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Building trust must not become a gimmick – it’s a necessity

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Our distrust towards authorities is rife – and justified, whether it’s the MP expenses scandal, the phone hacking scandal, the Catholic Church scandal or the inauthentic reactive style of our political leadership, such as the sudden annulment of ex-RBS chief’s knighthood in a hasty attempt to appease public outrage at his successors’ bonuses.

Frantic cover ups or perpetual dishonesty are either exposed or suspected, in a digital age where social media and the availability of information fuel our scepticism.

Distrust extends to the corporate world too; a recent Edelman survey found that whilst only 29% of people believe the Government is doing the right thing, only 38% trust businesses and surprisingly only a few more – 42% – trust non-governmental organisations.

If this is a time where a top-down approach to communication and leadership is proving ineffective, how can those at the top gain trust?

The answer lies in changing the question slightly – leaders will only be trusted when they are seen to lead with authenticity and trust themselves. After all, how can trust be built when the authorities don’t seem to entrust and respect us with the truth, or truly believe in their actions? The emphasis must be on leading by example, so leading with trust, from the top.

This is a tough time for managers too, particularly middle managers; new CIPD research found that 49% feel they are under excessive pressure either everyday or once or twice a week, only 44% are satisfied with their work-life balance, and 29% consider it likely they could lose their job as a result of the economic down turn (compared to 21% of non-managers and 15% of senior managers). Considering such findings, it’s perhaps no surprise that middle managers are also the category most likely to be job hunting, with 29% looking to move organisations (compared to 21% across the workforce).

Managers under pressure can be scared of unleashing their staff, micromanaging instead of trusting, criticising instead of giving constructive feedback, or believing that being overbearing is the way towards respect and productivity. This environment can lead to quick fixes and cost cuttings over a genuine long-term commitment to staff engagement and development, with strong management at all levels.

Managers may be tempted to pin their staff engagement efforts onto gimmicks, such as prizes and competitions, employee of the month awards, daily feedback reports or fun morale building activities. Whilst nothing is wrong with any of these, if they aren’t accompanied by honest, engaged and effective management they’ll seem cynical and empty; disengagement will only be reinforced.

An organisation that wants more from its managers, needs to trust and empower its managers. This will in turn lead to managers leading by example, able to affect trust and empowerment across the workforce.

  • Do managers take pride in their work and the business?
  • Do managers understand the business’s goals and vision?
  • Are managers provided with the information and resources they need to understand their role and manage their team effectively?
  • Are manager’s feedback and ideas sought and genuinely heard?
  • Do managers have formal development programs (rather than training and coaching merely used to firefight problems as they arise)?
  • Are managers carefully selected for interpersonal skills as well as technical ability? If not, is development provided?
  • Are managers’ flexible working requests granted, or at least welcomed?

Managers visibly and actively engaged in the organisation have already made the first step to earning their team’s trust. Whilst other measures – such as those above, adapted to non-managers – are legitimate steps to engaging and motivating teams, they’ll fall flat if unaccompanied with motivated managers.

Trusted and empowered managers are not only the first step to building the trust of the workforce as a whole. They are the foundation needed for motivation, creativity and innovation to grow.

With both the ability to respond to competition and talent retention ever important, businesses must remember that – just as customers will generally change loyalties due a company’s representative rather than the company itself – staff leave managers, not companies.

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