Instilling Trust in Times of Uncertainty

In times of uncertainty, we all look towards people and organizations we trust to help guide our actions and decision making. As leaders, we inherently understand our role in building trust and confidence in our organizations’ ability to deliver on customer promises, on our fiduciary duties to investors and as job creators. But during this unprecedented time of social and economic uncertainty created by a global pandemic, it’s important for business leaders to take a step back to contemplate our role instilling order and calm on a broader scale.

Our employees are looking to us for information and guidance during this turmoil, which presents an opportunity that business leaders should not waste. 

A cynic may ask, why is this the role of business leaders? Isn’t that the role of our governments and hospitals? Consider this: according to this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer, a full 76% of people trust their own employer more than any other (non-religious) institution. Only 49% trust their government, which is on par with their trust in the media. As a citizen, this is concerning. As a business leader, the weight of this knowledge is heavy -- we have big expectations to fill. Our employees are looking to us for information and guidance during this turmoil, which presents an opportunity that business leaders should not waste. It’s an opportunity to earn the trust our employees place in us, in a way that will outlive this COVID-19 pandemic and the turmoil it’s caused.

I’ve set some communications objectives for myself during this time, that I think are worth sharing:

  • Be transparent. People don’t expect us as business leaders to be omniscient, but they do want and deserve open communication.
  • Be proactive. Anticipate your teams’ questions and stay ahead of them. Even if our answer is, “we don’t know yet,” it’s better to acknowledge concerns than ignore them until we have more information.
  • Be honest. It should go without saying, but our words matter. It’s natural to want to sugarcoat issues or avoid tough conversations. But when we get through this issue, we want our trust intact.
  • Be human. Leaders are not immune from this disease nor the anxieties it brings. It’s ok to show our human side and empathize with our teams. We have kids; we have parents; we all need to wash our hands.
  • Be hopeful. It’s also our job to inspire. We can be direct about what we need to get through this crisis without dampening the spirits of our teams. Let’s focus on our ability to work together and succeed together. Together, we will get through this.

I’ll work to heed this advice even when we’re “back to normal.” COVID-19 is an excellent time to practice what I’d call good business behavior. Every leader will have issues that try our strength: a missed quarter, a technology outage, a natural disaster. The expectations for businesses and business leaders to act with integrity and transparency continue to increase. Trust needs to be part of our DNA. I’ll leave you with this one last stat from Edelman’s Trust Barometer: Trust is built on ethics and competence, but ethics (integrity, dependability and purpose) are three-times more important when it comes to earning trust.

It’s a new world, let’s be sure we know how to lead in it.

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