Perceptions of fraud, misaligned incentives and negative workplace environments are driving a deep distrust in business and leaders – a skepticism that extends inside organizations as well. Thus an organization’s values, integrity and ethical standards have become critically important to rebuilding trust. That’s the bottom line from a new perspective on the 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer, A Question of Integrity: Engaging Employees and Executives as Storytellers on Corporate Values, Ethics and Integrity.
Edelman’s Employee Engagement team explored this theme in greater detail and uncovered several insights, including:
- Employees – especially those with technical expertise – are among a company’s most trusted spokespeople on a variety of topics, even more so than CEOs and official company spokespeople.
- Employees are THE trusted authority on a company’s culture, programs, integrity, working conditions and related issues.
- “Treating employees well” is a higher priority for rank-and-file employees than for executives: Out of 16 attributes that build trust in a company, executives ranked “treating employees well” fifth in importance, while regular employees put it third, close behind offering quality products and listening to customers.
- Regular employees are far more skeptical than executives across the board: They are 15 percent less likely to trust the CEO than those in in top leadership positions. Moreover, regular employees trust even each other less than executives do.
- Executives and employees blame different issues for distrusting business, but culture is at the heart of the problem. Leaders point to a lack of transparent communication, while regular employees fault companies for driving behavior with the wrong incentives.
While this lack of trust may be discouraging, there are a variety of actions companies can take to rebuild relationships within and beyond their organization, including:
- Encouraging a culture of inclusive management, which could entail allowing employees to vote on decisions that affect them (such as which benefits to keep), regularly monitoring sentiment on external job-rating sites or using an online discussion platform such as Yammer as an ongoing focus group.
- Reinforcing organizational values and integrity through storytelling. Leaders are far more believable when they illustrate key messages with stories from their own experience instead of reciting talking points. Communicators can coach executives to mine their lives for memorable anecdotes that demonstrate what company values, ethics and integrity mean to them.
- Tapping employees as ambassadors for the company’s culture and working environment, such as in recruiting communications. Since the credibility of internal technical experts is equal to that of the CEO on the topic of innovation, consider showcasing the “people behind the products” for new product development and launch story-lines.
Tamara Snyder is VP and group manager of Employee Engagement.