How to Build Trust Between the Leadership Team and Employees
An important role the internal communications department plays in large businesses is helping bridge the gap between the people in top leadership roles, and all the other employees that keep the business running at various levels.
If employees feel distant from the top levels of the company—the people making decisions that affect their livelihood and day-to-day experience—it’s bad for employee morale.
But if the IC department can help employees feel more connected to the top leadership, it changes how they view their role at the company. In our webinar on how to be a better communications coach to your leadership team, Rob Shimmin of Shimmin Communications provided a few tips on an important way to achieve that: by building trust between the leadership team and employees.
Worldwide, employee trust in leadership is actually on the rise, with 72% of employees saying they trust their CEOs. While that’s good news in general, it’s not something you can take for granted in your own business.
Your IC results can benefit from helping your company’s leaders connect authentically with employees to increase trust levels across the company.
1. Get to know your C-suite.
Before you can help them, you have to get to know your company’s leaders. This accomplishes three important things Shimmin brings up.
First, he says, by getting to know them you come to “understand what makes them tick, you’ve got a lot of empathy in terms of what’s going on with them.” That gives you the knowledge you need to be a better communicator when working with them.
Next, all that time you’re getting to know them, they’re also spending time with you. That gives you the chance to win them over. “I can’t emphasize enough the importance of building a rapport with the leadership team and making them see that you are very much on their side,” he explains.
And as they come to trust you, you can give them honest feedback and know they’ll see it in the right context.
And finally, you learn what their strengths and weaknesses are. “Look at the leader holistically,” Shimmin says. “If they’re poor on one particular channel, help them to understand that they are strong in other channels so that they don’t feel like a failure as a communicator, and that you can leverage those capabilities better.”
You can strategize the best ways for them to interact with employees based on what they’re good at, and steer clear of any contexts that might set them up for failure.
2. Have them interact directly with employees.
If employees never really see or interact with the company’s leaders, they’ll have trouble seeing them as individuals that care about the company. Executives that sit in distant offices and do jobs employees don’t really understand become abstractions it’s hard to relate to.
You can help avoid that by encouraging your leadership team to communicate more directly with employees in ways that leverage the strengths you identified.
“You’re seeing more CEOs tweet, you’re seeing more CEOs doing town halls direct with the public so that they are seen and believed, and there’s no filtering of what they said,” Shimmin says.
“What you need to do is to look across your leadership team and figure out who are the most trusted members within that team, and how can you get them in front of the right audiences,” he adds.
Set up events led by your C-suite that employees can attend. Or if the company is too spread out for leadership to interact with most employees in person, set up interactive conference calls—a tip recommended by Olga Klimanovich.
You can also test out other ways of interacting with employees, like AMAs (ask me anything sessions) on social media or over the company’s intranet. When employees can ask questions directly and get answers from the leadership team, it shows them their opinions matter.
3. Coach them how to communicate with stories.
Stories activate a different part of the brain than facts and figures. Specifically, they inspire the listener or reader to connect the story to their own experiences. That makes them a powerful way for your company’s leaders to inspire empathy in employees.
In addition, Shimmer points out that stories can be a good way to make leaders who are nervous about public speaking more comfortable and confident because they’re easier to remember than facts and figures.
Of these executives, he says “what you’ll find is that in the back of their minds they’re desperately trying to bring all of the notes that are on their piece of paper through to the minds of the audience.”
“Of course, the audience has no idea what’s written on that piece of paper, and it can make them a little bit stilted and wooden. If you change gears and give them a story, you’re going to have a much, much better resonance.”
A good story is also potentially a way to bring emotion and humor to their speaking. While you have to be careful with humor —”have a look at it from every cultural angle you possibly can,” he insists—it can be a beneficial way to humanize executives when used well.
4. Teach them to pause when thinking.
Have you ever been in a meeting or social situation where silence filled the room? For many people, the automatic reaction is to try to fill the silence with talking—without thinking through what you’re actually saying.
Shimmin describes this tendency to “speak while they think” as a “really dangerous thing [for executives] to do because you’re not really filtering what’s coming out.”
While it may be a common thing people do, it’s something you want to train your leadership team to stop doing. Advise them to consciously build pauses into their speech when they need a second to think.
They may feel like doing so is awkward and obvious, but Shimmin insists that instead, “it doesn’t stand out like a sore thumb. It also gives them better gravitas and makes them seem more considered in their delivery.”
This skill will help them avoid saying things that could potentially damage their relationship with employees. They’ll have an easier time sticking with the messaging they really want to communicate—one that will build up trust.
5. Trust is Worth the Work
All of this requires time and work on both the part of IC and your executives. When they’re busy with a million other things on their to-do list, it may seem like a hard sell.
But a workforce that feels like they know and trust their leaders is more likely to be loyal to the company and show the increased productivity that comes with job satisfaction.