All about trust: Part 2 - Building trust in leaders

Updated: Sep 21, 2020

In support of the upcoming IoIC London Region Annual Networking Event, I am running a short series of blogs on the event’s theme.

Leaders build or lose trust through their words and actions. If they are judged to be inauthentic or aren’t viewed as competent, able to make good decisions or articulate clear priorities and expectations, it can breed uncertainty which leads to distrust. Above all else people want to feel like their leaders actually care about them and have the overall interests of the organisation, or even the wider community, as their priority above their own personal agendas.

We all know that leaders are critical for building a culture of trust in an organisation and therefore many of the key principles for creating trusted organisations apply to leaders also, albeit at a far more personal level. A lack of trust in leadership can be a huge barrier to many of the things that internal communicators are trying to achieve: greater levels of engagement and discretionary effort; open and honest dialogue; belief in the company’s purpose and strategy; adoption of the organisations values; a positive, innovative and collaborative culture. But the paradox is that building trust is largely the responsibility of the leader themselves so how can an IC team appropriately support this without being seen as inauthentic themselves?

1. Establish a standard for communications

Get your leaders to sign up to some communications standards. Gain agreement to things such as communications will be honest and timely; that you will be open and transparent as possible; that you won’t make promises or statements that can’t be followed through; you will avoid saying things that contradict actions being taken. Ask leaders to hold one another accountable, in every circumstance, and ensure you do the same with them and yourself.

2. Share feedback and offer advice

One of the trickiest tasks for an internal communicator is having to tell a leader that their behaviour is making them untrustworthy. An easier way to do this is to gather feedback from employees as a basis for the discussion, so it is clearly not your personal opinion. It can be quite sensitive so a coaching style can work well to encourage exploration of why problems might have occurred and find solutions. Needless to say, the better your relationship with your leaders is, the more comfortable they will feel discussing this and also trust your advice in return.

3. Adjust the tone

If communications give employees the impression they are not trusted, how can you expect them to trust in return? Encouraging leaders to approach all communications with the assumption that their people want to do their best job each day will ensure that the tone is confident and trusting, as opposed to cynical and suspicious. This should include less obvious communications such as policy and procedural documents.

4. Encourage clarity

Trust cannot thrive in ambiguity so expectations and priorities for the business need to be communicated clearly, along with signposts to how to achieve them. This may require IC to work with leaders to help clarify confusing or conflicting messages and make them more relevant. Letting people know where they stand and setting them up for success increases the sense of security, which feeds a culture of trust.

5. Be prepared

By working closely with their leaders, IC teams can get a better understanding of their plans and pre-empt potential issues before they occur. Plans can then be adjusted accordingly or, where this isn’t feasible, preparations can be made to ensure communications standards will be maintained and that there is clarity around the issues themselves.

6. Provide opportunities for visibility

Make sure your leaders aren’t hiding behind faceless communications. Give them regular opportunities to make their voice heard and get face to face with employees, whether that’s through a weekly written update, a video, a roadshow, a more intimate round table or walk arounds. It is a basic human instinct to build trust through personal interaction, so the more ‘human’ you can make these opportunities, the better they will be for building trust. By showing that they are willing to put the effort in to a dialogue their people, leaders demonstrate a willingness to understand their perspectives and a recognition that they have something to contribute.

If you're in the London area and want to hear more on this topic, make sure you are at the Institute of Internal Comms London Region Annual Networking event - Trust or Dare! on 13 September 2018. A few tickets are still remaining.

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