29 October 2020

Creating a culture of trust; becoming a leader of change

workspace with laptop at home

With remote working becoming the accepted current norm there has been so much chat around creating a culture of trust.

The reasons are obvious, a driven, happier workforce are more connected, more creative and more productive. Professor Zak, a psychology professor from Harvard has spent his life studying trust at work and has proven across his body of research that "compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives, and 40% less burnout.”

By trust he means not just trust between employee and manager, but between employees themselves and the company as a whole. It’s vital, to not just retain talent, but to attract it too. The culture of trust inside a company will be seen outside of it. The Harvard Business Review found that the top three factors that contribute most to a bad reputation as a place to work were “concerns about job security, dysfunctional teams, and poor leadership”. The top three factors associated with a good reputation on the other hand were “stability, opportunities for career growth, and the ability to work with a top-notch team”. All of them are based on trust.

We also know why on a human level why we rate trust so highly. We are hardwired for trust. Our ability to assess situations and determine if we can trust someone has formed the basis of our survival for most of human history. This need for connection, to feel safe, spills into every area of our lives. And work is most definitely one of them. The Edelman Trust Barometer 2019 showed clearly an increasing call for trust matched against an increase in our distrust. They labelled it ‘a World Out of Balance’. What drives this mistrust? Mostly uncertainty.

Now of course there is no need to mention the current climate of massive uncertainty. But we mustn’t forget the uncertainty that existed prior to the pandemic still lies beneath. Because it is this layer as well as the pandemic, that employees need to address if they are to rebalance the barometer. As the Edelman report shows the three main areas of these uncertainties were:

1. Not having the right skills and training

2. Automation or other innovation taking one’s jobs

3. International trade policies disrupting work

We may have a pandemic, but Brexit is still an issue to many and digital innovation if anything, has accelerated. They may not actually be a threat, but they are still making people feel uncertain. And that breeds distrust.

What also comes out of this report and is echoed by psychology, is that in this time where obvious change is needed, what we are all desperately seeking is those we can trust. Trust for leadership and trust for advice, news, certainties. Government has not been answering this need. And more and more people are turning to their own companies, and CEO’s to step up. In fact, 71% of employees in the report said they are looking for CEO’s to take the lead on change and to “respond to challenging times” a rise of 11%. By the pandemic it had risen to 73% and I am certain it now is even higher, as 83% of employees are currently fearing they will lose their jobs. 

Now for those we do trust, “My Employer” far outstrips government, NGOs, Media or Business as the most trusted relationship (76% to a mere 48% for government). The more there is uncertainty around us and lack of general agreement, the more this relationship is called upon. But how do you create this trust? Especially when colleagues who normally share space are distanced, and new employees who may not have met their team in person at all. Well of course communication is key and it does have to be worked at harder in the world of the remote. But you can also facilitate it by choosing what you communicate about.

It goes without saying that of course the employee themselves, valuing them as an individual and supporting them as such is step one. But after that we can be guided by research and psychology to see which communications topics are most effective in increasing employer trust. So, here’s a quick review.

In order of importance we have first, Societal Impact - the organization’s contributions for the betterment of society.

The second is Values - the organization’s values.

The third is The Future - the organization’s vision for the future.

The fourth is Purpose. - the organization’s mission and purpose.

And lastly, fifth is Operations - operational decisions, including decisions that may affect your job.

These should all be key topics of communication and yet it is often just the fifth that is prioritised. Find time for each and every one of them. And know how and why they are important. By empowering employees and creating shared action employees feel they share purpose and together have societal impact, replacing uncertainty with collective future building. Trust cements the employer employee partnership. It creates what Edelman calls a ‘trust advantage’ creating employees who are 50% more likely to act on their employers behalf with advocacy, loyalty, engagement and commitment.

And investing in your employee trust is investing in your bottom line. For trust is needed between company and customer too. 78% of people believe that how an employee treats its staff is an indicator of its trustworthiness and 67% of people cite that trust will determine future interactions with a company. In short in a world of uncertainty we really don’t know how to trust. And we are looking to our employers. It is a moment of real opportunity for CEO’s to start becoming leaders of change, to live their values, be aspirational and create trust. We need real leaders who can help build a better future. CEO’s, now’s the time to step up.

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Katherine Templar Lewis

Katherine Templar Lewis spends her time as a Futurist, science communicator and consultant. She has travelled the globe speaking on new technology and its impact on individuals and society and has appeared on range of media as a science and technology expert including BBC, Sky News, Radio 4, NBC and the Today Show. She is a contributor to a range of media and is a guest blogger on The Huffington Post and is a believer in building a better future with human first technology.

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