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An Edelman perspective on making meaningful employee connections that deepen engagement, build trust and accelerate business performance.

MARCH 2012

Trust is an essential component of any organizations license to operate and lead. Yet the global results of our 2012 Trust Barometer trust and credibility survey show the state of trust in a high degree of disarray. General levels of distrust are growing and more countries have flipped from the overall positions of being trusters or neutral to that of distrusters. Of the four categories in which we track trust (government, business, media and NGOs), trust has significantly declined in all of them, except media, where it rose slightly. Further analysis conducted this year for the first time also shows a trust disconnect within organizations, with executives and employees painting very different pictures of where they place their trust. However, there are some bright spots in this years global Trust data, and ones that have profound implications on how organizations build reputation, regain trust and engage effectively with key stakeholders, all by putting employees at the center of their strategies. In fact, employees play a prominent role in the delivery of many of the 16 attributes that build trust. Read on for more insights into the data, what we think might be behind it, and what you can do in response to ensure that you are building trust from the inside out for the benefit of all key stakeholders.


When we analyzed the global data from the 2012 Trust Barometer and also looked at a deeper analysis of what was going on within organizations, these insights and implications came to the fore: The credibility of regular employees jumped 16 points to 50 percent, the greatest increase since 2004 (see chart A). This is among the single most important findings from this years study and one that should serve as a wake-up call to leaders and communicators. Now, more than ever, companies should be looking for ways to activate their employees and connect them with customers and the community via ambassador programs, featuring them in media and advertising content, and engaging them more deeply in product innovation and problem solving. Featuring regular employees prominently and frequently in

From Edelmans Employee Engagement Practice | March 2012

corporate communications also will help increase credibility of those vehicles. Ask yourself if your company is truly doing everything it can to put employees at the center of your external-facing reputation and communications strategies. CEO credibility fell 12 points to 38 percent (see chart A on previous page), one of the biggest drops in Trust Barometer history. However, do not jump to the conclusion that CEOs are now less relevant. They still play a critical role in providing strategic direction, being the standard-bearer for a company and setting the course for internal culture. The learnings here are to not rely on your CEO to be the only face of your organization, in particular during times of crisis, and to use the insights from this years Trust study to enhance overall CEO credibility. In light of this years drop in credibility, what can you do to better connect your CEO to your employees and vice versa? A trust disconnect exists within organizations. In an interesting parallel, executives ranked the credibility of regular employees second-to-last out of eight trusted information sources, while employees awarded secondto-last honors to those same executives (see chart B below). This may be a reflection of another trend from the study: that people tend to trust a person like me. This particular finding may encourage leaders to think about how they can demonstrate trust-inspiring behavior to employees on a consistent basis, and how they can increase familiarity with the day-to-day issues and environments that their employees confront. As a leader or communicator, how can you help build these bridges? How can you use technology to better connect employees to leaders and each other?

There is at least one point on which regular employees and executives can agree, and that is the credibility of technical experts within a company (see chart B above). Overall, these employees were ranked second-most trustworthy behind only academics and experts; regular employees rated them number one and executives placed them third. This has important implications during times of crisis featuring clearly-identified technical

From Edelmans Employee Engagement Practice | March 2012

experts in internal and external communications will go a long way in shoring up trust when things have gone (or are about to go) wrong. To what extent has your organization identified and trained technical experts to step up when a crisis hits? Would they be comfortable engaging with your key stakeholders via both traditional and social media platforms? Executives tend to trust nearly all information sources more than non-management employees do and regular employees voiced greater skepticism than executives toward every source except traditional media. Furthermore, executives trust social media which continues to grow in influence each year more than employees do by a two-to-one margin (24 versus 12 percent). The reasons for this finding arent immediately clear to us, but one hypothesis we can offer is that general employees may be exposed to, and engaging with, a broader array of social media than executives, which may create a higher level of cynicism (reflected in the fact that, at 12 percent, employees trust social media two points less than the total population surveyed). Conversely, executives may be engaging with a more select set of social media sites and tools that tend to have a higher confirmation bias (in other words, they may be self-selecting social media sites that more closely align with their worldview). Ask yourself what implications this skepticism may have on your own communications program. Official company-issued communications are distrusted by workers at all levels. Only 29 percent of executives and 21 percent of employees trust corporate communications. This finding is likely another wake-up call to communicators to evaluate the trustworthiness and effectiveness of all communications products and activities. The reasons for low levels of trust could include problems with relevancy of content, effectiveness of format or delivery, or lack of opportunities for true engagement and multi-way dialogue. Are your plans and programs designed to succeed in a world where employees distrust corporate communications? In looking at nearly all of the 16 attributes that build trust globally, employees affect virtually every one from how the company treats customers to the way it fosters innovation indicating that corporate values, practices and overall culture have a significant impact on a companys trustworthiness. Interestingly, while employees ranked the specific trust attribute of treats employees well as third-most important, executives placed it sixth. Would the same be true in your organization? Is your organization aligned around what attributes are most important to driving trust and reputation, and are employees effectively supported in helping the company deliver against the most important attributes?

Given the workplace findings from the 2012 Trust Barometer, there are numerous opportunities for leaders and communicators to re-examine their actions and programs to preserve and build trust. Based on our experience and perspective, however, companies should consider three of these opportunities immediately: Empower your employees to be ambassadors via social media Given that both employees and social media are growing in credibility, there is a clear opportunity to bring the two together to create employee ambassadors that is, people who talk about the company online in a quasi-official capacity. Similarly, the fall in CEO credibility makes it more important than ever to prepare employees to advocate on an organizations behalf. Ambassador programs are nothing new, but for years they focused largely on in-person or off-line activities such as handing out brochures at an event, distributing coupons, or voicing support for legislation. Encouraging employees to engage their online networks in such activities can exponentially multiply their impact. And focusing on a companys own technical experts who are regarded as particularly credible employees can further amplify efforts, especially during crisis. When a products quality or safety comes into question, who better to address such concerns than the people who designed it? To successfully activate and nurture ambassador programs using social media, it is critical to establish levels of certification within your organization to ensure that employees are social media-savvy and properly empowered in a

From Edelmans Employee Engagement Practice | March 2012

way that still respects set boundaries. In addition to certification, you should create a regular flow of information to your social media ambassadors so they have sufficient content at their disposal and the right channels to provide feedback to leadership on particularly interesting discussions or reactions that their actions inspire online. Engage employees in building customer relationships Executives and regular employees alike point to quality products/services and listening to customer needs/feedback as the top two attributes that drive trust in a company. Since employees heavily influence both, building a sense of shared ownership for the companys products and customer responsiveness can lend credibility to improvement efforts. Moreover, looking beyond just traditional, corporate-sponsored communications (and perhaps experimenting with social media as one of several channels) may help reach employees at all levels given the current distrust in official company communications. Companies can explore ways to put simple processes in place that allow employees to capture customer stories and experiences and then share those with the broader organization. They can also increase the amount of input generated by internal crowd-sourcing of innovative ideas, new products, or new solutions based on customer feedback. Rebuild trust in the CEO through candid, meaningful dialogue Yes, CEO credibility has decreased in this years study, but a company cannot survive or thrive without strong leadership. In a world where there are channels for every voice and cutting through the communications clutter remains a challenge, many CEOs would do well to increase their connection to their workforces in ways that play to their personal strengths. There are a number of actions CEOs can take to maintain and rebuild trust with employees, such as communicating a clear and compelling vision, taking a conversational tone of voice, encouraging a culture of storytelling, engaging managers and employees in candid dialogue about the business, and demonstrating transparency, especially in the face of challenging issues.

The challenge for leaders and communicators this year is complex: CEOs still play a critical role in setting vision and being an institutions standard bearer, but how can you further enhance that role with a greater focus on employee participation in corporate reputation building? It is still critical to understand social media and use it to make connections with the people who matter to your business, but how can you balance your media and channel mix to establish higher levels of trust? In general, how do you appropriately calibrate your entire engagement program to create an echo chamber that appropriately repeats and amplifies, and ultimately results in the changed stakeholder behaviors that will help you accelerate business performance? Just as the complexity of the challenge is clear, so too is the enormity of the potential benefit. This years Trust data is the loudest call to action yet for companies to better engage employees and address specific credibility issues to build trust from the inside out.

Edelmans Employee Engagement Practice helps organizations accelerate business performance, delivered by highly engaged and trusted employees. We do this by making meaningful, trust-building connections k connecting employees with the company, connecting employees with each other, and connecting employees with the outside world. We have a global network of employee engagement specialists who can develop engagement strategy; deploy the tools and processes to deliver it; create the multimedia channels and content that support it; and design the insight mechanisms to measure it. For more information, contact us at Complete information about the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer is available at Specific data sets by industry and geography are available upon request.

For more information, please contact Edelman Employee Engagement at