Over the past few weeks I’ve met quite a few comms pros at various events and via The Comms Hive dinners. One topic that kept coming up was how to gain trust from the leadership team. This is an area that has been discussed across the communication circuit for a long time. It’s an area that really intrigues me so for the past few years I’ve been researching the best way to build and earn trust. You won’t be surprised to know that there’s no magic formula.
There’s lots of great advice out there but building and earning trust can’t happen overnight and it can’t happen by reading a few books or using various acronyms. It takes time, effort and commitment – from both sides. But it’s often the comms practitioner that will have to make the first move to start building that relationship with their leaders and workforce. Especially if you work in an organisation where comms isn’t seen as a strategic function.
Like I said there’s no magic formula. But I’ve worked in the industry long enough to learn the things that work well and things that that don’t. Below are a few things that have worked for me in the past, and I hope they help you!
Demonstrate your worth
So often we blame leaders for not treating our department with the same level of respect as they do finance or commercial. But how are you demonstrating your worth in the organisation?
Is it by the number of emails you send out, the number of organisational announcements you write, the slide decks you develop, the newsletters you produce? All of these tasks are important but what are they actually proving? For example do you explain that the last newsletter, where you featured an article about stress and warning signs to look out for, has reduced sickness by 5% over the past month? Can you demonstrate that the Health and Safety campaign you supported has reduced slips, trips and falls by 10% over the past three months, therefore saving the business almost £60K. Are you able to prove that the investment in the colleague app has helped increase employee engagement by 8 percentage points and has helped improve performance across the business by 15%?
Measuring outcome rather than just output can play a big part in gaining trust and respect from the leadership team. It’ll demonstrate that you understand the business, can show Return On Investment and allow leaders to see the actual impact good comms can have on the business.
If you want your leaders to respect your judgement and give you benefit of the doubt you need to back up your advice with some hard facts. Just because something has worked in company A, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to work in your organisation. Doing external research is crucial to build your credentials and to understand new trends but you also need to do research inside your organisation.
Make sure you walk the floor and get out from behind your desk. So many teams make the mistake of investing in new software, programme, campaign or the latest technology without doing some internal market research. And then when it fails, which they often do, trust can be broken.
The information you can gain by having a chat with the workforce and your leadership team will help build your knowledge of what is happening across the organisation. No business will want to waste money or time on something that isn’t going to have impact in the business. If you advise them based on your gut feeling without proper research then I guarantee you’ll be setting yourself up to fail and lose the trust you’ve gained along the way.
Give and take
To earn trust you may need to be prepared to do activities that doesn’t quite fit in with your job description. It’s not about saying yes to absolutely everything but sometimes lending a helping hand or supporting with some tasks will help break down barriers.
For example, if a leader that you’re struggling to build a relationship with, asks you to format a slide deck, then use this opportunity to give advice and see if you can help improve the presentation. Does the language within the deck fit with the tone of the business, do the messages make sense, are the slides telling the right story? Part of our job is to make sure we’re helping our leaders communicate messages about the business appropriately and this will be your chance to shine.
A word of warning though, make sure you consider their request for help carefully. It has to add value to what you are trying to achieve. Don’t fall into the trap of being the go-to person for everyone in the business to add your‘magic touch’ you’re not a graphic designer nor their PA. Also if you’re staying behind everyday then you will burn out and you need to stop right now. It’s counter-productive as you won’t be delivering anything well and it’s unlikely doing you any favours – don’t be a busy fool.
What I’ve written is not rocket science even though sometimes it can feel that way in practice. But remember earning trust works both ways and sometimes if the level of respect you’re receiving is minimal it’s probably time to revaluate your relationship with that organisation. Never allow anyone to treat you poorly, regardless of who they are in an organisation – you’re worth more than that.
Let me know what you think. How did you build and earn trust with your leadership team?
You can find me over on twitter at Advita_p or on LinkedIn – I’ve also recently started to share more work related stuff over on my insta so feel free to join me there (but be prepared to see some skincare and makeup tips as well!)