Unleashing the full capacity of your people

Employees are Consumers of Corporate Culture: They won’t “buy in” until you earn their trust!

A recent report by the advertising survey company Nielsen measured the level of trust consumers put into various types of marketing. The study reports that 92% of consumers around the world say they trust “earned media” (such as word-of-mouth and recommendations from friends and family) above all other forms of advertising. Online consumer reviews, posted to such sites as Yelp or Trip Advisor, are the second most trusted form of advertising: 70% of global consumers surveyed online indicating they trust these sites, an increase of 15% in four years.

Let’s connect the marketplace to the workplace: These consumers who are so stingy with the trust they give to companies from which they buy are the same people who show up to work for you. They do not turn off their “trust mindset” just because they get a paycheck from you. Expect them to bring their personal attitudes about trust and reliability with them to work.

As a leader, you need to earn the trust employees put in you. Just as with a brand, the leader must build a reputation of being trustworthy and supportive before employees put their faith in that leader’s direction and actions.

Employee engagement rates that consistently register around 20% tells us that employee trust is very much NOT being earned by the leaders of organizations.

To better focus your energy on tackling this issue, think of your employees as “consumers of corporate culture.” They only buy into an organization’s mission once they trust in that mission. If you can sell them on your passion and get a reputation for caring about their well-being and success, they will start “buying your culture” in greater quantities.

What does buying more corporate culture look like?

  • More energetic work on assigned tasks.
  • Suggestions for doing tasks in better ways (more efficient, more profitable, more focused, etc.)
  • Earlier arrivals and later departures without being asked.
  • Shorter breaks.
  • Active participation in innovative processes.
  • More energetic, productive meetings (and usually shorter)
  • Fewer “mental health” days taken off

All this simply because you earned their trust, and got them to buy more fully into what you are trying to accomplish. Because you delivered consistently on your promises of clear direction and support, they chose to make your “leadership brand” their own, just as they do with the products and services they buy for their personal use.

Building trust starts with clear, honest communication. It struck me as I read the Nielsen study’s results how much a consumer’s trust related to how employees come to trust their leaders (or not). This phrase seems very relevant to employees: “… the consumer (expects to see high relevance to them when) actively seeking information (about products or services.)” The survey emphasized that there is still much potential for organizations looking to reach the right audience…to earn trust with more honest communication.

Relate this to the workplace: Organizations trying to communicate effectively need to relate the information they share (and the instructions they give) to the employee’s own work environment. This helps employees better understand why they are working on given tasks, which allows them to approach all tasks more strategically, and therefore more productively.

Leaders can’t expect employees to trust them “just because.”

  • Consumers of corporate culture do need answers to the questions “what’s the benefit to me of working harder?” before they unlock the full scope of their energy and apply it to work.
  • They also need to trust that the answers to that question are honest!
  • To get there, leaders must start by adopting a consistently engaging and empowering leadership mindset to build the unshakable trust among employees that generates high levels of productivity.

Trust is earned. Consumers tell us that constantly. Yet we don’t make the obvious connection that these consumers are the people who come to work for us every day!


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