by | Sep 10, 2019

What the CEO can do to create trust and engagement

This post excerpted from an article published by the Forges Agency Council.

Many companies place responsibility for engagement with the HR team or internal communications. But the executive team has a unique opportunity to engage employees in ways that are obvious in some cases and counterintuitive in others.

If you’re the CEO, president or another high-level executive leader of a large organization, you can have a tremendous impact on employee engagement by building trust. Here are five strategies to help you do just that.

1. Loop them in on your vision.

CEOs we work with are often surprised to learn that many employees are unaware of the company’s vision. These leaders feel like they’re talking about the vision constantly, and they probably are, though mostly in meetings with other members of the executive team. The further employees are from the C-suite, the less likely they are to understand your vision or even know you have one.

Build trust by sharing your vision for the company’s growth and success with employees, not just once, but on an ongoing basis. Ask your communications team to make that a priority and to look for opportunities for you to explain that vision to employees.

Key Takeaway: When you help employees understand your vision for the company, it builds their confidence in your leadership.

2. Shoot straight about change.

In our research of employees of large companies, respondents tell us they’d like to hear about any major change first from the CEO and then be able to take follow-up questions to their direct managers. They also say they want honest communication about change, even when it’s bad news — or perhaps especially when it’s bad news.

Many companies put off sharing negative news with employees, but in a vacuum of information from leadership, employees will fill in the blanks on their own. What they imagine may be happening is often worse than the reality.

It may seem counterintuitive, but you can actually build trust with employees by being frank about negative developments. When they know you’re willing to share the bad news with them, they’re more likely to trust that you’re not sugarcoating or spinning the story when you have more positive news to share.

Key Takeaway: Ironically, you can build trust with employees by being the one to give them the bad news.

3. Get out and about.

Find opportunities to visit your plants, retail stores or offices in other geographical regions. Introduce yourself to employees and take the time to shake hands, look people in the eye and ask them about their work. This one-on-one interaction is a powerful investment in building trust, not just for the employees you meet, but for all the other people they’ll tell about it.

Key Takeaway: Face-to-face interactions help build trust not just with those individuals, but with others who hear about their experience.

4. Ask employees for input.

Employees’ day-to-day experiences give them firsthand knowledge about your customers, your products and your processes that you may not have any way of knowing. Many companies ask for employee feedback through surveys or focus groups, but you might also consider a feature on the intranet that allows them to send ideas, questions or concerns to you or launch an initiative that rewards employees for innovative ideas that can benefit the company.

Key Takeaway: Asking employees for their ideas and feedback helps build trust by letting them know you value their insights.

5. Show your human side.

We tend to trust people we know, and one of the best ways for employees to feel like they know you is to share some personal details about your life. Let them know about your interests outside work, your family, your dog. As far as you’re willing, share news of events that are challenging for you, like the death of a parent or recovering from knee surgery.

These sorts of glimpses into who leaders are as people are a powerful way to create human connections, which are foundational to building trust. (You’ll find some best practices for building trust in the CEO here.)

Key Takeaway: When employees feel like they know you as a person, they’re more inclined to get behind you as a leader.

These five simple strategies can challenge some executives to get out of their comfort zone. For others, doing these things may come naturally. Either way, trying even one or two of them can help build trust in your leadership, and ultimately boost employee engagement in your company.

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