If you’re not focusing on your employees, reconsider.
Why? Trust in U.S. institutions – as well as the rest of the Western world — has plummeted over the past 12 months, as tracked by the 2017 Edelman TrustBarometer.
We’ve entered an unprecedented crisis of trust. For example, in the U.S., 57% of respondents said the “system” is failing them, which contributes to their fear and drop in trust.
U.S. respondents say they fear losing their jobs due to the impacts of outdated skills, foreign competition, immigrants who will work for less, jobs moving to cheaper markets, and automation.
Respondents also say the pace of change in business and industry is moving too fast.
Who do people trust? Individuals over institutions. But it’s not any individual.
“A person like you,” technical experts, and academics are the most credible at 60%. A minority — only 37% — find CEOs believable, a drop of 12% from last year’s survey and now at an all-time low.
The best way for CEOs to win back trust is to focus on employees, said Richard Edelman, CEO and president of the PR firm bearing his name.
“The world has flipped upside down, Edelman said. “It used to be a pyramid of authority… The influence actually rests with the mid-level people, who speak peer-to-peer. If they’re for you, you win.”
How do you focus on employees to win back trust for your organization? Consider these three actions:
- Listen to diverse employee voices, not just the usual suspects. A structured process can help you. For example, one of my clients hired me two years ago to help design a “listening tour” in which leaders meet regularly with small groups of diverse employees. The leaders gather feedback to update and refresh the business strategy. They also check in with employees about how they’re doing. As they begin their third year of the tour, the leaders continue to uncover a number of problems and barriers that they hadn’t heard about as well as get helpful feedback about the strategy and business plans. Leaders also have enlisted employees’ commitment to improve their focus and execution. An added benefit is that the culture is now more open and transparent and trustworthy.
- Engage in more conversations, make fewer presentations. By talking, you’re better able to get to the heart of issues. Drop the corporate=speak though and use your “weekend words” as a colleague calls informal, every-day language. If you sound more spontaneous than rehearsed, you’ll come across as more believable. Also if you talk about your experiences from your heart rather than just recount data and stats, you’ll also be more believable, corroborated by the Edelman TrustBarometer results.
- Involve employees as ambassadors and advocates, not as paid spokespeople but as interested volunteers. Recognize that employees are the most credible spokespeople for your organization, on every aspect of your business, even financial earnings. Yes, peers are now as credible as experts. You don’t have to turn your employees into “armchair CFOs;” however, you can provide them with the tools and support to engage with internal and external stakeholders on issues that they care about. For experiences and tips, see the blog post How to help employees proudly wear the letter “A”
For many of us and other leaders, these three actions require us to get out of our comfort zone and silos. By being around different people and new ideas, we’ll avoid the trap of Drinking Kool Aid in an echo chamber and start to listen more to people who hold different points of view.
If we’re to rebuild trust, we’ve got to work to understand and address peoples’ fears, and then help regain some semblance of hope and optimism in our institutions and fellow human beings.
What are you doing to build trust?