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The Role of Employee Listening for Trust Building and Action

The Role of Employee Listening for Trust Building and Action

Trust: a five-letter word that holds the key to organizational success. It is the currency that leaders and employees can trade to build their culture and foster an employee experience that enables all to thrive. Building a trusting environment is very personal and may vary across organizations, but there are some time-tested strategies that can be utilized to improve trust in any organization. 

Transparent and Respectful Communication: The Foundation for a Trusting Environment

A foundation of trust is built upon the twin ingredients of transparency and respect. Leadership should consistently share information in a clear and open style. By expressing expectations explicitly, employees are allowed to anticipate future events and changes in the organization. This approach mitigates uncertainty, bolsters confidence, and invites an open dialogue between leaders and employees.

Often, leadership may not be able to share full and transparent information about what is going on — or will be going on — in the organization. Things may be changing so quickly, or in such a sensitive manner (think M&A, layoffs, changes to working models, etc.) that leadership cannot or should not share what they know or even fragments of what they know. In cases like this, leadership may be tempted to share less, to create a period of radio silence. This may seem like the best approach for a time. However, this can drive greater distance between leaders and employees, eroding the foundation of trust. During these seasons, leadership should remain consistent in communication. 

If leadership cannot share current news because it is uncertain or too sensitive to share at the moment, they can share the criteria with which decisions are made and actions will be decided. Encourage employees to remember that they are the center of how decisions are made. Share what leadership values and what their goals are (to remain competitive, to be adaptable, to position strongly for the future, to be stronger, etc.). Share what goes into decision-making. This will keep the lines of communication open, teach employees about the mindset of leadership, continue to build trust, and prepare employees to hear the news when it is ready.

Leadership listening to employees is just as vital as employees listening for cues and guidance from leadership. This is not a mere formality; it’s a strategic commitment to listening and reacting to the voices within the organization. When leaders actively invite, acknowledge, and respond to employee input through a carefully-designed and continuously-evolving listening strategy, it underscores the employees' significant role within the organization and strengthens their trust in the leadership.

Moreover, in the spirit of maintaining trust, it is crucial to close communication loops. This refers to following up on all previously communicated expectations or promises. By revisiting these topics and providing updates or resolutions, leaders can ensure that their commitments are more than just words. Employees will feel invested in, valued, and in full possession of agency in their environment, confident that they have the ability to influence and shape their work and workplace. This is empowering to employees, and the invitation to engage from leaders demonstrates trust and togetherness. By involving employees through listening and responsive action, leaders and organizations are connecting employees to something bigger than themselves, which is fulfilling and motivational, especially in this post-pandemic world. This practice speaks volumes about the integrity of the leadership and fortifies trust.

Authenticity: The Quintessential Element of Trust

The authenticity of leaders plays a pivotal role in building a trusting environment. Employees now yearn for leadership that is not just professional but also personal, a style that exhibits vulnerability, compassion, and empathy. This form of authentic leadership resonates deeply with employees, enhancing their trust in leadership.

The thoughtful implementation of descending levels of leadership communication can bolster authenticity within an organization. Each tier of leadership adds its own specific details to a core message from the top, ensuring consistency while catering to the unique needs of each level — essentially, making the universal messages “stick” for the local audience, making them relevant and important at the local level while acting in service to the enterprise strategy. This cascading communication approach promotes coherence and unity across all levels of the organization, fostering a collaborative and trusting environment where all are valued and connected.

Leadership should also consciously steer clear of “executive safe spaces.” Choosing a live, interactive session with the CEO over a pre-recorded message can significantly impact how genuine the communication feels to employees. When leaders step out of their own comfort zones to engage with their teams, it creates a feeling of equality and camaraderie that employees value, which in turn strengthens their trust in leadership.

Building Trust from Leadership to Employees: A Reciprocal Approach

The process of trust-building is also a reciprocal endeavor. If leadership expects trust from employees, they must be willing to exhibit trust in their workforce. One effective approach is to involve employees in decision-making processes. When leaders ask for feedback and actively incorporate it into their strategy — perhaps through a novel form of listening like crowdsourcing, which can be facilitated by Perceptyx’s Dialogue product — they are signaling their willingness to learn from employees, as well as trust in their employees’ expertise and judgment.

Involving employees in the action planning process further strengthens and deepens this trust. When employees are encouraged to participate in tasks important to leaders, they feel seen, acknowledged, and valued. They see their time and talents being utilized for the betterment of the company, creating a sense of ownership and growing their trust in leadership.

An essential part of demonstrating trust in employees involves empowering them to make decisions about their work. By giving them the discretion to decide how tasks are accomplished, leadership is endorsing their abilities and judgment. This empowerment cultivates a sense of ownership and pride for employees, with the dual benefit of higher job satisfaction and productivity (especially for high-performers!).

In one 80-year-old organization, I observed a unique practice that beautifully exemplifies trust-building. Leaders would begin their meetings by sharing stories of individual contributions within their teams. Leaders in attendance from other areas in the business (outside of the employee’s reporting line) would then individually acknowledge these employees and send them a personalized note about the value of their contributions — ensuring that these dedicated people were seen and heard. This practice helped break down silos, fostering a culture of employee appreciation where every effort was recognized and appreciated, which in turn contributed to a trusting and cohesive environment.

Perceptyx Can Help You Build a More Trusting Organization 

In partnership with Perceptyx, you'll be able to develop a comprehensive employee listening strategy that delves deep into the perceptions, experiences, and challenges of your people — data-driven insights that will help build trust across the organization. Harness the power of our People Insights Platform to gain a deeper understanding of their needs, and respond with targeted actions to foster an atmosphere of honesty, trust, and mutual respect.

Begin your journey towards a more trust-filled work environment today by speaking to a member of our team or taking our free interactive listening maturity assessment. Together, we can design a comprehensive listening program that will help solidify the foundational trust within your organization. 

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