Article: Trust in Crisis - The role of leaders & employees

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Trust in Crisis - The role of leaders & employees

Leaders hold a critical role in creating the context for trust. It is leaders who need to define the context for people, provide hope and energy and show the direction.
Trust in Crisis - The role of leaders & employees

In social institutions (business, government, media and NGOs), the concept of ‘trust’ is fast declining, shares Iain Twine, Vice Chairman of Reputation at Edelman. The Edelman Trust Barometer tracks the trust levels across businesses, governments, media and NGOs across parameters such as like integrity, engagement, product, purpose and operations.  

Goh Swee Chen, Chairman of Shell Companies Singapore mentions that Shell’s business is about taking a long view and thus trust plays a critical role for their organization. With digitization giving people a voice, there is more pressure on organizations and governments alike to be more transparent. Steve Okun, Founder & CEO, APAC Advisors, states that businesses need to understand that organizations need to present as a solution to a societal challenge – their purpose should be aligned to a social need to make a difference to society; over and above that, they need to focus on execution of business in a responsible way. 

Prof Veronica Hope, Dean of School of Management, University of Bath adds that “there is a need to focus on optimism, raise levels of trust but unfortunately media are not interested in bringing out success stories.” She adds that the role of organizations is to invest in building that trust. Prof Hope shares the 4 levers or trust Is your organization able/capable? Do you “care” about stakeholders? Do you have integrity? Are you reliable? Organizations that are under scrutiny on any of these, Prof Hope says that they need to turn up the volume on any of those four areas.

From the perspective of employers, “employees” are more trusted than CEOs and Chairman – that is the leverage that employers should have.  While organizations can drive engagement, “trust takes time to build – people make the decision to trust over a long period of time,” shares Prof Veronica Hope, Dean of School of Management, University of Bath. There is a need for people to see behavior over time to be reliable, predictable over time. “It takes a bicycle ride to build it and takes a Ferrari to lose it,” adds Swee. 

Leaders hold a critical role in creating the context for trust. It is leaders who need to define the context for people, provide hope and energy and show the direction. G Rob White, President, Medtronic Asia Pacific shares the importance of values as a filter to make decisions and it is important for the leader to build authenticity, humility, confidence (leading from the front) and passion to transform our industries. Trust is a lot about “transparency” shares Steve Okun, Founder & CEO, APAC Advisors “when data shows than China has higher level of trust than US, that is about transparent and reliability – knowing what is expected.” Building trust is also about the followers, shares Prof Veronica Hope, Dean of School of Management, University of Bath, “In high trust organizations, employees understand that they have the responsibility to contribute to “trust building” and allow failures and avoid finger pointing.” People have a need to be heard – we saw that in Brexit, shares Prof Hope "take on controversy, not that you need to respond BUT people are asking institutions to be transparent, not to gloss over what people feel and pretend not to hear it. You need to hear what people think and feel – giving people a voice is critical.

Times of crisis are where organizations with high levels of trust will get higher levels of commitment to change – at the point you ask somebody to engage with change that is controversial – they will willingly embrace the uncertainty of change. But remember you cannot go from 0 to 8 in the trust scale, only from 5 to 8. So the main challenge about trust is that it gets built over time.

(The following excerpts are from the panel discussion held during the Singapore Human Capital Summit organized by the Human Capital Leadership Institute.) 

Topics: Leadership, Employer Branding, Employee Relations

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