The Value of Trust Business / Change / Communications / Employee communications

Andrew Cooper, IABC NSW President, shares his views on the Value of Trust for Internal Communications.

Over the last month, we’ve seen two examples of how losing trust has had a negative effect on an organisation. Since the Cambridge Analytics scandal broke, Facebook has lost $100m in market capitalisation and after a Model X SUVs caused a fatal crash while driving on autopilot, Tesla’s shares fell 15%.

From an employee point of view, you can just imagine what these two issues did to their engagement. Issues like these can have a devastating effect on how employees feel about their employer and confidence in the company’s leadership, let alone their purpose and pride.

When an organisation is in a crisis that’s when an internal communicator can really add value and become a strategic advisor to the CEO and leadership team to help them maintain trust and restore brand reputation.

Maintaining trust in an organisation has never been more important; the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer reported a CEO’s ability to build trust (69 percent) is their number one job, surpassing producing high-quality products and services (68 percent). It also went on to say 69 percent of investors believe companies who prioritise their commitment to employees positively influence their trust in them. More explicitly, respondents rank “poor relationships with employees” as having a negative effect on investor confidence.

In both cases, with so many media outlets having a point of view on the situation, it’s important leaders have the right channels and messages to communicate in a clear, concise and accurate way. Employees need to understand the company’s point of view so they don’t become disengaged with the negative coverage. A better understanding also allows them to better explain the situation when talking to clients, friends or family. In Facebook’s case 1.4 billion active users the platform every day, all with a vested interest in this story.

No matter what the crisis, the better leaders communicate, the more chance they have to maintain – and earn more – trust, limiting the damage to the company’s reputation.

Internal communication tactics to help leaders maintain trust in a crisis

1. Create opportunities for leaders to listen

In a crisis, employees become worried and emotional about what the issue/s mean to them and their role. No one likes to see negative press coverage about their workplace or have their employer portrayed in a negative light by friends and family. Its important leaders have forums or channels to listen to their employees and hear their worries, frustrations and allow them to ask questions. This could be done formally by holding Town Hall sessions or attending team meetings and having a more intimate conversation. Informally this could be done via the company’s internal social platforms like Yammer. Either way, leaders need to encourage conversations and open dialogue with employees so they feel comfortable speaking their minds. As well as using it as an opportunity to listen to how employees are perceiving the situation and how the issue is affecting their day to day lives in the organisation.

2. Help leaders articulate, illustrate and reinforce the company values and behaviours

At a time of crisis when a company’s values are being criticised and under threat, leaders need to use this as an opportunity to reinforce the company values. A communicator can help their leader articulate and illustrate the company’s values through storytelling.

Here are six storytelling tips I find helpful when working with leaders.

  • Start with the context  explain the circumstances that form the setting so the story can be fully understood
  • Use metaphors and analogies – these devices provide a means and a way to communicate a visual message in a meaningful manner that helps build understanding, awareness and familiarity
  • Appeal to emotion – studies show decisions are largely based on emotional reasons and then rationalise afterwards so they feel logical. Encourage your leaders to appeal to both sides of their brain
  • Keep it tangible and concrete  avoid sweeping statement and buzz words
  • Include a surprise – they make your story more memorable and your audience will sit up and pay attention
  • Use a narrative style appropriate for business. Be concise and to the point, a good length is between 3-5 minutes.

As you can see from what Facebook and Tesla have incurred over the last month a loss of trust can have a tangible impact on the organisation but it’s the intangible impacts (decrease in employee purpose, pride and confidence in leadership) which can be the most devastating.


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