Trust is an essential component of any organization’s license to operate and lead. Yet the global results of our 2012 Trust Barometer trust and credibility survey show the state of trust in a high degree of disarray. Further analysis conducted this year for the first time also shows a trust disconnect within organizations, with executives and employees painting very different pictures of where they place their trust. However, there are some bright spots in this year’s global Trust data, and ones that have profound implications on how organizations build reputation, regain trust and engage effectively with key stakeholders, all by putting employees at the center of their strategies.
TRUST STUDY HIGHLIGHTS AND IMPLICATIONS FOR ENGAGING EMPLOYEES:
- The rise in credibility of regular employees was the greatest increase since 2004. This is among the most important findings from this year’s study and one that should serve as a wake-up call to leaders and communicators. Now, more than ever, companies should be looking for ways to activate their employees and connect them with customers and the community via ambassador programs, featuring them in media and advertising content, and engaging them more deeply in product innovation and problem solving.
- The fall in CEO credibility was one of the biggest drops in Trust Barometer history. However, do not jump to the conclusion that CEOs are now less relevant. The learnings here are to not rely on your CEO to be the only face of your organization, in particular during times of crisis, and to use the insights from this year’s Trust study to enhance overall CEO credibility.
- A trust disconnect between executives and regular employees exists within organizations, but there is at least one point on which they can agree: the credibility of technical experts within a company. This has important implications during times of crisis—featuring clearly-identified technical experts in internal and external communications will go a long way in shoring up trust when things have gone (or are about to go) wrong.
In looking at nearly all of the 16 attributes that build trust globally, employees affect virtually every one—indicating that corporate values, practices and overall culture have a significant impact on a company’s trustworthiness. Companies should consider the following opportunities immediately:
Empower your employees to be ambassadors via social media. Given that both employees and social media are growing in credibility, there is a clear opportunity to bring the two together to create employee ambassadors—that is, people who talk about the company online in a quasi-official capacity. Similarly, the fall in CEO credibility makes it more important than ever to prepare employees to advocate on an organization’s behalf.
Engage employees in building customer relationships. Executives and regular employees alike point to quality products/services and listening to customer needs/feedback as the top two attributes that drive trust in a company. Since employees heavily influence both, building a sense of shared ownership for the company’s products and customer responsiveness can lend credibility to improvement efforts.
Rebuild trust in the CEO through candid, meaningful dialogue. Many CEOs would do well to increase their connection to their workforces in ways that play to their personal strengths. There are a number of actions CEOs can take to maintain and rebuild trust with employees, such as communicating a clear and compelling vision, taking a conversational tone of voice, encouraging a culture of storytelling, engaging managers and employees in candid dialogue about the business, and demonstrating transparency, especially in the face of challenging issues. This year’s Trust data is the loudest call to action yet for companies to better engage employees and address specific credibility issues to build trust from the inside out.
Click below to read our white paper with detailed findings and observations based on this year’s Trust Barometer results:
Christopher Hannegan is executive vice president and U.S. practice chair of Employee Engagement.