Trust Me…

building trust with employeesWhat comes to mind when you hear the words “trust me…”? A slick used-car salesman? A shady politician? Chances are, your first thought was of someone trying to get the best of you in an underhanded way.

And that’s normal. Because trust – like respect – can’t be commanded. It has to be earned.

What does this mean for business leaders? A lot. Research shows that the character and actions of the senior leader are inextricably linked with trust in the company itself. In addition, disengaged employees cite their bosses as the number-one reason for not being happy at work.

The 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer examined some specific actions that senior leaders can take to build trust. Those that ranked highest included:

  • communicating clearly and transparently (82 percent),
  • telling the truth, regardless of how complex or unpopular it is (81 percent),
  • and engaging with employees regularly (80 percent).

Pretty straightforward concepts, right? But they’re critically important – because transparency, honesty, and engagement can’t be “faked.” Your stakeholders will sense inauthentic behavior in an instant, and their skepticism will undermine all of your efforts, no matter how smart and well intentioned they may be. To truly build trust, leaders must embrace management practices that emphasize sharing power and accountability, putting the needs of others first, and helping people develop and perform as highly as possible.

But, while it may start at the top, the responsibility for trust building doesn’t rest on one person’s shoulders. Yes, the CEO and senior leaders are a critical voice and face for a company, but they aren’t – and shouldn’t be – the only voice. In fact, Edelman researchers found that it’s the employees who are considered the most trusted source of information – particularly for issues dealing with engagement and integrity.

Not surprisingly, the public wants to hear directly from employees as ambassadors who can attest to a company’s integrity, the quality and relevance of its products and services, and its operational strength – including that of its leadership.

Employees as corporate ambassadors – this can be a scary concept for some leaders. Can employees articulate your vision and mission? Did they take part in discovering the organization’s share values, and are they witnessing their bosses and other leaders living the values? Will they support your brand promise? Do they believe in what you are selling? Do they believe in you?

If you’re like many leaders, these questions may make you a bit uncomfortable. That’s normal. So what should you do? We suggest that you start by asking yourself one simple question. “If my employees were asked about our company’s integrity, quality and leadership, do I know what they would say?” If you aren’t sure, or even worse, if you think their feedback might be negative or harmful to your organization, that’s a wake up call that you should take a close look at your company’s engagement issues.

The number-one driver of breakthrough performance is a trust-based, empowered culture in which high levels of employee engagement are enabled and nurtured. And this type of culture – one of mutual trust, respect and accountability – doesn’t happen by accident or by mandate. It must be intentionally enabled and earned over time, and there are specific things your organization can do to ensure that happens. To learn more, give us a ring! We’d love to share more.