Top tips for building trust with employees

Trust really matters. It’s rarely been out of the press over recent weeks and was undeniably a key contributory factor in the recent fall of our PM.

By: James Blair on

This year’s Edelman’s Trust Barometer report is quite an eye-opener, with much of its data highlighting the fragility of our trust not only in government, but in the media, and businesses in general. The same is true of employees and their trust, faith, and confidence in their employer. It’s something of which leaders should always be aware and mindful. Edelman’s four points for restoring the cycle of trust are listed as:

  • People want more business leadership, not less.
  • Demonstrate tangible progress
  • Focus on long-term thinking over short-term gain
  • Provide credible information

So, how can we build that all-important trust with our people? Most of it involves our communications with them. And much of it, unsurprisingly, revolves around honesty and transparency.

1. Share your vision and plans to get there

Having a strong vision and clear strategy for the future of our businesses is crucial. We all need to know where we’re headed and how we plan to get there. But having this stored safely in our CEO’s head or on the SLT’s laptops doesn’t count for much if our people don’t know it. If colleagues at every level are not aware of, and not on board with, those visions and goals, then there’s precious little chance of us achieving them.

Most senior leadership teams would probably argue that they’re already doing this. But if we dare to dig a little deeper, it’s not uncommon to find that those furthest away from the top tiers of management (which is usually those at the proverbial coal face) know far less about these big picture items than is intended. And that can translate to a belief that there simply is no strategic vision or plan.

Our all-important comms strategy should include this – how do we best keep all of our people, irrespective of level, location and working patterns, informed and updated on our strategy, vision and progress?

2. Keep colleagues informed of significant changes

People finding things out about their employer from anywhere other than their leaders can sound the death knell for trust. Whether it’s a story breaking on a news channel, an article or post on social media, or a whispered morsel from a colleague, the damage to trust can be significant or even fatal. The best way to stop the rumour mill from running on overtime is to share the truth with them in an official, though not necessarily officious, manner. Without this, employees will piece together their own story with the bits they can find, regardless of source credibility, and fill in the blanks themselves.

3. Don’t protect your people from bad news

Counter-intuitively, there is evidence to suggest that people worry less when they are kept informed of bad news. My guess is that this is linked to the rumour mill and filling-in-the-blanks scenario outlined above. If we are straight with our colleagues, even when the news isn’t brilliant, they will feel more confident that the issues are being dealt with and that they are not being kept in the dark from an even bigger, more frightening secret.

We should trust in our employees that they understand that all businesses go through periods of challenge or downturns in fortune. If we have an engaged workforce, the chances are they will only want to further support their employer in whatever way they can during troubled times.

4. Always facilitate two-way communication

It is essential that we give our people the chance to respond to announcements, share feedback, ask questions, and make suggestions. It is just as important that we listen and respond to their voices. Not only will this increase their trust in us, but it will allow leaders to understand and keep track of the concerns, thoughts, and fears of their people, and to respond and reassure appropriately.

Q&A sessions and meetings with leaders (whether in person or virtual) are perfect for this.

5. Celebrate successes

Another nail in the coffin for trust is leaders taking the glory for their team members’ efforts, or even just the illusion that this is taking place. We should shout loudly about our people’s efforts, achievements, and successes, and give our teams the chance to do the same. Even better, when sharing these wins, set them in the context of how they’re contributing to the bigger picture and supporting the business to succeed. Naming individuals and teams who deserve recognition will boost trust and morale right across the company, not just for those who are named in the headline.

Trust is one of the most valuable resources we have in our businesses. Just as can happen with motivation and loyalty, damaged trust will spread like a cancer through our workforce if we do not adopt and maintain a suitable communications strategy that focuses on it as a critical asset.