How to reverse the decline in CEO trust

Visibility is just one factor; employees want real-time interaction with their leaders. Participation in workplace conversations—face to face, or via technology—can close that gap.

Two recent reports paint a troubling scenario for internal communicators.

The Edelman Trust Barometer and Gatehouse’s State of the Sector report are must-reads for anyone in leadership and employee communications. When viewed side by side, the reports show a dangerous gap that communicators ought to heed.
Edelman’s annual Trust Barometer shows trust in CEOs is at its lowest level ever, 37 percent, having fallen 12 percentage points in the last year. The report isn’t saying specifically that employees don’t trust their own CEO, but one might infer that.

As for Gatehouse’s ninth State of the Sector report, it tells another story about communication gaps with senior leaders. In this report, communicators cited strong communication skills for senior leaders and executives at their company, rating most as excellent or good.

That’s heartening, but here’s the gap.

Those skills don’t relate to visibility and approachability. Only about one-fifth of senior leaders are seen as very visible or approachable; the number drops for executive team members.

I would posit that these numbers are in fact even lower; communicators often have free access to leaders and fail to realize that many others don’t.

Free download: Learn the secrets to boosting your senior leaders’ video presence with this free guide.

Gatehouse tells us that leaders are perceived to have strong communication skills but limited visibility, and Edelman reports low trust in CEOs.

To me, the solution seems simple.

Communicators have to focus on making their leaders more visible (easy) and approachable (far less easy). They know who are strong leaders and who are not; they know which execs are more approachable than others.

It’s time not only to feature them and tell their stories, but also to get them to participate—which is one of the easiest ways to build trust.

Participation puts leaders on the same level as other employees, bringing about changes and attention to both problems and solutions. By making leaders more approachable, you will make them more visible and help increase employees’ trust in them.

Featuring leaders in videos and conducting town halls are great ways of increasing visibility, but approachability can be trickier. The key is providing a forum where leaders can share information, show their personality and talk with employees, not at them.

That’s where internal communications mobile apps with social components come into play.

Leaders can participate via phone. From the road, they can share pictures or videos of their interactions with co-workers. They can recognize those going above and beyond—and do it in their own words. That’s the key: They’re the ones doing the recognizing, and they can jump in on other conversations in which employees might not expect to them to participate.

Communicators can’t be successful if employees don’t trust their leaders and feel those leaders aren’t approachable and visible. It’s time to fix the problem.

A version of this post appeared on LinkedIn.

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