Graham Dietz and Nicole Gillespie show how one company faced a behavioural and ethical crisis, and recovered

Trust and ethics complement each other. Indeed, to be ethical is to be trustworthy. A strong reputation for trustworthiness underpins organisational resilience and authenticity.

Such a reputation can provide sustainable competitive advantage. It enables an organisation to attract and retain top talent and establish effective business partnerships and a loyal customer base.

But what happens when trust is violated?

Following a major crisis in integrity or operational competence, employees’ trust in their own organisation needs special attention. Without high levels of internal trust, the process of repairing trust with external stakeholders will be difficult to initiate and sustain, and will lack credibility with the very people who must deliver the “new” organisation.

This topic is a timely one in the UK, with the scandal at News International, as well as live trust issues with the care home, banking and other sectors.

Severn Trent

The case of Severn Trent provides an useful example of a company whose trust and ethics have been challenged, and how they responded. It shows how a company worked to recover its reputation, focusing on how trust was rebuilt among their employees.

In July 2008, Severn Trent was prosecuted by the Serious Fraud Office for “knowingly or recklessly” providing false information to...

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