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5 Tips for building trust with employees through communication

Last week, I looked at Edelman’s Trust Barometer report for 2022 and shared some key thoughts and findings. It’s quite an eye-opener, and some of the data highlights the fragility of our trust in business, the media, and government. That precarious fragility of trust also extends to employees and their faith, trust and confidence in their employer. It’s something that all leaders and communicators should be aware of, and mindful of, at all times. I ended that article by quoting the report’s four points for restoring the cycle of trust, namely:

  • People want more business leadership, not less.

  • Demonstrate tangible progress

  • Focus on long-term thinking over short-term gain

  • Provide credible information

For this sequel, I thought I’d focus specifically on how we can build that all-important trust with our people, specifically through our communications with them. Much of it, perhaps unsurprisingly, revolves around honesty and transparency.

1. Share your vision for the future and plans to get there

Having a strong vision and a clear strategy for the future of our businesses is fundamental. We all need to know where we’re headed and how we plan to get there. But having all of this stored safely in the old grey matter of the CEO or on the SLT's laptops doesn’t count for much if our people don’t know it. If our employees are not aware of, and not on board with, our visions and goals, then there’s precious little chance of us achieving them. I shared five tips for communicating your strategic plan here.

Most senior teams would probably claim that they’re already doing this. But if we dare to delve a little deeper, we may find that those furthest away from the top tiers of management (which is usually those at the proverbial coal face) know far less about these big-ticket, big picture items than is ideal. And that often translates to a belief that there is no strategic vision or plan.

Our all-important comms strategy should include this – how do we best keep all of our people, regardless of level, location and working patterns, informed and updated on our strategy, vision and progress? It may be regular Town Halls or virtual conferences; it may be a management blog or occasional vlog.

2. Keep people informed of significant changes

Employees finding things out about their employer from anywhere other than their leaders is a nail in the coffin for trust. Whether it’s a breaking story from a news channel, something on social media, or a whispered morsel from a colleague, the damage to trust is the same. The best way to stop the rumour mill from springing into life (and running on overtime) is to share the truth with them in an official (but not necessarily officious) manner. Without this, employees will piece together a story with the bits they can find, regardless of source credibility, and fill in the blanks themselves.

3. Don’t protect your people from the bad news

Perversely, there is evidence to suggest that our people worry less when they are kept informed of the bad news. My guess is that this is linked to the rumour mill and filling-in-the-blanks example above. If we are straight with our people, even when the news isn’t great, they will feel more confident that the issues are being dealt with and that they are not being kept in the dark from an even bigger, grizzlier secret.

We should trust in our people that they understand that businesses go through periods of challenge as well as growth. The chances are, if we have an engaged workforce, they will only want to further support their employer in whatever way they can during difficult times.

4. Facilitate two-way communication

It is essential that we give our people the chance to ask questions, respond to announcements, share feedback and make suggestions. It is equally important that we listen and respond to their voices. Not only will this increase their sense of psychological safety and nurture their trust in us, but it will allow leaders to monitor and understand the thoughts, fears and concerns of their people, some of which may not have been anticipated, and to respond and reassure appropriately.

Q&A sessions and Town Hall meetings with leaders (be they in person or held virtually) which are available to all are perfect for this. An alternative -or an enhancement- to these is an interactive Q&A and polling platform, which has the added advantage of minuting all of the feedback, thoughts and questions for you!

5. Celebrate others’ successes

Nothing destroys trust quicker than leaders taking all the glory for their team members’ efforts, or just the illusion that this is taking place. We should shout about our people’s efforts, achievements, and successes, and give our teams the chance to do the same. Even better, when sharing these wins, set them in the context of how they’re affecting the bigger picture and supporting the business to succeed. Naming the individuals and teams who deserve recognition will boost trust and morale right across the company, not just for those in the headline.

Trust is one of the most valuable resources we have in our businesses. As is the case with motivation and loyalty, a lack of trust will spread like a virus through our teams if we do not adopt and maintain a suitable communications strategy that focuses on it as a critical asset.


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