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How vulnerable is your organisation? If you’ve never thought about it, maybe you should. It could be key to building trust with employees.


“Trust is about vulnerability,” says employee engagement specialist Matt Stephens, who will speak at the IoIC Insight Seminar on ‘Trust & Generation Y’ in London on the afternoon of Thursday November 12.

“The way to build trust is to have a vulnerability-based organisation and where you can directly be vulnerable with each other – and that can cause tension and worry.”

He stresses that he is not talking about being vulnerable in your personal life but being vulnerable with each other at work.

“Trust and vulnerability go hand in hand,” says Matt (pictured above), founder of the Quest agency. “You can start dealing with issues properly. If we think about it in our personal life, we’re only vulnerable with people we trust. If we don’t trust the person, you won’t be vulnerable with them.

“Once you get to that stage, you can start to be able to have true conflict and be able to discuss issues. It’s especially true with employee engagement. It leads to decisions and writing action plans.”

As an example of a lack of vulnerability, he cites employee surveys.

“When you ask people for their view or opinions, and then take three months to respond, that’s a joke,” he says. “There’s no level of trust or vulnerability there.

“Employees know the leaders have taken weeks to come back with a reaction that has been thoroughly thought through for every possible connotation.

“But they’re looking for real-time reaction – what do you think? What will happen?”

Quest has developed an app to create vulnerability – and therefore trust – in organisations and he will be demonstrating it at the Insight Seminar.

Heartbeat is a web-based app that encourages transparency by asking employees how they feel about anything going on in their organisation.

It asks two things:

  • How do you feel about.?
  • Why?

“It takes about 60 seconds to fill in and you get answers instantly,” explains Matt.

Companies that have used Heartbeat include Unilever, ASOS and Britvic.

The app might be used after a town hall meeting or following the presentation of the annual report by the CEO – it will ask how do you feel, and why?

“It’s anonymous, so people are very honest with their answers and the answers are emotion-based,” says Matt. “People will be angry, excited, frustrated, whatever. It’s very simple, very quick and you get instant results.”

He says it can lead to nervousness among leaders because they’re opening up a vulnerability - and they’re getting honest answers straight away.

“In the past they might ask the head of comms what did people feel, and the answers would be sanitised,” he says. “Now, they’re actually having a conversation. It’s no longer a set-piece for them to say their bit and leave.”

Response rates from employees run at around 70% because the app is quick and easy to use.

It also leads to a change in the way in which leaders approach employee communication.

“The leaders think much more about what they’re going to say in the first place because they know there will be an instant, public reaction,” he explains.

“The sweet spot for communicators is that instead of pontificating from on high, leaders are thinking about the reaction they might get and asking ‘What outcome do we want?’ ‘How do we want people to feel?’

“The good thing for leaders is that they can deal with any issues in real time immediately.”

He recalls a CEO-led town hall meeting where the reaction was that people were frustrated. Then came the ‘why?’ and it was because pay hadn’t been mentioned.

“The CEO thought she had mentioned it and dealt with the fact that there would be no pay rises, but it had been too subtle and not a major part of the presentation,” explains Matt. “She thought it was there but it wasn’t strong enough for employees to know precisely.

“The good thing was she could make it clear there would be no pay rises because results hadn’t been good enough and, although people weren’t that pleased, they knew where they stood immediately and it scotched any future speculation behind the scenes, like whether there would be pay cuts or redundancies.

“They might not like the message but they had the answer immediately and up front.

“Misunderstandings could have caused a raft of trust issues in the future.”

Matt Stephens will talk at the ioIC Insight Seminar in London on Thursday November 12 - other speakers will include:

  • Sian Jones, head of IC at the Bank of England
  • Anthony Burrows, group head of IC and engagement at Allied Irish Bank
  • Nick Howard of Edelman agency

Full details here
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