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Re-building corporate trust

"Nobody believes the official spokesman... but everybody trusts an unidentified source." Ron Nesen

WE seem to have entered the age of the 'anti-trust' -- where in the workplace the official words are 'trust no one.' It had to happen --coming as we are -- out of the shadows of the world's massive financial meltdown. Hadn't we, after all, placed our confidence in a complex and (now we learn) wacky technical financial system which seemed to have had its beginnings in a parallel 'Bizzaro World'? You and I know that world very well - where a tin of Milo and condensed milk is a nice bounty.

So here we are now, smack in the middle of 2010, with cynicism at its pinnacle. According to a Gallup poll, trust in banks and big businesses was at an all-time low in 2008 - only 32 per cent of the United States public trusted banks down from fifty per cent in 2004. Employees no longer have faith in the word of their corporate leaders that they will not be laid off anytime soon. They demand to be kept abreast of any and everything and yet they give the CEO and his executives, the 'one-eyed squint' when they make any major announcement about the company's or their future. Employees are suspicious of the words of the official spokesman and in an environment rife with cynicism, would prefer to hold fast to the underground source of information. The rumour mill and the office grape vine from which employees prefer to get the 'juicy truth' rather than the unvarnished facts. That's a big a slap in the face.

Almost everyone seems jaded and "Yeah, right," is the acid response to news, - good bad or indifferent. It would seem as if not many people have strong belief, faith or hope in the 'system' anymore. Some come to work (they are happy to have a job); work as hard as they think they can without going overboard, keeping both eyes firmly on the clock. Are you like that? At work do you just live for lunch-time and 4:30 or 5:00 pm?

I am reading an article by Silvia Cambie in the May/June 2010 Communication World which describes The Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual survey conducted by a US-based PR firm. "The Trust Barometer found that 70 per cent of the people view actions such as getting rid of non-performing managers or shrinking the pay gap between senior executives and the lowest-ranking workers as ways for companies to restore trust. Business leaders have to become better at explaining what they do and why it matters," says Cambie.

Despite the mistrust that management is experiencing, leaving the communications door ajar is a must. A company stands to lose much more if it closes that entrance to information flow. There are still managers who believe in the unholy matrimony between themselves and legitimate company information that should be shared with their subordinates in a timely manner. They are still in the habit of 'wife-ing' up information, refusing to share it with the members of their team. Believe it or not, their friends and family outside of work who have less at stake, have more information than the persons who require said info to function properly.

There seems to be a great need to educate senior management about the importance of communicating to employees, not as an after-thought, but as a significant part of the mix in the decision-making process. Never, ever let your staff find out about a major change within the company from an article in the newspapers - they will 'have you up in their 'craw' for years to come. Worse yet, if it is detrimental to their work life some will think that it is tantamount to reading about their own deaths in the pages of the Memoriam.

Innovative ways to keep a two-way channel of communication between management and staff open also have to be explored. I am a social media network junkie. If there were more hours in my day they would be taken up in exploring every nook and cranny of these sites. According to Nielsen, the world's leading marketing and media information company which provides an understanding of how consumers get information, consume media and buy goods and services, social media is king. Two-thirds of internet users worldwide visit social networks and time spent on social media networks is growing at three times the overall internet rate. A good place to meet and deliver your message to the members of your work force seems to be where they hangout during and after work hours. We all know how tiresome the staff meeting can be if it is not properly structured to allow for effective feedback. Why not try and meet them on familiar ground as well as face-to-face?

Cambie's article suggests that another way to communicate in this post-trust era is to "turn employees into advocates." "Use Corporate Social Responsibility efforts to reinforce their confidence in corporate values". The Trust Barometer revealed that many people are "more likely to trust a company that partners with non-governmental organisations to solve global challenges such as climate change, poverty or disease."


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