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Cultivating a Culture of Trust from Anywhere

Melody Gaukel

By Stacey Flowers, Kraft Heinz Canada and Melody Gaukel, Proof Strategies

Organizational culture is like water. It’s all around us – it changes as we change. As colleagues leave and new colleagues join, as our environment changes and as we implement new technology and business innovation. Leaders, particularly in the current workplace landscape, must be at the forefront of the organizational culture conversation. Aware of how their actions and words can affect the shifts in these waters; and where it makes sense to guide the flow.

We believe leaders must lead with trust-based employee communications. Trust is the connective tissue that runs throughout an organization and is the cornerstone of positive, growth oriented and resilient cultures. Trust is the foundation. And there are good reasons why.

Employees who work in cultures of high trust are more engaged in their work, have more constructive attitudes, and perform better. We also know that employees with high trust have superior coping skills, report greater levels of well-being, and persevere during adversity. They also show higher levels of job satisfaction, are more motivated and are more committed to the organization, its purpose, and decisions about the future. Even more, stakeholders show a preference to purchase, invest and partner with organizations that have a high reputation for trust.

Sounds like a culture based on trust worth cultivating.

However, many organizations have lost their way when it comes to organizational culture with the pressures of remote work, rapid change and the stress of maintaining business revenues during the pandemic. This is leading to what many are calling the “great resignation”.

Perhaps this is really the “great unacceptance”.

Canadian workers are no longer resigning themselves to the status quo. They are rebooting their work lives, reflecting on their values and needs, putting their lives under microscopes, and taking control of what they want. It truly is an opportunity for organizations to thrive, to attract and retain the talent that will rebuild, reshape and reimagine a workplace culture that is steeped in trust.

The very talented team of Melissa and John Nightingale of Raw Signal, wrote in a recent blog about resetting the counter on what we do and don’t do. What we do to build trust and what we should be doing.

If your answer to “When was the last time…” is 550 days ago, or longer, then the actual answer is “We don’t.” We don’t do those things. When half of your team started in the past 18 months. And the thing hasn’t happened in that time. Then they’ve never seen it. That isn’t who your company is for them.

This really speaks to how old guard employees and new may have different views of an organization. We can no longer hang on the coat tails of pre-COVID trust cultures built through actions when everyone was in the office; when we were able to spontaneously interact, check in with each other and simply connect over a coffee.

Now is the time to reset the counter on culture and let go of the work life of the past. To celebrate the opportunity we now have to keep what we love and build what we want for the future.

This includes how we communicate the return to office, what this will look like and how we address trust gaps.

Everyone wants a hybrid back-to-office model, we did a survey.

Hybrid is a mixture of two different things, resulting in something that has a little bit of both — like the rare zedonk, a hybrid of a donkey and a zebra.[1] The pandemic dictionary would define hybrid as a future-of-work model that combines office and home, or anywhere for that matter. Every business leader is grappling with the right way forward and the uncertainty of the times has delivered us to an in-between place. Some relishing the idea of going back into office and some remaining solidly on the side of grabbing laptops to work wherever there’s Wi-Fi.

We would argue that this in-between place is no purgatory but an opportunity to redefine a workplace culture and set our sights on establishing work from anywhere (WFA) as the workplace of the future.  Let go of presenteeism. Attract the best talent. Make offices a “destination”. A place to connect, feel the energy, innovate, mentor and socialize. And to truly focus on high quality outcomes.

According to an Accenture Research survey that reached out to 9,326 global workers, when employees ask for “hybrid” they are really asking for three key things: autonomy, support and purpose.

This is no different from when we were in office, but may take different forms.

The takeaway is that we can’t go back to the old ways and any leader who believes they can mandate in-office time at pre-pandemic levels will be challenged to retain and attract next generation talent. It’s time to zoom out, gain some perspective and architect a people-first strategy focused on bolstering or rebuilding trust.

Whether that’s in-office, hybrid or work from anywhere (WFA).

There are some solid ways to do this – and again, it all starts with trust and people.

(RE)define your internal north star

Going back to resetting that counter, there is no better time than now to take a long, hard look at your internal purpose, the anthem that employees all know and live by. Take what’s important and distill it into one internal north star that everyone can get behind. Too often organizations have externally facing missions, visions and values but what is missing here is the employee. What motivated them? What are they working for? Taking the time to do this important exercise is a first step to building a culture of trust that aligns with purpose. Kraft Heinz worked closely with Proof to develop a North Star that has become an embedded part of the culture. Sparking happiness at every Canadian table is the bedrock of how the organization approaches all aspects of the business, both internally and with partners.

Train Managers on Effectively Leading Distributed Teams

For managers responsible for WFA teams, retraining and upskilling will be key to ensuring all employees are receiving the support, mentoring and leadership needed. Consider assessing roles within an organization to determine how best to distribute employees and assign them to the right managers. The modern workplace has remote, in-field, in-office and those somewhere in between (AKA hybrid) so understanding the needs for orientation, onboarding, intra-team learning and career advancement is essential to success.

Take a People First Approach to Internal Communications

People-centric organizations lead when it comes to attracting and retaining great talent. They are trusted and more successful. The pandemic put a spotlight on organizational values and the need for leaders to put employee wellbeing at the forefront. To address concerns, act with more transparency and take a stand for social issues. Now is the time to lean into values. Conduct EX (employee experience) surveys, 1:1s, manager training. Listen then act. HR and internal communications must continue to focus on employee health – both physical and mental – particularly as WFA/hybrid model policies are confirmed.

Go Ahead, Over-Communicate

Under-communication is often an issue that goes undetected. There is so much coming at us it can feel like overload to the point of redundancy. But when it comes to maintaining/gaining employee trust, being a visible and active leader means communicating until it starts to feel like you’re over-communicating. Of course, that also means you must have something to say. Collaborate with internal communications and HR teams to develop a cadence of content that is relevant, informative and focused on the employee. This is best done using a multimodal approach, leveraging various platforms and formats for outreach: email/written communication, town halls, video, intranet content, social media channels and even the good old conference call (remember those?).

Where does this leave us?

We are at a precipice. The workforces of the future are being defined by the employee, guided by health and safety and the need to be flexible. How and what leaders communicate, with the guidance of HR and internal communications teams, will continue play a starring role in motivating and engaging employees as we navigate the next normal. Now is the time to listen. To seize opportunities. To do things differently. Be bold. To make the right changes and build trust through smart strategies that put people first.