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Employees are more likely to trust their supervisor or manager than they are to trust the senior leaders in their organization, a recent survey finds. Nevertheless, experts encourage leaders to work on building trust.
A survey of 2,700 employees released Aug. 7, 2012, by the management consulting firm Healthy Companies International found that two-thirds of respondents (66 percent) said their boss earns the trust of employees.
And a majority of 2,616 North American employees surveyed by BlessingWhite, a global consulting firm, said they trust their senior leaders and managers, with a slight increase in each figure between 2010 and 2012. However, employees are much more likely to place trust in their managers than in senior executives, the research released in August 2012 finds.
Trust in Executives
I trust senior leaders (2012)
I trust senior leaders (2010)
I trust my manager (2012)
I trust my manager (2010)
Source: BlessingWhite, 2012
“It remains difficult for leaders at the top to build trust with people who they rarely see or may have never even met,” said Joan Dasher, employee engagement practice vice president for BlessingWhite, in a press statement. “Yet our findings also suggest that leaders are becoming better at it.”
After all, when it comes to immediate supervisors and managers, “Their teams see them in action,” Dasher explained. “They can demonstrate trustworthiness in their daily actions and become known as people beyond their titles.”
As for executives, “The workforce scrutinizes everything that executives say and do—and then speculates about their motives,” she added. “If leaders do not communicate with care, many employees draw incorrect, and unfavorable, conclusions.”
Communicating to Build Trust
Employees judge leaders’ trustworthiness based on what they do and what they say.
Therefore, when it comes to communication, leaders should consider employees’ generational values, expectations and behaviors, and tailor messages to fit, suggests
Giselle Kovary, managing partner of n-gen People Performance Inc. and co-author of
Upgrade Now: 9 Advanced Leadership Skills (n-gen People Performance Inc., 2012).
It’s not just what they say, but how they say it that matters. Kovary said leaders should select the most appropriate communication method to ensure their message is clear and interpreted appropriately: “Since communication theory holds that words account for 7 percent, tone of voice accounts for 38 percent, and body language accounts for 55 percent of all communication, it is important not to rely too heavily on technology that doesn’t allow for sufficient body language or voice tonality,” she wrote in an e-mail interview with
The ability to convey credibility is key. “Leaders must project confidence and competence when communicating with their employees,” according to Cara Hale Alter, founder and president of SpeechSkills, a San Francisco-based communication training company, and author of
The Credibility Code: How to Project Confidence and Competence When It Matters Most (Meritus, 2012).
“For over two decades, I’ve studied this phenomenon with thousands of leaders,” she told
SHRM Online in an e-mail interview. “I’ve identified 25 specific visual and auditory cues (explicit behaviors for posture, gestures, vocal skills and eye contact) that affect the perception of credibility.”
She provided three examples:
Key messages should be repeated to ensure understanding, Kovary added. “Some communication theories suggest that messages need to be heard seven times before they are fully internalized,” she wrote. “With this in mind, it is important to communicate key messages more than once, using multiple delivery mechanisms (e.g., face-to-face, e-mail, presentation, tweet, etc.) This will also appeal to a diverse employee base that may wish to consume communications in different ways.”
Trust Leads to Engagement
Kovary suggested that leaders keep three principles in mind to build a trusting and engaged workforce:
“Trust forms the foundation for higher levels of retention, productivity and performance—critical to getting the ‘above and beyond’ behaviors that contribute to organizational success,” said JC Heinen, senior vice president and leadership development global practice leader for Lee Hecht Harrison, in an Aug. 1, 2012, press statement, but noted that first trust must be earned.
“To help build organizational trust, today’s leaders can find opportunities to connect, stay visible, communicate more and show genuine interest in their employees,” Heinen said.
Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
Leader Communication Could Be Better,
SHRM Online Employee Relations Discipline, August 2012
Broken Trust Is Bad for Business,
SHRM Online Employee Relations Discipline, August 2012
Employee Communication Resource Page
Employee Relations Discipline
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