First Things First
As I enter almost my fourth decade of hiring, managing, and deploying talent I like to look back at what I have learned; and perhaps more importantly what I haven’t.
I have long been an advocate for what we now call employee engagement, when I look at the data that is available about the difference between organizations that are highly engaged as opposed to their less engaged competitors I remain astounded about the opportunity we leave on the table every year not just in North America, but worldwide.
Although engagement is something that we have been hearing and talking about for the last 15 years we still aren’t moving the needle much in terms of concerting employees and organizations from neutral to engaged. The latest studies still show that around 30% of employees surveyed rate themselves as highly engaged.
So it makes me curious as to what the issue is, and why we haven’t made more progress of late I have encountered quite a bit of literature that validates my thinking and makes me frankly sad.
We have a trust crisis.
When I had the opportunity to read Stephen MR Covey’s brilliant book, The Speed of Trust, a couple of years ago one particular quote really stood out to me-
Every organization earns a trust dividend or pays a trust tax
I thought the book in total, discussing the basis and levels of trust and the elements involved should be required reading in every business school and leadership program internationally, but that statement really stood out for me.
It turns out that Covey’s assertion applies not just to individual organizations, but to whole societies.
The Edelman Trust Barometer which has surveyed tens of thousands of people in over 28 countries reported that for the first time in its 17- year history the average trust level in all four of the institutions measured (Government Officials, Business/CEO’s, NGO’s and Media) was below 50%.
Government came in last, closely followed by media, but 48% of respondents did not trust business leaders to do the right thing.
So let’s take a look at business specifically.
A recent survey on trust by Ernst and Young involving 10,000 adults and another 3000 Gen Z’rs reported that less than 50% of those surveyed trusted their employer, their immediate supervisor, or their team in descending order.
The survey included representation from four (4) generations in the workforce; Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z and the results were remarkably consistent. Although the younger generations were less trusting it wasn’t a significant generational delta.
Also remarkably consistent were the environmental factors that lead to distrust-
· Perceived unfair compensation
· Unequal opportunities for pay and career advancement
· Poor leadership
· High turnover
· Lack of collaboration
Similarly, all four generations cited four characteristics they seek in a boss and organization they trust-
· Open and transparent communication
· Respect for them and other employees
· A supervisor/boss that coaches and supports their growth and advancement
· A supervisor/boss that recognizes them and their performance
Another recent post I read identified three (3) fundamental characteristics that create and sustain high trust environments. Leaders who-
· Demonstrate self- awareness and self- control
· Demonstrate humility
Let’s juxtapose that with the way most organizations identify high talent potential leaders in their organization. The selection criteria are typically –
• Professional and technical expertise
• Taking initiative and delivering results
• Honoring commitments
• Fitting into the culture
If we are really honest with ourselves we can agree that the first and last criteria are the two biggest factors. When we add the fact that 60% of leadership candidates seek those opportunities to increase their earning potential and upward career trajectory are we surprised by where we are?
In many cases we are still immersed in the precepts of Frederik Taylor’s scientific management model. Some were born to do, others born to manage or lead.
Identity based trust, Covey’s highest and most critical level of trust, is nowhere to be seen in our leadership develop models or development initiatives.
As an alternative I like to recommend that business leaders remember three things-
• Maslow’s Hierarchy, is as relevant today as it ever was. When you are in safety and survival mode you aren’t focusing on the big picture and how to become engaged. You are focused on basic issues like food and shelter.
• Line of Sight, I tell my clients that line of sight may be the most important part of their compensation/performance management strategy. The critical function of compensation strategy and performance management is to align efforts with outcomes. Employees need to see clearly how positive outcomes for the organization translate to positive outcomes for them and vice versa.
• Be clear with management at every level it is their responsibility to earn and sustain trust and give them the tools to do that. They are entirely learnable and reinenforcable. People rarely trust what they don’t understand.
So I would like to leave you with two thoughts-
• You will never have sustained customer engagement without employee engagement.
• The foundation of employee engagement is trust. You have to do the work.