This is the fifth in the series on the Simply Irresistible model (read prior articles here), which covers perhaps the most important element in the irresistible organization: fostering employees’ trust in leadership.
Source: Deloitte Consulting LLP, 2019
It seems nearly every week there is a new headline about a leader resigning from their organization,1 and this is no coincidence. In the wake of recent social movements, coupled with the power of instantaneous storytelling and movement-building through social media, organizations have become hyper-aware of the impact a leader’s behavior toward employees has on brand and bottom line. Businesses are no longer insulated from social or political movements; they are at the nucleus.
The actions of leaders hold new weight in today’s society, and this gravity empowers employees to demand leaders who will act in their best interest, foster a positive work environment, and enable their success. Leaders reading this article are probably asking: How do I cultivate trust among the employees in my organization in a genuine and robust way? And for good reason. Deloitte’s 2019 Global Human Capital Trends found that only 46 percent of workers surveyed felt their organization was effective or very effective in instilling trust in leadership.2 There are four main elements that most influence trust in leadership.
Mission and purpose
What do mission- and purpose-driven organizations look like, and why do employees have allegiance to the leaders of these types of organizations? Let’s take a look at a leading developer, manufacturer, and marketer of life science tools and integrated systems for large-scale analysis of genetic variation and function where leaders and employees alike are anchored by the organization’s mission “to improve human health by unlocking the power of the genome.”3 This organization’s efforts to democratize genetic sequencing to help improve the health of individuals is a powerful unifier of employees within the organization. Certified as a Great Place to Work in 2017–2018, a striking 95 percent of employees are proud to tell others they work there, and 91 percent feel good about the way their organization contributes to the community.4 Empowered employees tend to not only have greater allegiance to their employer, but also work harder to bolster their organization’s mission. Investors took notice too—this mission and purpose-driven organization’s stock price posted as $157.39 on January 1, 2017, and that price has more than doubled to $324.50 as of May 3, 2019.5 Mission and purpose-driven leadership helps build confidence in employees, who trust that they are working toward something greater than themselves.
An organization doesn’t have to be tackling rare diseases in order to be mission and purpose-driven. Let’s take a look at an outdoor clothing and gear brand, which describes its reason for being as: “We’re in business to save our home planet.”6 In 2016, this mission and purpose-driven organization’s leaders voted to donate 100% of Black Friday sales to charity.7 That year, the company saw Black Friday sales rise 76 percent over previous Black Fridays and tripled their sales projection. A leadership decision to donate all Black Friday sales that year—in excess of $10 million dollars—created a consumer response beyond expectation. The organization also had 60,000 new Facebook followers after just two days and “70 percent of online purchases were made by first time customers.” While the organization forewent $10 million in sales that day by donating to charity,8 the organization benefited from immense organic marketing, a sizeable new customer base, and renewed excitement from employees who showed up to stores that Black Friday knowing their work hours were part of a broader social message and impact.
If leaders want to attract and retain top talent to drive business value, then it is increasingly expected that business leaders will focus not only on their organization’s financial bottom line, but also their social and environmental bottom line.
Continuous investment in people
Industry 4.0, the gig economy, worker longevity—these topics are top of mind for leaders and employees for a reason. Leaders are rushing to respond to fundamental shifts in the way work gets done, and employees want to make sure there will still be demand for their labor in an evolving job landscape. Employees need to feel confident that their leaders are committed to investing enough time, effort, and money on their people. This starts with leaders committing to continuous learning.
According to a report published by Dell Technologies in 2017, “85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t even been invented yet.”9 This staggering figure means that everyone from junior staff to senior leaders in an organization will likely need to undergo regular reskilling, and that “the ability to gain new knowledge will be more valuable than the knowledge itself.”10
The chief learning officer at a major credit card company reinvented learning within her organization by championing a mind-set shift among company leaders “away from periodic programs owned by learning professionals to self-directed solutions owned by individual employees. No longer would her learning team focus on telling people what to learn, but instead showing them what they can learn, providing access to resources, tools, and connections to enable individuals to do their jobs and build their careers better.”11 This leader committed to prioritizing continuous learning so that the company could better prepare all of its employees to operate more effectively in today’s highly competitive global economy.
One more note on continuous investment in people: The continuous piece means that leaders should invest in their talent during good times and bad. Bersin™ research on high-impact learning organizations consistently reveals that “companies that ‘overinvest’ in L&D (spending per employee) rated highest in employee retention, innovation, and customer service and outperformed their peers threefold in long-term profitability.” During times of recession, leaders should consider doubling down on investments in their people.
Transparency and honesty
It probably goes without saying that transparency and honesty are key drivers of employees’ trust in leadership. Employees expect that leaders of their organization will provide them with truthful information—honesty is table stakes. What is meant by transparency, on the other hand, continues to evolve. Where transparency used to mean providing employees with insights into strategic business decisions, transparency today is focused more on the individual. Employees now demand visibility into everything from compensation and promotion criteria to how leaders spend their personal time with family and friends.
An organization that ascribes to what it calls a culture of “radical transparency,” announces performance rankings by displaying a ranked list onscreen in front of hundreds of employees. The manager at the bottom of the performance list in one of these announcements described finding out his poor ranking in front of his peers as energizing.12 This organization’s stance on transparency is certainly on one extreme of the spectrum. Other organizations aggregate performance scatterplots to show employees where they fall in comparison to their peers without revealing which employee is attributed to each data point (note that these are often just one indicator as part of a robust year-end performance process).
Leaders also turn to social media to promote transparency within their organizations. Leaders are capitalizing on the ubiquity of social media to connect with their employees in new ways, giving employees a glimpse into everything from their travel schedules to their recent family reunion. This both humanizes leaders to their employees and gives employees yet another communication vehicle through which to connect with their leaders—both of which build trust in leadership over time.
Inspirational leadership is the final element that fosters employees’ trust in leadership and cultivates a Simply Irresistible Organization™. Harvard Business Review explored this topic in a 2017 publication on “How to Be an Inspiring Leader” by Eric Garton.13 In a study conducted by Garton and the Economist Intelligence Unit, they identified that “leaders who both inspire people and generate results find ways to constructively disrupt established behaviors to help employees break out of culture-weakening routines.” Leaders inspire their employees when they are willing to take bold action that may not be in their short-term interest in order to drive long-term improvements for the organization and their people. It is this mind-set of making business decisions to enhance the experience of others that other leaders can embody to help earn employees’ trust.
In summary, to cultivate trust among employees in a genuine and robust way, leaders should address the four elements discussed in this article: promote an organization-wide mission that addresses issues important to their employees, commit to investing in employee development in good times and bad, actively promote a culture of transparency and honesty, and inspire employees through bold leadership decisions. In the words of Josh Bersin: “Just remember that the customer experience is dependent on the employee experience. Every time we make employees’ lives better, we better serve customers as well.”14
1 Audrey Carlsen, et. al., #MeToo Brought Down 201 Powerful Men. Nearly Half of Their Replacements Are Women, The New York Times, October 29, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/10/23/us/metoo-replacements.html
2 “From Employee Experience to Human Experience: Putting meaning back into work”, April 11, 2019. https://www2.deloitte.com/insights/us/en/focus/human-capital-trends/2019/workforce-engagement-employee-experience.html
3 Illumina Fact Sheet, https://www.illumina.com/company/about-us/fact-sheet.html
7 Andrew Schuricht, “The Inside Story of Patagonia’s Black Friday Promotion,” Valor, July 31, 2017, http://www.valorcsr.com/blog/2017/7/31/patagonias-black-friday-promotion-100-for-the-planet
9 Daniel Tencer, “85% of Jobs That Will Exist in 2030 Haven’t Been Invented Yet: Dell,” Huffington Post, July 14 2017, https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2017/07/14/85-of-jobs-that-will-exist-in-2030-haven-t-been-invented-yet-d_a_23030098/
11 “Creating a continuous learning environment,” CFO Insights, Deloitte. https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/finance/articles/cfo-insights-continuous-learning-environment.html
12 Shana Lebowitz, “The world’s largest hedge fund told an employee he was a bad manager in front of 200 people — and he found it ‘energizing,’” Business Insider, March 2, 2018.
13 Eric Garton, How to Be an Inspired Leader, Harvard Business Review, April 25, 2017. https://hbr.org/2017/04/how-to-be-an-inspiring-leader
14 Josh Bersin, “The Employee Experience: It’s Trickier (and more important) Than You Thought”, March 24, 2019. https://joshbersin.com/2019/03/the-employee-experience-its-trickier-and-more-important-than-you-thought/