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April 23, 2012
It’s a Matter of Employee Trust
There is an understandable perception that companies have forgotten that employees matter. Whether that’s true in your organization, can you blame your colleagues for thinking this way? Over the past several years, virtually every workplace has weathered layoffs and attrition. 

People have worked longer hours with smaller teams, received little to no increase in compensation, and have endured the loss of training and career development opportunities. Most disheartening is the overpromise and under delivery — or the complete lack of clear communication — employees have experienced when dealing with senior management. There may be a “War for Talent” outside your company’s doors, but inside you’re facing a “War for Trust.”

If your company wants to be successful, you need to please, motivate, and nurture your top talent in order to retain brilliant minds and loyal hearts. If your employees don’t trust you or your company, this will never happen.

How does a company regain this trust? It starts when leaders act to change. It may seem a daunting task, but as a senior executive, there are steps you can take to establish a healthy environment for new employees and build trust that’s disintegrated for existing colleagues.

Listen. Employees have opinions and suggestions. They want to be heard, but action must follow conversation. If your team wants to work flexible hours, don’t assume it can’t be done. Take the time to understand the root of the request. Urge them to provide a point of view that includes objectives and strategies. Hold them accountable for answering who, what, where, when, and how. By listening and collaborating versus assuming and directing, you’ll collectively reach an outcome for which they’ll respect you.   

Be honest. Seems like a no-brainer, but sometimes an honest answer is difficult to relay. If an employee is not ready for promotion, explain why. If you don’t know the answer to a request, admit it. Never pacify; never lie. Employees will eventually notice recurring dishonesty, possibly causing a decrease in faith, loyalty and productivity.   

Temper conversations. Transparency is key in most respects, but realistically there are times information simply can’t be shared. If information is confidential or business implications exist, communicate that. Discretion is part of management and employees need to understand this versus simply feeling they are kept in the dark. 

Let go. Micro-managing can get ugly. Empower employees to make decisions and allow them to own projects. Expect mistakes and accept this as part of the process. It may mean baking more time into a deadline or taking more time to explain a project up front, but do it. Showing trust will gain you trust in return.

Celebrate employees. When your team achieves success, recognize it. Few things are more deflating than working hard on a project and having a Director take credit for it. If your employee originates an idea that rises to the top, make certain the CEO knows it. If another writes a strong presentation, encourage him/ her to present it to the executive committee. Your sincere support will gain loyalty.

Involve yourself. If employees don’t know what you’re working on, they assume you do nothing. If they feel they’re constantly working and you’re not, your credibility is shot. In weekly status meetings, leave time to explain what’s on your plate and what you’ve completed. Knowing you’re working just as hard will ensure you are part of the team.

Deliver. Accountability is critical in gaining trust. If you promise you’ll nominate someone to be an officer of your company in the next cycle, do it. If there are stipulations, communicate them. Deliver reviews and feedback on time. And never overpromise. 

Pay it forward. If you’re succeeding in building trust within your team, share best practices within your company. Encourage your CEO to hold senior leaders accountable for the same success. Encourage your team to extend the same values to others. A company will not be one of destination nor loyal employees, if only one team is the ideal. 

Above all, inspire. Your team will trust someone that makes their environment a better one to work in, someone they want to emulate, and someone that encourages them to be better. However, remember that every team and every employee is different. What makes each want to come to work every day?   What type of leader do they want to learn from, and what do they want to learn? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, start asking.

Communicate clearly with integrity and treat employees with respect. Ensure your positive actions will permeate your environment. Building and maintaining genuine trust within your immediate team is critical to retaining top talent not only for yourself, but for your company.  

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Christine Stack joined the media agency MEC in 2011 as Senior Partner, Director-Talent Acquisition; in that role, she is responsible for the creation, development, and delivery of strategies to attract and retain senior-level talent at the agency across North America. She is also a key member of MEC’s Talent executive committee. 
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