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A time to nurture: making the most of employee trust

The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals that trust levels have changed profoundly in the past year —people have shifted their trust to relationships within their control. We look at three ways organisations can make the most of employee trust and build foundations of engagement.

The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer has just been published. I’m a year late with my ponderings on the last report, but a quick whizz through the latest stats shows that, globally, our mistrust hasn’t eased in the past year.

We still don’t trust the Government, Media, NGOs or business to do what is right, and we’re sceptical of their ability to be both competent and ethical. No huge surprises there.

Last year’s report focused on where trust had been placed.  According to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer,  “my employer” emerged as the most trusted institution globally. Being in the employee engagement field, this was genuinely interesting news and it was disappointing to not see comparative stats in 2020’s survey.

So back to last year it is. The 2019 global survey of 33,000 individuals revealed that, globally, 75% of people trust their employer to do what is right, significantly more than they trust NGOs (57%), business (56%) and media (47%).

The 2019 global survey of 33,000 individuals revealed that, globally, 75% of people trust their employer to do what is right, significantly more than they trust NGOs (57%), business (56%) and media (47%).

Digging further into the report again holds few surprises. We’re engaging with news more, but we trust it less. We want to be enlightened on what’s going on in the world, but we’re not sure who’s in it for what.  It seems #fakenews has a lot to answer for; put this alongside turbulent politics and big business blunders, and it’s shifting where we house our delicately placed trust.

But what does this mean for our employers? According to the 2020 Barometer, 76% of us believe CEOs should take the lead on change, and not wait for Government to implement policy. There are no stats breaking down exactly what’s driving the employee/employer trust agenda, but last year, societal impact and a focus on values and vision for the future were up there, and my guess is these drivers are still leading the way.

With employee advocacy, loyalty, engagement and commitment being the payoff for trustworthy employers (Edelman survey 2019), there’s a bottom-line argument that the time for investing in the employee experience is now.

Their research got us thinking about our own more qualitive insight, gained from hundreds of conversations with employees and leaders across a diverse range of industries; how do organisations build the foundations of trust and engagement that will see them through the turbulent times ahead? Three steps come to mind:

1. Have clear values. Articulate them well. Live by them. ­

Internally and externally, people buy consistency. Your offer, products and leadership may change, but your values should remain the rock at the heart of your business. It may seem obvious, but values are more than words on a wall – values are what employees look for when a crisis hits, when transformation takes place and when they need to make difficult decisions in the moment.

Navigate the yawn fest, dig deep and create values that articulate what you really stand for.

Internally and externally, people buy consistency. Your offer, products and leadership may change, but your values should remain the rock at the heart of your business.

Photobox Group, (which includes the infamous Moonpig), positioned its values as ‘what makes us, us’. Ensuring every person had a voice in defining its unique culture, Photobox got to a place where all five of its European businesses signed up to one set of values which permeates everything from HR policies and recruitment criteria, to their office environments and performance metrics.

Employees rejoiced; values like ‘We make magic happen’ gave them permission to surprise and delight at all levels of the company, while providing clear guidance on culture and expectations.

2. Be clear on your employer brand

We know foundations of trust are built in the early stages of a relationship. Be clear why the best talent should come and work for you, then match it with the experience they receive on the inside. Good companies regularly lose great talent in the first six months through well-meaning false advertising. It’s a big trust pitfall and often unintentional.

Listen to what your existing employees have to say, get to the bottom of what makes them tick, what excites them about your business and what’s really keeping them on your payroll (you might be surprised at the answer).

We know foundations of trust are built in the early stages of a relationship. Be clear why the best talent should come and work for you, then match it with the experience they receive on the inside.

Those that focus on their employer brand reap the rewards of retaining and motivating brilliant people – delivering brilliant work for clients and their business. Avanade, Microsoft and Accenture’s global digital consulting joint venture, is a company that has been single-minded in its strategy for growth – attract the best humans, deliver the best technology.

It invests hugely in the skills of its people – so, they can do their best work. The value proposition (or give and get) is clear and consistent, establishing trust from the offset.

3. Champion your middle management

According to Edelman’s surveys (2019/20), we trust ‘people like us’ and ‘experts’ in our organisation, far more than we do our CEO. Maybe we can just relate to them better? Or they are seen as more impartial? That’s another survey. But one thing we have learnt; when it comes to building trust, middle managers are the golden key.

Frequently grouped and branded as a monolithic, impermeable layer, they are often given cursory consideration when planning change. But while we all look to our leaders for direction, it is our middle management that build the trust and support, embedding initiatives or throwing them into the recycling.

To leverage this gateway audience, leadership must not only make the case for a new strategy, change or initiative, but involve them emotionally.  In the words of neuroscientist Donald Calne, “the difference between emotion and reason, is that emotion leads to action, whereas reason leads to conclusions”. He has a point.

Listening and building trust with your middle managers is a well-placed step to engaging the whole workforce.

Listening and building trust with your middle managers is a well-placed step to engaging the whole workforce.

Getting under the skin of personal stories is just one lever we used to generate empathy among managers at Experian to embed their purpose; ensuring every manager experienced the business through the eyes and challenges of their customers. The result:  500 champions passionately building the brand from the inside.

Engagement comes in many forms, and there is no off-the-shelf approach to building trust and inspiring people. But knowing and addressing the issues your people face is always a good first port of call. Listen. Listen. Listen. Only then should you attempt to engage.

The rewards of building trust and engagement are up for the taking, but the foundations don’t lay themselves.

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