Trust starts in the words that we use

I think it goes without saying that large parts of society have an issue with trust. Whether it is trust in politicians, trust in the media or trust in business. Institutions that once were seen as being cohesive forces in society are now the perpetrators, if not originators, of societal fragmentation.

At the heart of this mistrust is our inability to speak openly and honestly about subjects that are of mass importance, to be clear about the impact of change, to face into the repercussions of our actions. I wrote a few weeks ago about a session I did a number of years ago where I portrayed a rather bleak future on the back of the introduction of technology and how it fell on deaf ears compared to the sugar coated, unicorn riding, emancipation argument being offered on the other side. I’ll bet my house on which one of us is right.

The point though isn’t the change itself, it is our inability to be honest about the implications. And this is something that we see everyday in organisations, in the same way that the “self employed” delivery driver being measured by the second doesn’t recognise the benefits of technology allowing an executive to answer their emails from the Bahamas, too often we communicate an artificial version of the future that just doesn’t match with the reality that people experience.

Last month, Tesco announced around 4,500 job cuts in order to “serve shoppers better”. That’s right, having fewer employees in stores will be better for shoppers. Well I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of one time I’ve been in any retail outlet and thought, “I wish there were fewer employees here to serve me”. Of course the reality is that Tesco needs to cut overheads in order to compete on price and maintain its dividend and one of the most effective ways of doing that is through staff numbers. So why can’t they say that?

If we are going to try to regain trust in our organisations, in business as a whole, then we need to start by being honest. That means being straight up about the good and the bad, it means being honest when things will have a negative impact, it means facing into the implications of the decisions that we make. It means treating employees (see also voters readers and viewers too) as grown ups who are able to understand when they are being told the truth and when they are being fed an institutional mistruth.

Our corporate norms reject ideas of candour, the call for palatable half truths. Our corporate norms, however, have got us into this situation. Maybe now is the time to reappraise. If we can’t be open and honest, we can never truly build trust.

 

In praise of spin

I’ve worked in HR long enough to know that it has an image problem. One that is generally unfair, but probably the result of our own endeavours.

Our knee jerk reaction, like anyone in this scenario, is to tell everyone they’re wrong. That actually they’re missing this whole bunch of important information that they’ve never consider before.

It’s all……a bit whiny.

We whinge and bitch and moan about how we are misunderstood. And all it does is make us look like a whiny, moaning, bitching bunch of people. Let’s face it, would you want to hang around with someone coming across like that?

We don’t work enough on presentation, on delivery, on PR and, yes, on spin. I don’t care what you think, if you believe in the product that you have enough, you should be willing to take any measures necessary to get it delivered.

Rather than being the organisational equivalent of the parent telling their unenthused kids to, “eat their greens” and reminding them they won’t grow or be healthy otherwise, we need to learn to plate up something equally nourishing but more palatable and exciting.

We need to think about the hooks, the positioning, the language, the packaging and the delivery. We need to create excitement and interest in the topics that people have become weary, wary and immune too.

Time and time again I hear of people telling me that their business, their CEO, their leadership team aren’t interested in HR. That’s a total crock. If you speak to any CEO or leader, they will talk about all the things that we are trying to achieve. They just aren’t interested in us or the way that we talk about it.

We all know the famous quote about insanity being the act of doing the same thing and expecting different results.  Sometime we border on the insane as a profession.

We’re full of creative, thoughtful, innovative people. We’re full of people that want to make a difference, that want to help organisations be better, perform better and grow. We’re full of people who care.

So instead of shying away from the dark arts, let’s embrace them. We can reinvent ourselves and our work, but in order to do that we need to think as much about position, delivery and narrative as we do about content, process and structure.

People consume a package, they don’t always want to consume a principle.

Who are you trying to convince?

Nobody wants to work for an organisation that sucks. Well, unless you’re a vacuum engineer, in which case you don’t want to work for a company that blows.

We all want to work for a “Top Best Company Employer” (names confused to protect the innocent). And that’s lucky, because there are a number of different awards that exist to help us work out where to go, to assist us in our search, point us along the path……

Once a year the good and the great gather together to celebrate their competitive awesomeness and show just how incredibly good and best and top they absolutely are.

Which is nice.

They share it on Twitter, photos of the people that they value enough to take to the ceremony. And they celebrate – back in the workplace – disproportionately with cupcakes (much cheaper than a gala dinner ticket).

But when the metallic balloons have deflated, the cakes have gone stale and the “Celebration” chocolates (did you see what we did there?) have melted. When the PRs have issued their press statements about the CEO’s being “proud” and valuing the importance of “their people” and “their contribution”. When the attention has gone back to the sales figures, the balance sheet and personally benefiting from that contribution.

What then? What does it tell us?

Are we really proud of celebrating that as a company we don’t dump all over our employees? Is that where we’ve sunk to? That we need to have a trophy cabinet of awards in reception that show we aren’t complete and utter ba***rds?

If we are really concerned with being a good employer, why then do we need to share it with the rest of the world? Why can’t we just be one and be happy with it?

Because we want to convince people we’re not awful. Because people think we are. And truth be told, we probably know that we are too….just a little.

That’s why we make it an objective of our HR departments, we incentivise (and punish) line managers to achieve higher and better ratings, we provide incentives to employees just at the time we’re completing the surveys (purely coincidental you understand).

That’s why we systemise “being good”. Not because we believe it’s right, but because we don’t know how to do it any other way. And we shout about it, because WE need to tell you, about US.

Employees, job seekers, candidates are savvy. They don’t get fooled but marketing, by PR, by stunts or by branding. They research, they speak to people, they look at a thousand different points of data, not necessarily the ones that you want them to see.

Like the middle aged guy diving the oversized, oversized, flashy car. Hanging out awards that show how great you think you are begs the question,

“Why?”

Is it because you’re genuinely the real deal and if so, why do you need to tell me? Or, as I suspect, is it because you’re compensating for a lack of “substance”…..you know……somewhere else….