The relational connection between company culture and employee engagement is emotions. Every culture produces an emotion. It could be cynicism, fear, anxiety, hope, excitement, love, hate or any other emotion you can think of. At the end of the day, it is based on how the employee feels. Another serious issue that influences feelings is that of trust. If an employee doesn’t feel safe or that the organization is trustworthy, they will most likely not engage and their performance will suffer.

dishonest_salesmanRecently, Edelman published their Trust Barometer for 2014. The results were a bit surprising, but still not good in my opinion. People said they trust business more than government in 20 out of 27 countries surveyed, but that is where the “good” news ends. 20% believed that business leaders were inclined to tell the truth. 21% believed that business leaders would make ethical and moral decisions. 19% believed business leaders could contribute to solving social or societal issues. Although business leaders showed a 14 point gap in trust over government leaders, that equates to being excited about having pneumonia instead of terminal cancer in my book. It will reflect on engagement levels in your organization as well.

The study also points to five performance clusters that were key to building trust. In order of importance, they were: Engagement (employee and customer), Integrity, Products & Service, Purpose and Operations. Three out of these five were focused on people and human interaction. If 4 out of 5 people, on average, don’t believe business leaders can be trusted to do the right thing, engagement is next to impossible.

The Edelman study also pointed to some things business leaders can do to help build trust – which will have a positive impact on engagement. No earth shattering revelation, just some good reminders of what we should be doing in the first place.

  1. Engage with employees – If your employees are disengaged due to a lack of trust, this can be an uphill battle in the beginning. Difficulty doesn’t dictate necessity in this case. It’s hard. It’s important. It’s necessary.
  2. Communicate clearly and transparently – While half-truths and vague responses may make you feel clever, people don’t have to know the truth to believe you’re full of it. Of course people don’t trust outright liars. They don’t trust cryptic sneaks either.
  3. Tell the truth, regardless of difficulty – No business leader likes to say the numbers suck, especially under their watch. Bad things happen and that is that. You need an organization of adults who can stare an ugly reality in the face and still win. This is a great first step.
  4. Front and center during challenging times – Engagement will improve, along with trust, if leaders stand out front when things aren’t going so well. You don’t even have to stand there with a solution. Just be willing to be in the open and call it like it is, warts and all. People respect that and they trust you for it. This does wonders for engagement!
  5. Personally involved in supporting local charities and good causes – If you will do an act of kindness to a stranger, there is an underlying belief and assumption that you would do at least that much for someone you know…like an employee in the company. Life knocks us around and no matter how inconvenient it is for operations, it doesn’t make it sting or suck less.

What would you add to the Edelman list of how to build trust? How have you seen engagement suffer because people simply didn’t trust leadership? I would love to hear your comments below!