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The Trump phenomenon: How to fill the trust vacuum in your agency

Donald Trump is the next President of the United States. While we may be surprised, nay shocked, that Trump succeeded when so many of us expected him to fail, the reality is that the outcome should have been clear to see.

The election centred on one thing: trust. Trouble is, despite the back tracking and self-contradictions, racist, misogynistic and homophobic comments, things that ironically spit in the face of trust, the Trump campaign was victorious because it recognised that people were fed up of the ‘established’ order. They wanted change in a way that echoed the Brexiteers in the UK.

Hilary Clinton was the embodiment of the establishment, while Donald Trump’s lack of political experience was its very antithesis. This is why he appealed to those voters who were disenfranchised with the mainstream political system.

His mantra, to make “America great again”, was a rallying call against the status quo and a declaration by Trump that he was looking after their best interests.

He earned the trust of the people by highlighting all that was wrong in American politics – manifested by his constant taunting of “Crooked Hilary”. In doing so he shone the limelight on himself as the champion of change.

usa-election-clintonClinton’s “Stronger together” was more of a damp squib in comparison. It was frankly boring; unlike the Wales football team whose “Together stronger” is perhaps the most brilliant example of a slogan actually becoming a true call to action (if you happened to venture across the border during the Euros you will have felt the passion that slogan invoked).

Trust, or the lack of, transcends not just the world of politics but business too. Over the last few years, the trust that employees have in those who occupy the top positions in the organisation has been in free fall.

Indeed, the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer, a global survey of over 33,000 organisations across 28 countries, found that the gap between those at the top of the organisation and everyone else continues to widen.

It found that 64% of executives, 51% of managers and 48% of rank-and-file staff trust their organisations’ leadership team. The primary causes being that they viewed the senior teams as focusing too much on delivering short-term financial results (67%), and not enough in creating a positive long-term impact for the organisation (57%) or job creation (49%).

So the question is, how can leaders build (and regain) trust?

According to the Academy of Executive Coaching, the three attributes that people look for in their senior management team are honesty, fairness and the ability to deliver results. Of course communicating these things is often easier said than done, but it is possible:

1 Internally communicate the plan:

Communicate the mission (where you are heading), vision (how you will get there and the contribution that each member of staff plays along the way) and values (what you stand for) of the business.

Unless your staff understand, are aware and – crucially – embrace these things, you’re effectively running a ship of directionless robots. So don’t be surprised if some of them opt to jump ship in search of perceived better opportunities elsewhere.

2 Share successes and focus on shared rather than personal achievements:

According to a survey conducted by Workforce Mood Tracker, 69% of employees state that they would work harder if they were recognised for their efforts. 4 out of 5 workers (78%) said that being recognised is a key motivator, while half (49%) said that not being recognised was a good enough reason to leave their current employer.

3 Show respect:

Often overlooked, making your employees feel that they have your respect is hugely important both to the morale of your teams and the degree in which they trust the organisation’s leadership. Various studies have shown that 63% of employees who do not feel treated with respect generally leave said organisation within two years.

4 Have an open door policy:

We once worked with an MD of a recruitment firm who insisted on having his office at the rear of the building – out of sight from the rest of the team who all worked in a large open plan office. To see him meant having to walk along a corridor with just one office at the end…his.

Not only did this self-imposed isolation physically separate him from the rest of the business, it also made him unapproachable and created a very obvious ‘me and them’. Be approachable, make your staff feel comfortable talking to you about personal and professional matters and in doing so you build a better level of trust between you and your teams.

5 Engage everyone in the business (and we mean EVERYONE):

You will invariably have heard this story before, but a reminder is always welcome. On a visit to the NASA space centre, President Kennedy spoke to a man sweeping in one of the buildings. “What’s your job here?” asked Kennedy. “Well Mr. President,” the janitor replied, “I’m helping to put a man on the moon.”

The MacLeod Review (2009) suggested that, “engaged employees are more loyal to their employer and demonstrate greater degrees of innovation.” On-going communication from the top-down and bottom-up has several key benefits:

  • Improves employee loyalty to the organisation
  • Boosts employee motivation and productivity
  • Increases staff retention levels, and
  • Raises the profile and levels of respect for those at the top of the organogram

In an interview with The Times in December, former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne explained how the Conservatives misjudged the eventual outcome of the EU Referendum vote.

george-osborneHe said: “ When I was Chancellor I was very focused on unemployment numbers, trying to get the British economy turned around. I guess I assumed that you’ve got to get the economy going and then people see the benefits and it’s good for people to be in work.

“I didn’t understand that people want more than just that. They also want to feel that their views are understood, and their voices listened to and that the system is working for them.”

And that’s the point. Demonstrate that you ‘get’ what your teams really want and make sure that your message is clearly understood through effective international communications and if it isn’t, figure out what you are saying wrong.


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