Margareta Pagano: Winning trust in the office is bottom line for men at the top

He's a smart cookie, that Justin King, the boss of Sainsbury's. He has admitted that the public's trust in supermarkets has been severely damaged by the horsemeat scandal and that retailers face a "new reality".

Even though no equine DNA has been found in any of Sainsbury's food, his mea culpa on behalf of his fellow retailers and suppliers was absolutely spot-on.

So it was also smart of Mr King to make the point that everyone in the supply chain – from retailer to supplier, small or big – has a duty to act to restore that trust. He's obviously taken some lessons from the banking crises where the bosses are only just beginning to accept blame and demand new standards, as Antony Jenkins has done at Barclays, by telling staff that if they don't meet the new values they can leave.

But all these apologies – and chief executive demands for new standards – are throwing up some other rather fascinating psychological issues at work, according to my head-hunter friend Lindsay Leslie-Miller. She's been recruiting top executives for some of the UK's biggest retailers and telecoms for more than 20 years but says she's never known them to be so jumpy, scared and aggressive.

Since the financial crash most companies have been focused because most of the senior executives have been concentrating on slashing costs and meeting sales targets. But now they've cut everything to the bone, and there is still no sales growth. The rules have changed and executives don't know what to do; which is why there's lots more back-stabbing.

Leslie-Miller should know: her search firm, Hunter-Miller, recruits at the sharp end – the sales, trading and marketing executives trained to meet demanding targets. By contrast, the chief executives do know where they are going but need to start explaining themselves at work as well as to the public.

A new survey for the Edelman Trust Barometer shows less than 20 per cent of the people they spoke to trust business leaders to make good decisions. It would be interesting to ask those same people what they think of their own bosses – it might be even lower.

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