Confronting the Trust Crisis as a Leader
Living in a polarized world isn’t easy. Harder yet, can be leading in a polarized world. How do you continue to earn trust as a leader within your organization, amongst colleagues and peers without getting swallowed up by politics and creating more division?
The Edelman Trust Barometer may put your mind at ease citing stability of trust in business over any other institution including Government and Media. We’re looking to business’ and their CEO’s now more than ever to be leaders of change and to be the voices of crisis management.
The barometer shows that your employees may be well represented in the study as one of the 40% who feel their families may not be better off in 5 years, they could be one of the many people who would not help, live near or work with someone who has a differing point of view, or they could be finding ways to deal with the threat of the many existential crisis’ we’re facing such as war, recession and climate change; and this is on top of their own personal and professional struggles. Pretty heavy weight to carry daily.
This points to one of the possible drivers of the changing landscape in business with 69% of potential employees looking to a business’ societal impact as a deal breaker or decision maker when considering an offer. Employees want to work for a company that reflects their values and contributes to a societal purpose. They also feel that CEO’s are obligated to pay a fair wage (84%), ensure their home community is safe and thriving (79%), pay fair corporate taxes (78%), and retrain employees instead of letting them go (78%).
There’s also an expectation for CEO’s to take a public stand on:
- Treatment of employees 89%
- Climate change 82%
- Discrimination 80%
- Wealth Gap 77%
- Immigration 72%
Let’s look at your business now. Taking a clue from the trust barometer we know that employees face several crisis’ daily which leads to a rise of mental and emotional stress and exhaustion. We know that they’re looking for a place that aligns with their values and they’re looking to you, the leader, to not only communicate their values but to live them.
So, what can you do to support your teams, take a stance on important purpose-filled issues without creating chaos and division?
Encourage Conversations About Trust
Trust, just as in interpersonal relationships, needs to be talked about in the workplace. What does trust look like to your teams? What does it mean to them? What are some qualities you exhibit that has earned their trust and what makes them question your leadership?
The most important thing here is not to take offence but to offer a safe space for real conversation and I cannot say this enough; stay curious, stay curious, stay curious. The more questions you ask with compassionate curiosity the closer you’ll come to understanding your teams, their motivations, their struggles, and how they see themselves in their role as a part of your company. If you value your employees and trust the hiring process, you’ll offer compassionate curiosity first.
Trust, just as in interpersonal relationships, needs to be talked about in the workplace.
Leadership Tip: Surveys are on the outs with employees stating frustration over feedback not being actioned.
- Come up with a fresh idea such as running an ongoing company-wide form for anonymous feedback. Ask your admin team to check it weekly, delegate to the correct departments and action or respond to every item. Afterwards communicate to teams where they can find the actioned feedback.
- Consider using platforms like culture amp during 1:1’s to rate trust on a scale of 1–10 weekly. If things are going well this should become predictable and in the 8–10 range. If the scale all of a sudden drops this opens the door to compassionate curiosity. What happened between last week and this week?
- In 1:1’s identify what trust means to you by using “I trust you when/my trust lessens when” statements and allow your direct report to do the same. Example: “I trust you when you over communicate with me about meetings that have been booked. My trust lessens when you don’t cc me or communicate that you’ve completed the booking, even if you have completed the task.” This is a very constructive way of highlighting small items with a big impact and building trust between you and your team. It’s also a more personal way of communicating your likes/dislikes that doesn’t involve an email with a list of bullet points.
Live Your Company Values
There’s probably nothing more disappointing to a new hire then to join a team who talked about awesome company values during the interview and hiring process, only to find the company and the leaders in particular don’t uphold these values themselves. This is where self-awareness is key. Let’s say; for instance, that respect is one of your company values yet you don’t believe in the valuable contribution your assistant makes and you treat them accordingly. Is that respectful? Probably not. Does it create trust in you as a leader? Definitely not.
Leadership Tip: Create your values with a group of colleagues from all levels in the business and ask yourself, “Am I currently living these values and if not, why not?”
- Avoid trending values; be original. Some values are hot button words and are no longer as effective as they once were. Some examples I’ve seen over and over again are transparency, authenticity, kindness and respect.
- Be very specific. Values should be liveable and upheld daily in work and life. Can you create a values sentence instead of using just one word? Example: Instead of saying “kindness” could you say “Accepting Humanness — We’re all imperfect beings striving to do our best work and sometimes it’s hard. We support one another anyways”
- Build your values around people; this includes customers, employees and community.
There’s probably nothing more disappointing to a new hire then to join a team who talked about awesome company values during the interview and hiring process, only to find the company and the leaders in particular don’t uphold these values themselves.
Create Clear Messaging Around Where You Stand
There’s a way to cascade your message throughout the company that creates clarity without being aggressive.
These are heated political times and your employees will look to you to speak up about where you stand and what you’re doing. If we take the recent Covid crisis as an example we know that many people were not permitted to continue working based on their personal decision to decline the vaccine. Think about how this affected the workforce and how leaders may have been tempted to try to appease both sides; vaccinated and non-vaccinated employees.
Leadership Tip: Build into your messaging that you trust science
- Creating a company wide email with your People Team Leaders will help you create the best message possible. Communicate that you trust science and experts in their field and that based on the information available to the public the best thing to do for the health and wellness of the employees is to follow the national guidelines for health and safety. The same goes for inclusivity and respect of all human rights. When it comes to inclusivity make it clear that you do not support companies or leaders that spread hate or discrimination. 80% of potential employees are now looking at a company’s DEI programs as a decision maker when applying for jobs.
- Create a safe space for debate. There may be some employees who do not agree. Create a safe space, elect a go to person, and encourage your employees company wide to reach out to this person if they wish to continue the conversation further or have additional questions.
- Check your own biases. Going back to the Covid crisis we saw many families and friendships divide. I’ve witnessed many confused people stating “I thought I knew them”. Just because someone does not agree with you does not mean they are wrong. They may have fears, doubts and have a right to question what’s best during confusing times. Help them by providing as much information as possible that is available to you
These are heated political times and your employees will look to you to speak up about where you stand and what you’re doing.
Hire an Outside Facilitator to Help You Navigate These Challenges
We know that when we feel passionate about something we can be too close, too entrenched to see the fallacies. Bringing in outside support from a Contractor or Coach will help you see your blindspots.
Leadership Tip: Ask for help. Accept that just like anyone else, you don’t have all of the answers.
- Just as you trust the scientists, trust experts in communication and human resources. They will help you navigate in a way that is safe and inclusive from a place of compassion and curiosity rather than judgement. They can also act as a mediator during these difficult conversations and be a point of contact for employees who are struggling.
- Be patient. Accept that this is all part of leadership and the expectations of Executives have changed dramatically in the last decade and certainly in the past 3 years.
- Follow through on feedback. Many companies provide employees the opportunity to provide feedback but I’ve frequently seen that nothing is done with that feedback. Assign an owner to respond to every piece of feedback, even if it’s a simple thank you. This may require some chasing to get the answers required but it is entirely worth the effort in building trust within your company.
We know that when we feel passionate about something we can be too close, too entrenched to see the fallacies.
It’s brave to be a leader at any time in history but I applaud anyone brave enough to step up to the challenge during such divisive times.