Rebuilding Trust Through Communication

By Shari Caudron

At companies where trust has been broken because of, say, high-profile executive wrongdoing, HR has to step up to the plate and help the leaders regain their credibility. Emmett Seaborn, a principal with Towers Perrin in Stamford, Connecticut, says this is done through an extensive communication effort that involves the following 12 steps:

1. Get your leaders in front of people. Let your people see leaders visibly handling the issue with candor, credibility, and concern.

2. Help your leaders avoid the spin. People will quickly see through any effort to shade the facts.

3. Tell all the news you have—even bad news. Save the time-release strategy for another time. Tell everything you know so that employees have little room to jump to their own conclusions.

4. Connect with all stakeholders. Communicate with all your constituencies, especially employees.

5. Reach beyond the media. Don’t just send a letter to employees, or let news reports do the talking for the company. Send flesh-and-blood humans to talk with employees about their concerns.

6. Offer the opportunity for dialogue. The translation and interpretation of messages happens through dialogue and demonstration, not by reading memos.

7. Balance high tech with high touch. Computers are great for fast communication, but they don’t replace in-person conversation and discussion.

8. Listen to your people. Ask how they are responding to the bad news and what questions they might have. The process doesn’t have to be formal. Just making the effort sends a positive message.

9. Communicate and involve more, not less. Don’t disappear. Avoid the natural reflex to clamp down when people most need to hear from you. When it feels like you’ve told your story over and over, you’ll know you’re on target.

  10. Remind people of the fundamentals. Repeat, repeat, repeat why you are in business, how the business works, what the business needs to achieve, and how employees can contribute.

  11. Help people see their roles. Communicate the business goals and the employee’s role in achieving them. Be clear about the rewards that will come from that effort.

  12. Ask people to move on. Limit the permission to whine. Once you have communicated openly and thoroughly, ask people to move on. There is a point when an organization must stop focusing on crises and begin to focus again on serving customers, making money, and creating value for shareholders.

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