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Building a Foundation of Trust for a Healthier Workplace

A former colleague spoke to me about taking the plunge from supporting HR externally to going in-house. His new role entailed building a healthy culture for his new organization from the ground up. The current environment consisted of many sub-cultures as the business had expanded through acquisitions.

He wanted to focus on mission, vision, values (MVV) and bring in programs to support them. I agree. Healthy cultures build alignment in all three areas and when there is alignment, momentum happens, and employee engagement skyrockets.

However, he needed to establish a foundation first. My experience is that many employees have a “don’t know, don’t care” attitude towards MVV. And why should they care?

  • Has the company delivered a compelling view of how they’re making a difference in the world?
  • Is their message readily understood and actionable?
  • Do the employees themselves grasp their importance in executing the plan?

I wager that 99% of the time, the answer is no to all three questions. At best, MVVs get introduced during onboarding and are left to languish the rest of the time.

Employees become dissatisfied when they don’t see internal alignment. In consequence, MVVs live in a castle in the clouds where they’re aspirational not inspirational.

Ultimately, employee dissatisfaction gets expressed as employee disengagement. As such, employee recognition programs were developed to counter disengagement. Engagement levels in 1990 were 90%. In a study published last fall, Gartner said only a third (31%) of employees were engaged.

Unfortunately, the rise of recognition programs does not seem to have had a net positive effect on engagement levels. They don’t work because most programs address symptoms (“effects”) and not the root cause. You can design the best programs – and I’m proud to say that I’ve participated in the creation of a few – but if your castle remains in the clouds, you still lack a foundation.

In essence, disengagement generates disconnection. When you don’t feel part of something bigger than yourself, you feel separate and, as you’ve learned in Life fully loved, humans long for connection. Addressing the root cause – disconnection – starts with awareness, awareness of the bigger picture and your role within it.

Awareness is an internal process first. Start with developing self-awareness. Give people the tools they need to be their best and let them use them daily to make your business stronger. Organizations can only nurture engagement once their people have done the groundwork.

Healthy workplace culture = Awareness + Alignment

The underpinning of all of it is trust. That’s how I closed my conversation with my former colleague.

Trust is like rebar. Rebars help concrete structures withstand bending, torsion, and other loads. If you build a concrete foundation of trust, you have strength to withstand the inevitable friction that comes with running a business.

From there, imagine mission, vision, values as the floors of the house. And the front door key that unlocks it all is self-awareness because internal awareness naturally leads to external awareness, that is, the alignment of many who recognize they’re part of something bigger than themselves.

Trust cements a healthy workplace culture.  Without it, any building blocks added are mostly aesthetic. They’ll crumble with the first tremors of discontent.

I’m not here to knock down employee engagement programs or companies that don’t clearly live their mission, vision, and values.  Most people lead with good intentions. Leaders know building blocks are important and so they construct them to provide parameters and/or guidance.

What I know from wisdom and experience is that the missing piece is trust. The ROI on trust is incalculable. Trust me.

Header Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

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