Article | Organization Science | July – August 2011

Foundations of Organizational Trust: What Matters to Different Stakeholders?

by Michael Pirson and Deepak Malhotra


Prior research on organizational trust has not rigorously examined the context specificity of trust nor distinguished between the potentially varying dimensions along which different stakeholders base their trust. As a result, dominant conceptualizations of organizational trust are overly generalized. Building on existing research on organizational trust and stakeholder theory, we introduce a more nuanced perspective on the nature of organizational trust. We develop a framework that distinguishes between organizational stakeholders along two dimensions: depth of the relationship (deep or shallow) and locus (internal or external). The framework identifies which of six dimensions of trustworthiness (benevolence, integrity, managerial competence, technical competence, transparency, and identification) will be relevant to which stakeholder type. We test the predictions of our framework using original survey data from 1,298 respondents across four stakeholder groups from four different organizations. The results reveal that the relevant dimensions of trustworthiness vary systematically across different stakeholder types and provide strong support for the validity of the depth and locus dimensions.

Keywords: Competency and Skills; Forecasting and Prediction; Ethics; Framework; Data and Data Sets; Surveys; Organizations; Business and Stakeholder Relations; Identity; Perspective; Trust;


Pirson, Michael, and Deepak Malhotra. "Foundations of Organizational Trust: What Matters to Different Stakeholders?" Organization Science 22, no. 4 (July–August 2011): 1087–1104.