How to Build Organizational Trust That Boosts the Bottom Line

The purpose of communicating with employees is to share information to influence behavior, drive engagement and achieve business goals. But what if employees distrust the source of that information–or the information itself? Unfortunately, that’s exactly what’s happening in today’s business world.

In fact, according to research from Watson Wyatt, only 39 percent of employees say they trust senior management, and a mere 45 percent say they have confidence in their management’s abilities.

As professional communicators, it’s up to us to start building trust in our organizations. While that trust must start on a personal level, there are also things we can–and should–be doing to help build trust at the organizational level.

Here are five strategies to help you do that.

1. Start sharing more information. Research from CHA, a U.K.-based consultancy, found that 90 percent of employees who are kept fully informed are motivated to deliver added value by staying with a company longer and working harder, while 80 percent of those who are kept in the dark are not. As communicators, it’s our job to encourage our executives to share information more frequently and more openly.

2. Do a trust-based communications audit. Take a look back at all communications with employees (or any stakeholder group for that matter) over the last six months. Include e-mails from top executives, intranet postings, newsletters and so on. Then evaluate those communications for their openness and honesty. Look at whether or not any commitments were made in those communications–and if those commitments were kept. Finally, determine if there was consistency in messaging across each platform. Is your organization speaking with one voice? Or are you sending mixed signals?

3. Conduct a trust-based risk assessment. When it comes to trust, it’s much more difficult to rebuild it than it is to maintain it. That’s why it’s so important to be proactive. Start by looking across your organization and pinpointing all of the touch points with your key stakeholder groups–employees and retirees, analysts and investors, media, customers and so on. Then identify the areas that are either (a) most vulnerable to a breach of trust or (b) would cause the most damage to your reputation if there was a breach of trust.

For example, an organization that has hundreds of customer service representatives taking calls 24-hours per day faces the risk that any one of those representatives could breach a customer’s trust at any moment. Just look at the damage that was caused to AOL when a customer (who also happened to be a blogger) recorded a call with one of the company’s customer service representatives when he tried to cancel his service. (If you haven’t already seen it, check out the video on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xmpDSBAh6RY)

When it comes to breaching an employee’s trust, the most risk is likely posed by his or her direct supervisor. Failure on the supervisor’s part to tell the truth or follow through on commitments could do irreparable damage to the trust he or she has established with that employee.

4. Create SOPs for any major risks. Once the highest threats for a potential breach of trust are identified, you need to develop a risk mitigation plan. In the situation above, for example, you might offer additional training to customer service representatives that includes an overview on how social media tools like YouTube and mySpace are making it all the more important to provide excellent service on each and every call. Or you may offer workshops for managers that help build their leadership skills with an emphasis on building and maintaining trust with their direct reports.

Even with a risk mitigation plan, however, you still need to be prepared for the inevitable breach of trust. But how quickly and effectively your organization responds can make all the difference in whether the hit to your reputation is a mere chip in the armor or a devastating blow.

5. Start a dialogue about trust with your executive team. Once you’ve conducted a communications audit, completed a risk assessment and developed a preliminary response plan, it’s time to start a dialogue with your executive team about the importance of building trust with all key stakeholder groups. There is a tremendous amount of research (including the 2008 Edelman Trust Barometer highlighted in this issue) that provides concrete evidence of the low trust epidemic and how it’s affecting (among other things) employee engagement, customer loyalty and financial performance.

(c) Bon Mot Communications 2008

An Open Door Policy – A Barometer of Your Leadership

As a business coach, I’m always on the look-out for articles and seminars from well-respected experts on effective leadership. But I want to make sure those articles and seminars will add value to your business life; therefore, I read as much as I can. I recently discovered one such book; The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell by Oren Harari.

In this book, Harari reviews 18 leadership lessons derived from General Powell. One of the lessons says, “The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care”.

Reading and thinking about this lesson made me recall managers I have had as well as times when I managed people and practiced having an open door policy. I wish I could say that I always followed the leadership lessons Colin Powell touts with my own open door policy, but that probably wouldn’t be entirely true.

I believe every manager, no matter their level of responsibility should allow their staff members to visit one-on-one. But in doing so, you should ask yourself: “Is this policy really working in this company?” You can measure the barometer of your leadership from your people by how they do or don’t take advantage of your open door policy.

Some managers can count on a long line outside his office door most of the day, every day. But if people are constantly coming to you for answers, perhaps you should ask yourself a few questions.

o Have I provided them the training they need?

o Are they worried they will not have another opportunity to meet with me?

o Have I empowered them to feel confident they can make their own decision?

o How do I react when they do make a decision that I do not agree with?

o Is this person in the right position, and able to manage daily decisions?

By asking yourself these questions – and answering them with complete honesty – you will begin to see a pattern in yourself as a manager. And you will probably discover that your continued avoidance of the issue and the enabling of your staff to come to you is probably not the best way to conduct business. In this environment, the company is not receiving all of the innovative power they need of their people in order to help the company succeed. The business will never grow past the point of one manager giving out all of the ideas and directions which creates low morale among team members.

The other end of the spectrum is the manager who never sees anyone outside his office waiting to ask a question or gain clarity on a project. This could be even more deadly than too many people outside the Open Door. Even if everyone is well trained, empowered and has all the tools ever developed for them to do their jobs well, people will invariably still need to talk through some aspect of their work. So if you know of managers who have little or no traffic at their door – or if you are one of them, ask:

o When people bring things to me, do I automatically go into prescription mode, offering fixes or do I seek to help them find the best answer?

o Do I really listen or do I still answer e-mails while they are talking to me?

o If someone brings up something, do I always take some action and provide follow-up?

o Am I humble enough to allow others to bring ideas to a situation?

o Does our office culture see asking for help as a weakness?

Either situation is an innovation killer. In the first scenario, no one is brave enough to bring new ideas to the manager, and in the second no one thinks it will make a difference so they don’t even bother to try. Real leaders make themselves available and accessible to everyone in the organization. They must show concern for the efforts and challenges of their people. Doing so goes a long way to building a positive culture or figuring out better ways to achieve success.

What is your leadership barometer reading right now? Perhaps it’s time to recalibrate. Here’s how:

1. Set very clear expectations for your people, and make sure they know that you trust them to make things happen but only if you really do trust them. If not, that is another subject altogether and can be covered in another article later.

2. Provide feedback on a regular basis. Sometimes employees may be coming in your door because they simply need affirmation. Everyone has a different requirement for strokes; make sure you are providing them.

3. Set regularly scheduled meetings with every one of your people. Depending on their needs and the dynamics of their role, they may need a daily, weekly or a monthly huddle with you. Never go beyond a month’s time without meeting with your staff. Ask them to hold onto things that can wait for the scheduled meeting but help them to understand that if the building is on fire, you’ll welcome the interruption.

4. Make sure everyone in the organization understands that you value and want their ideas and input, especially if they know something that will benefit the company, employees, or the customer base.

5. Take action and follow-up on everything that you accept. Watch out for people that are just looking to dump an issue in your lap for resolution because they don’t want to deal with it themselves.
As a manager and leader, it is often very tempting to stop having an open door. Frustration grows when people bring things to your attention that are indeed real issues, but they come with no offer for improvement or suggested solutions.

Encourage your staff to bring the challenge and offer up a resolution without feeling as if they need to ask your permission to move forward. If they believe in the course of action, give them the green light to pursue it. To create an environment of such trust through an open door policy, make sure that you have the right people in the right jobs, they have the training and tools needed for success and then make sure you tell them of your expectations.

Reviewing your own barometer as a leader will help your staff learn how to read their own barometer and make improvements that will benefit the company as a whole.

Dr. Seuss’s “The Cat in the Hat” Will Help You Get Your Point Across!

I was recently coaching an engineer who wanted to improve
his speaking skills. After videotaping him, we discussed his
strong points and then his areas of improvement. Then we
got to the area of vocal variety. Vocal variety is the quality
of your speech that hold your audience. It is the
combination of pitch changes, pauses, inflection, rhythm,
and loudness in your voice that adds “color” to any
conversation or speech. I suggested he try Dr. Seuss’s
“The Cat in the Hat.” At that point he looked at me like I
had a third eye. I then explained how “The Cat in the Hat”
could help anyone improve his or her speaking skills,
especially vocal variety, and have fun doing it.

Can you remember being read “The Cat in the Hat” by your
parents? What held your attention? What made you want
to hear “The Cat in the Hat” again and again? “The Cat in
the Hat” is set up so that you must use vocal variety to read
the story. It’s the vocal variety that held your attention.

Here’s how Dr. Seuss’s “The Cat in the Hat” can help you
hold your audience’s attention:

1. Buy the Book My favorite Dr. Seuss books for this type

of exercise are “The Cat in the Hat” and “Green Eggs and

Ham.” You can go to any used bookstore and get a gently

used copy of the book at a substantial discount. You can

also go to http://www.half.com and get the book at more than

50% off the price.

2. Read with Passion Read to your children, nephews,

cousins, etc. While reading aloud, exaggerate your pitch,

tone, and pauses. The children will enjoy it as you will

become used to the sound of your voice. Children are the

best barometers to let you know if you are doing it

correctly. The children will have a look on their faces that

show they are hanging on every word you are saying.

Continue to experiment with different ways to read “The

Cat in the Hat” while recording yourself on audiotape. The

more fun you have, the more everyone involved will benefit

from this exercise.

3. Apply It Right Away (That’s the Way!) Immediately

apply your newly acquired vocal variety skills in any

speaking situation whether it’s in a meeting, with co-

workers, speaking in front of a group, or one-on-one with

another person. It may feel a little strange in the beginning.

However, remember the more you use your new skills, the

more comfortable you will be.

So go out, get a Dr. Seuss book, and improve your vocal
variety. You will have more people hanging on every word,
you will be more persuasive, and your speaking abilities will
be more colorful and entertaining. So do it today (It will
pay!).