examined how consumers make decisions, where they get their information and how they view inconsistency in a company’s communications and actions. The results show that an inability to communicate character impacts a company’s ability to connect with the public in a way that drives positive reputation and financial value.

“Our research shows that big consumer decisions, like who to buy from or where to work, are strongly influenced by companies’ character. And 89 percent of consumers trust friends, family and peers most when it comes to information about a company.”

Inconsistencies like this raise serious questions about trust and the trustworthiness of leadership.  According to the findings, nine out of 10 Americans believe that companies need to do more to bring their behaviors in better alignment with their publicly stated values. Beyond that, nearly half of Americans think that companies’ behaviors are out of alignment with the values they publicly promote.

CharacterLiar liar pants on fire — behavior speaks louder than words

H+K Strategies found that consumers view this misalignment as dishonest, and that perceived dishonesty can lead to crisis. On the other hand, 73 percent of Americans are more likely to purchase products or services from companies that are good at what H+K Strategies calls “Communicating Character™.”

“We have been studying the impact of ‘character’: the intersection of brand, reputation and behavior on how the public views organizations,” said Andy Weitz, U.S. president and CEO of H+K Strategies. “Our research shows that big consumer decisions, like who to buy from or where to work, are strongly influenced by companies’ character. And 89 percent of consumers trust friends, family and peers most when it comes to information about a company.”

If they did it once, they will do it again.

The study also found that:

  • Only one in 10 people trust companies more today than 10 years ago.
  • Nearly nine out of ten people look first to friends and family – not CEOs, not the government and not the news – for trusted input on companies.
  • When asked to grade companies for behaving responsibly, having a positive impact on society and being trustworthy, two thirds of the public gives them an unimpressive C or below.
  • About half of people think companies are trying harder to have a positive impact on society, but only one-third are convinced that companies are actually behaving more responsibly.
  • Sixty-four percent want companies to demonstrate character through volunteerism and philanthropy in the community.
  • Three-fourths of the public says that there is greater access to information about companies than ever before. This new age of transparency means that consumers aren’t just hearing carefully crafted brand messages through advertising and other traditional media. It also means they’re hearing about companies’ reputations and behaviors from consumers and third parties across the world.

Too frequently, businesses only understand or address the collective impact of character when they have reached a crisis state. They view character as a defensive strategy when good character simply can’t be won or manufactured on the spot.  Trust does take time to rebuild.  When companies go on the offense by Communicating Character, they stand out from their competitors — when their character was good to begin with.

The good news for leaders who stood for integrity, were transparent and honest with employees during the Recession is that three out of four people said they were more likely to spend money with companies who demonstrate they have character.  Now more than ever, what your employees tell their friends matters.

Survey Details

The study collected 3,000 online interviews among U.S. adults between Oct. 11 and Oct. 21, 2013. Adults were selected to rate an industry based on a recent purchase history and knowledge of the industry. There were a minimum of 150 completes within each industry.

Copyright TIGERS Success Series, Inc. by Dianne Crampton

About TIGERS Success Series, Inc.

TIGERS Success Series has been helping leaders build high performance teams and work cultures that employees love returning to after a few days off.  TIGERS provides team development services and licenses human resource executives in the use of a proprietary team building tool box that improves workplace trust, interdependence, genuineness, empathy, risk resolution and success.