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The Brexit campaign was for many, the final nail in the coffin for trust in our political system. Perhaps, in authority in general.

This is the assessment of Rich Baker, IoIC Board Director and head of IC/employee engagement expert/consultant/interim – but he says internal communicators now have a huge opportunity – and responsibility – to do things differently.
“For me, the Brexit campaign and referendum was a victory for misinformation, whatever ‘side’ you were on,” he says. “Remain had what detractors called ‘Project Fear’ and Leave made promises they simply couldn’t deliver. Since when is a promise a possibility?
“Trust is like a bank. You have to make lots of regular deposits because one day you’ll need to make a big withdrawal and need people to trust you on something huge.
“The problem is, politicians have lost trust as a currency. They create election manifestos with hundreds of policies and then say policy is not a promise. Well, I think a policy is a promise. It’s a contract - and organisations can learn from that.”
Rich says trust was already at a low ebb and adds: “The Brexit debate might be the final nail in the coffin for lots of people. I presented with David MacLeod two and a half years ago about the Trust Deficit in organisations and how that impacts on employee engagement. Trust in politicians has been evaporating for a long time. Trust in senior leaders continues to decline and as a result, the relationship we have with our employers has changed.
“For example, my parents talk about ‘a job for life’ – provided you kept your head down and your nose clean. You’d get a decent pension and maybe a bonus here and there. Because of that psychological contract, people were generally loyal to their employer and many would give extra effort because they had an unwritten deal. As we all know, none of that is true anymore.
“As a result, we have to engage people in different ways. Gaining trust is probably the ultimate challenge.”
He says it’s often up to internal communicators to tell senior decision-makers that the things they’ve always done may no longer be effective. And that often requires some bravery.
·      Broadcast doesn’t work
·      Sanitising what’s happened doesn’t work
·      Protecting people from the truth doesn’t work
·      Forcing a brand on people doesn’t work
·      Giving everything a glossy spin doesn’t work.
“There’s a pushback because people today are generally much smarter than a lot of people give them credit for. They know about spin - which is actually a good thing,” he says.
“It’s good for internal communications. It means the good communicators are going to be more involved in having conversations and treating employees like grown-ups. It’s something we’ve been talking about for a long time but have struggled to gain traction with.
“Now, because of the broader changes in society, we have to be open and honest with people. This is the golden opportunity for organisations to have adult and honest relationships with their employees.”
Rich says conversations about Brexit must be allowed to flourish within organisations.
“Speculation is human nature,” he says. “From an IC perspective we should be encouraging people to have those conversations, to create understanding, at the water cooler and of course using social networks. They’re much better out in the open, but we need to make sure those conversations don’t create division.
“If people are talking about how they feel on Yammer or Facebook at Work saying Brexit (or anything else) will affect our organisation this way or that way, they’d be having those conversations privately anyway.
“If those conversations are in the open, it gives us a chance to dispel false rumours or put things straight, even if it’s just saying nothing has been decided yet. You can explain ‘These are the steps we’re taking to make sure that these things won’t happen’.”
Some workplaces will be divided and there will be anger among opposing factions and Rich says: “Like all behavioural issues, leaders must role model. You have to accept – and celebrate - differences in opinion, but remember that we’re all just people doing a job in an organisation and we need to respect the views of others.
“Line managers can help by considering how they can facilitate conversations in team meetings. They also need to identify potential issues and make clear that there are appropriate ways of behaving and how we talk about each other.
“It’s really important that people can express their feelings in a way that’s appropriate because otherwise ill feeling will just fester.
“I would wager that UK PLC productivity took a dose-dive immediately after the Brexit vote - and probably the following week and we have a responsibility to help turn around that decline as quickly as possible.
“The way we do that is the same for any important change; by helping people come to terms with what’s happening by enabling open and honest conversations, and demonstrating strong, empathetic leadership.”
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