Most of us know what trust is and what it feels like. But trust is still difficult to define let alone build. For some, it is about love, friendship and feeling safe. For others, the focus is on predictability, reciprocity and the knowledge that they will not be mistreated.
Whether we are talking about relationships in a personal or professional sense, what is certain is that trust is vital. It is crucial if we are to succeed into the long-term. Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel laureate in economics drew the links between trust and economic success. As early as 2013, long before today’s current trend that favours transparency, he saw the rising phenomenon. In his blog for the New York Times, Stiglitz says “It is trust, more than money, that makes the world go round.”
This is profoundly true for purpose-driven companies because they understand that valuing their people is key to high performance. They work hard to create trust by nurturing and developing their talent; and indeed motivating them to give a high performance in service of a higher purpose.
Leading from the top
So what can internal communications teams do? Can they help the business get to a place where the people who work for it are motivated to put their best foot forward for the company?
The single most important thing is to ensure the senior leadership team is on board and able to communicate purpose clearly and authentically. This means sitting down with each individual member of the leadership team, not just to get a solid understanding of the company’s values, aims and goals but to understand what drives them personally, as individuals. The outcome for the internal communications team, hopefully, is an authentic narrative from its leadership that unites everybody towards a common goal.
Engaging all sides
If trust is present, staff will be much more inclined to buy into the vision laid out by their leaders. But that vision needs to focus and align with the needs of the workforce. According to Daniel Pink, a well-known author on work, management and behavioural science, there are three key factors that drive employee motivation and employee engagement. These are: autonomy—the ability to be self-directed, not be part of a machine; mastery — the ability to master a craft, an industry and fundamentally oneself; and finally to understand one’s contribution to a higher purpose.
Once people are comfortable with their wages or salary, their biggest workplace motivators are a combination these three elements. Independence to do their job and feelings of competency in their work are so important for motivation. This is something that can be helped greatly by training and development activities. Finally, meaning at work beyond just themselves and the company they work helps to drive motivation.
But it is not enough for leaders to simply talk the talk about purpose for the sake of their employees and stakeholders while failing to actually live it. In fact, because of their important role as influencers, it is vital they set an example in everything they do. As a result, leaders really need to commit to the aims and values being propounded. Paying lip service will just not cut it.
It is not enough for leaders to simply talk the talk about purpose for the sake of their employees and stakeholders while failing to actually live it.
Internal communications teams have a key psychological role to play here. Employee engagement is about listening and helping to pull disparate threads together in a coherent fashion. It is also about discerning where the organisation’s culture is truly at.
It may be useful to take a leaf out of Tribal Leadership by Dave Logan, John King and Halee Fischer-Wright. The book describes how tribes operate and influence culture.
Their belief is that all organisations have various tribes. These are groups of between 20 and 150 people who share a common ethos. These tribes actually have more collective power to make a difference than even the organisation’s chief executive. Their belief systems can be categorised into five basic stages.
The five stages of achieving great things
Stage one is ‘life sucks’; stage two is ‘my life sucks’; the third stage is is ‘I’m great (and you’re not)’; the penultimate stage is ‘we’re great’ and the fifth and final stage is ‘life is great’.
Nearly three quarters of most workforces are at either stage two or three. The ultimate aim is to raise everyone to stage five. This is so they collectively work for the greater good of the organisation and beyond. The secret here is persuading one tribal member at a time to change their attitudes by encouraging them to use the language of the next level up.
One effective way of doing so is through storytelling. The idea here is to share the stories of the people behind the brand, to lay bare the human side of what drives the business and why it matters to its employees, customers and the world. In fact, the more you can engage people emotionally, taking them on a journey of their own self discovery, the easier you will find it to unite them with your vision and harness their potential at the same time.
While it is good to be aspirational, it is also important to act as a mirror and reflect the reality on the ground.
But do bear in mind that, if the workforce is at level two or three, there is no point employing level five language and stories of huge optimism and daily success. While it is good to be aspirational, it is also important to act as a mirror and reflect the reality on the ground. Taking it more than a level higher than the reality of the people around you will simply feel fake to them — and the secret of authenticity in communicating leadership truly is in keeping it real. Trust is unsurprisingly about genuine understanding those around you, not imposing an external vision made up of run-of-the-mill motivational quotes.