In May of this year, Renaud Laplanche entered the boardroom and faced every executive’s worst nightmare. Laplanche, the founder and CEO of LendingClub, was given an ultimatum: Resign in the next 24 hours or be fired.
Why did this happen? There’s no need to rehash all the dubious decisions Laplanche had made as CEO. Know, simply, that his biggest mistake was losing the trust of those he was leading.
While Laplanche’s story is an extreme example, it’s not uncommon for executives to have issues with trust in their organizations. And in many cases, they’re not even aware of the problem. A 2016 Chartered Management Institute survey of 1,456 managers and executives found that although 72 percent of participants in senior leadership positions thought they were trusted by employees, only 36 percent of their managers agreed.
There’s a large disconnect, then, between executives and employees, and that disconnect can be bridged only by trust. But that’s easier said than done.
In order to repair employees’ confidence in their leaders, executives need to rethink everything from how they make decisions to how they define “open communication.”
Here’s how to foster better trust between senior leadership and employees:
1. Create a culture of transparency.
The basis of trust is being clear and honest. However, all too often, what executives do is shrouded in mystery. Most employees have no idea what senior leaders do, day in and day out. They hear about major decisions, but not the thought processes behind them. That creates gaps in information that employees fill in themselves. And what they imagine is rarely positive.
Open communication prevents that from happening. Embracing transparency leads to more trust in leadership. As the aforementioned survey from CMI found, 80 percent of participating employees from high-trust organizations described their companies as being transparent when they made major decisions. Only 16 percent of employees from low-trust organizations felt the same way.
Keep managers and employees informed about what’s going on at your company. Let them know about changes that affect their jobs and the reasoning behind those changes. Knowing how executives make decisions leaves no room for doubt about their motivations.
2. Develop managers.
Distrust from employees often stems from their not seeing themselves supported at work. They feel stressed and overwhelmed, and over time they begin to think the organization doesn’t care about them. Since senior leadership is the face of the company, employees doubt that leadership has their best interests in mind.
Better equipping managers is the best defense here. With proper support, employees won’t feel that their needs are being ignored by the organization. Provide managers with continual training so they can guide employees, and make them feel comfortable and confident at work.
3. Give employees a voice.
Trust goes both ways. If leaders want employees to trust them, they need to trust their workforce, listen to those individuals’ opinions and respect their knowledge base. Unfortunately, most employees feel that their ideas fall on deaf ears.
A 2016 report from The Jack Welch Management Institute surveyed 1,795 adult workers about their frustrations at work. Twenty-two percent of respondents listed not having a voice in the office as the cause of their dissatisfaction.
Create a formal avenue for employees to voice their thoughts and ideas. Recognize that just saying there’s an “open door” policy at your company isn’t enough. Set a time each week when employees can meet with executives and talk.
Discuss ways to implement changes based on their best ideas and carry through with those plans. Knowing that they can influence how the organization functions will show employees that they’re trusted and their voice is valued.
4. Connect performance metrics at all levels of the company.
One of the best ways to close the gap between employees and leadership is to tie everyone’s work together. Employees already know and understand how their performance affects the company and its goals, but they don’t know how executives contribute.
Clear performance metrics at all levels of the company, however, will show how each and every member of the team is pulling his or her weight. Such metrics allow employees to see how everyone is connected and makes senior leadership seem less disconnected from them.
Just as employees’ performance should be regularly evaluated, also assess how executives are doing. Share the results with the entire company so leaders are held accountable for their work. That will reassure employees that nothing is being hidden from them.
Great leadership is built on trust. Executives have to work hard to earn to maintain the trust of their employees. But the end result is definitely something that’s worth the effort.