The Importance of Employee Trust in Business Communication
— February 7th, 2020
In the words of Jim Rohn, the American entrepreneur, and motivational speaker, “Effective communication is 20% what you know and 80% how you feel about what you know.”
It’s true, isn’t it? Look at the recent British general election. Every leader making significant promises in their manifestos. Enticing on paper, but based on their previous behavior (and we all remember the NHS Brexit bus debacle!), who could we actually trust?
Fast forward to business, confirmed by The Edelman Trust Barometer 2020 as one of the four institutions measured that is not trusted, and 24% employees saying they didn’t feel their company’s communications were honest (Clarity Insight).
Having led teams for many years, I’ve experienced this first hand.
It is a challenge to gain trust as a leader when your MD chooses to ignore employee comments around their honesty; when indiscreet peers relay sensitive information to their ‘inner circle’….and your team hears about it; when the new business strategy is ridiculed by your peers in an open environment…
And yet the benefits of trust are significant. In his book ‘The Neuroscience of Trust’, Paul J Zak reveals that, compared to low-trust companies, there is significant value delivered by employees at high-trust companies:
- 74% less stress
- 106% more energy at work
- 50% higher productivity
- 13% fewer sick days
- 76% more engagement
- 29% more satisfaction with their lives
- 40% less burnout
With these proven positive outcomes, how do we engender trust in today’s workplace?
In 2018, Gallup reported that managers are the main reason 50% of employees would quit their jobs and a 2016 Harvard Business Review article revealed that a huge 69% of managers said they were uncomfortable communicating with employees (with 35% feeling disengaged themselves).
Which got me thinking, what is the connection between managers and trust?
Having led teams for many years, in one of my earlier management roles, a ‘Company Restructure’ was efficiently administered by HR. However, to my team they were faceless, and the messaging showed limited understanding of the impact the changes would have at an individual level.
With no direct involvement or briefing, this left me in the challenging situation of having to interpret the situation personally for my own team, which I’ve no doubt was inconsistent with other interpretations.
How much better it would have been to involve the Line Managers in the change program, ask for their input and provide them with regular team briefing materials. While it may not have resulted in positive messages for everyone, it would have enabled the line manager to confidently and authentically communicate the background and outcome.
We’ve all worked for managers, some of whom we’ve trusted, and maybe some not so much. Why is this, and what can we do to support the emotional connection between a manager and their team?
Enabling Line Manager authenticity
Developing trust in the business – the role of Internal Comms
Audience and timing of messages
There should be recognition of the role of Line Managers in engaging their teams, balanced with the timing of relevant information.
While a business-wide message with personal impact on employees would be most effectively delivered by the most senior member of the function or business, this could leave the Line Manager feeling disempowered.
In this scenario, consider inviting Line Managers to a briefing directly prior for a high-level overview of the full communication and commitment to involving them in ongoing developments. This wins Line Manager trust through early involvement, and enables them to legitimately confirm to their teams that they haven’t been withholding information.
Joined up comms approach
This is particularly relevant in today’s digital world, where social media messages and fake news can land with employees often prior to planned briefings.
Encourage Line Managers to become involved in the wider communications network. Enlist them as internal champions/advocates, bring them in early on projects, make them feel valued, seek their opinions and listen.
This will result in joined-up messaging, plus the Line Manager will feel more empowered, confident in delivery and benefit from a wider appreciation of business operations.
Understanding the Line Manager role
Help the Line Managers to understand the importance of communicating and engaging with their teams.
I’ve worked with companies in the past whose Line Managers don’t recognize communication and engagement as one of their responsibilities (a fundamental flaw with the business, not the Line Managers!).
Clarify expectations, provide coaching sessions, share experience and support them to become more confident. This, in turn, will make them more authentic in the eyes of their team.
Line Managers’ Forum
When I worked with Royal Mail I developed an invitation-only quarterly Line Managers’ Forum for the Sales function. The agenda was shaped by the group and always ended with a Q&A session with the Group Sales Director, where anything was on the table for discussion.
In addition to providing the Line Managers with an opportunity to share any concerns in an open and honest forum, it enabled points to be immediately addressed, and they left feeling valued and included.
Line Managers’ Learning Session
A regular, mandatory diary slot, in which internal communicators share details of forthcoming briefings, along with briefing pack, with Line Managers. An open opportunity to ask questions pertinent to their own teams, clarify their own understanding of the message and remove ambiguity.
Following this, the briefing pack should be updated and provided to each leader for direct communication to their team, with them having the understanding and confidence in what they are communicating.
Developing trust with a team – the role of the LIne Manager in communicating
Consider delivery approach
Always deliver messages on time in the most appropriate way (simply forwarding an email from someone else does not connect with your team).
In the event that you are not able to deliver the message yourself, arrange an alternative communication or a fully briefed representative to do it on your behalf.
There is nothing worse than an employee hearing a message relevant to them secondhand. Ensure you take into consideration team members who are absent or remote and arrange to brief them as close to the communication being delivered as possible.
NB: Ignore remote employees at your peril! Only 36% believe that their Line Manager is an accurate source (Remotely Interested Report, SocialOptic, 2019)
Tailor the message to your team, make it relatable, share any challenges, demonstrate any capacity for their involvement and follow up and feedback on any resulting actions.
Line Managers Coaching Circles
Try coaching circles as part of a peer group meeting. In groups of three, allocate ‘Line Manager’, ‘Employee’ and ‘Observer’ roles. The Line Manager role can practice delivering briefings while the Observer and Employee can provide feedback and alternative approaches in a safe environment. This is also a great technique to understand the impact a Line Manager is having on their audience and how authentic they appear.
Line Managers App/Sharepoint site
There are always occasions when a response is required urgently or it’s very specific to a certain person, product, etc. In larger businesses it’s not always possible to identify or reach the relevant person quickly, leaving the Line Manager exposed. Rather than making something up, I’d suggest the following tools to ensure accuracy and consistency in your response.
Firstly, a regularly updated Line Managers’ Sharepoint site (or similar platform), to store all up to date, related tools and documents and include a contact point for further information on every subject.
Secondly, an app (desktop and mobile) for Line Managers, where they can ask questions on a series of categories – products, people, pricing etc. Behind these categories 2/3 ‘always on’ champions ensure that the question is answered in a factually correct, timely manner, and is published to all other team leaders for infoshare. This not only provides a direct answer to the Line Manager but also enables a timely response to their team and ensures consistency of response.
Be confident Line Managers! Ask the team for feedback on your communication and style – what should you start doing, what should you stop and what is the one piece of advice they would give. Arrange for this to be administered through a third party for anonymity. This will form a great basis for your development plan.
So how do we know whether this is effective? Listen to your audience.
A quick 3 question poll to the team after each briefing to clarify understanding and capture any concerns, plus a similar poll from internal comms to the team leader.
A half-year/annual robust survey on the delivery, content, etc. Ask the team what they would like to hear about and how. This can be used to measure behavior over time and can also be incorporated as a measure in the Line Manager Performance Review. (I can’t stress enough that each of these approaches should be used with Line Manager development in mind, focusing on the ability to communicate authentically and as a trusted advisor.)
And of course, act on the feedback.
There is one caveat to all of this. It is not always possible to share everything with your team; help them to understand this, and the reasons why. There may be legal reasons why certain things can’t be discussed, or confidentiality issues affecting individuals, etc.
If there is, tell them why, and let them know when they should expect to receive further information.
However, don’t let this get in the way of delivering a difficult message. Over the years I’ve seen many Line Managers hide behind a message with something like ‘I’m not allowed to say’.
Don’t be afraid to share your considered views on the message, making it clear that’s what it is. As long as you are authentic, your team will appreciate your perspective.
Let me leave you with this reassuring thought. “Employees who have trust in their employer are far more likely to engage in beneficial actions on their behalf and will advocate for the organization (a 39-point trust advantage), are more engaged (33 points), and remain far more loyal (38 points) and committed (31 points) than their more skeptical counterparts” (Edelman Trust Barometer).
Let’s make 2020 the year of Trust, and consider authenticity and employee feelings in every communication – the results will speak for themselves.