By Claire Grundy| Communications advisor and practitioner|
It’s often said that the ‘deal’ between employers and those they employ has changed. Back in the day, apparently, you signed up with a company for the long term. The reputation of the business you joined was crucial. Security of tenure, steady progression and feeling ‘looked after’ were just as important. In return, you offered your trust and commitment for the long term and were prepared to work as required to help secure the business’s success.
Today, so it goes, companies are increasingly staffed by generation Yers who are exclusively focused on their personal progression – development, career advancement, responsibility early, leaders who inspire. The sense of entitlement is more highly developed.
What’s the reality? In the best companies, you’ll find a healthy blend of both scenarios. Colleagues join with high expectations and find that they are largely delivered. Individuals are prepared to make a long term commitment in a trusting and supportive environment.
The most striking characteristic in high performing organisations is trust. People trust each other in these businesses. They may have complaints about salary levels, performance management, insufficient access to development opportunities, occasionally inadequate line management, but there’s a fundamental belief in the fairness of the management systems and structures. There’s a pride in the reputation of their business (even when that reputation has been challenged) and there’s a willingness to commit time and discretionary energy.
Communication is at the heart of this. The extent to which leaders at all levels communicate and do so regularly and openly will have the strongest influence on colleagues’ willingness to trust. The extent to which leaders feel able to communicate transparently and authentically is the biggest indicator of the strength of the business’s values and management systems.
Once leaders set the tone, it can quickly become the norm. Just as quickly, inconsistent and inauthentic communication can destroy trust. Picking the right leaders is crucial. Setting the right standards and fostering open and transparent communication are critically important, and, in our view can be straightforward to achieve if you build the right foundations.
What are the foundations for trust and transparency?
Understand what colleagues really think. There’s no substitute for up to date knowledge of what your people think of the culture of your business, including how they see communications Seeking their views, and committing to act on them is an important step in building trust.
Setting clear standards. In our experience, it is still often assumed that good line managers and leaders will know what’s required when it comes to communication. Training and development is offered in more enlightened businesses, but it can be hit and miss and is often optional. Companies should be very clear about what great communication looks like and managers’ success in achieving this standard should be judged along with other aspects of their performance.
Authenticity. When it comes to ‘their’ leader, colleagues are very tolerant of individual style and behaviour as long as they see ambition for the business and its people, professional excellence and genuine positive intent. Introversion/extraversion is not a factor. The ability to communicate skillfully is helpful and can be learned, but it’s more important that leaders communicate regularly, openly and honestly, and that having started they continue to do so. Respecting people as adults, trusting them in terms of what is shared, and listening and invite ideas and input are all required. Time, a consistent approach and a willingness to be yourself (actors always get found out) are essential.
Openness and transparency. This is easy in the good times. What’s not to like about sharing good news on performance, businesses wins, investment in people and programmes, etc? It’s the extent to which leaders are prepared to be open and honest in the more challenging times, and do so in a way which is respectful and considerate, that will build or destroy the foundations of trust in a business. Open and transparent communications require careful forethought. Our guidance is that you should stick to known facts, ensure you share very regular information on performance (consistent with regulatory requirements) and acknowledge successes and failures. It requires commitment and skill to do this consistently (once you start, you must not stop!) and in a way which leaves colleagues feeling positive and energized. However challenging the situation, you want to inspire action, not introspection.
Messages, channels and set piece communications. Ensuring that your communication infrastructure is fit for purpose and fits the open and trusting environment you wish to foster is also important. To encourage a transparent culture, you will need to get the content of your communications right (consistent goals and messages, willingness to share good and challenging) and you will need to introduce/reinforce mechanisms that encourage transparency. Too many businesses still rely on largely one way, e-mail dependent updates. They fall back on stage managed quarterly or half yearly updates as the set piece opportunity to share progress. These channels are often highly professional, labour intensive, and…. insufficient. Informal communication, social media, campaigning movements, politics – all these provide inspiration and ideas that can be applied in a corporate setting with leadership support.
Question and challenge. There are many high performing communicators in business today. The employee engagement movement in the UK has raised expectations and there is a lot of good practice in place. Companies that are willing to invest in strong foundations for trusting communications, that question and challenge their approach so that they keep improving, and that commit consistently to a culture of trusting and transparent communications will succeed in striking the right balance with those who work for them. They will invest in their people’s talents and development, and they will inspire the commitment and outstanding performance they need in return.
If you would like some advice, or simply a chat over a coffee, on how to encourage a culture of trust and transparency in your organization please contact us:
+44 (0)781 3646847