Most who measure employee engagement for a living can show you data that links the level of trust in the senior leaders of the organization to overall employee engagement. Most will go so far as to say that trust in senior leadership is a driver of engagement.
This makes sense.
As employees, we want stability and we hope our organization will succeed so we can reasonably assume better opportunities in the future. Senior leaders (i.e. the CEO and other C-level executives) make decisions that profoundly affect those two important outcomes. So, our confidence in those leaders can have a big impact on our confidence in the organization.
I have been wondering lately if the reason that trust in senior leaders is so important is that we are pretty terrible at communication within most of our organizations.
Trust is a belief that another person is reliable and worthy of our confidence. Synonyms for the word “trust” include faith and hope.
We typically call upon faith and hope in circumstances where we lack evidence or proof.
In medium to large size organizations, in particular, most employees don’t really know the senior leaders. They might hear them speak once a year at an annual meeting or on a shareholder call. But, beyond that, they don’t really know these people.
Compound this with the fact that in many organizations, strategy and decision making are at best poorly communicated and sometimes not at all.
Let me put it another way. Employees often aren’t clear where the ship is headed or the path charted to get there. They also aren’t sure why they are on this course or how far they have yet to go. And, the ship is being guided by people who they barely know and rarely see.
And yet, they (or rather, their career) is on this ship along for the ride.
It’s easy to see why having trust or faith in your leaders could be pretty important to your overall feelings of engagement, even if that trust is mostly blind.
Here’s what I think all of this means.
Trust in senior leadership as a driver of employee engagement is a symptom of the deeper issues.
Try answering these questions for your organization.
- What is the purpose of your organization?
- What are your organization’s core values?
- What are your organization’s strategic goals for the next three years?
- How are organizational decisions made at your organization? What’s the process?
- What significant progress has been made towards strategic goals recently?
- What significant failures have occurred and what was learned from these?
If you can readily answer these questions, you don’t need blind faith that your leaders are trusthworthy. Your confidence in them and the organization flows from proof that they are worthy of it. They are transparently showing you their work and providing evidence of their ability to lead the organization into the future.
So, the next time your employee engagement results reveal that “trust in senior leadership” is a driver of employee engagement, dig deeper. The more that trust in senior leaders is driving engagement, the more likely it is that you’ve got a communication and transparency problem.
Make no mistake, this is still a leadership problem. But instead of trying to figure out how to help employees find the faith to believe, focus your energy on providing the evidence that removes faith from the equation.