Building confidence and trust

The third call was very different. It came out of a nationwide sales and marketing company with more than 100 employees. The head of HR was concerned: “Our leaders are not perceived as role models for The Volvo Way. I would like for you to come here and train a dozen selected leaders and then almost all of our employees in the corporate culture.”

I was delighted and ready to sign up. When I asked for more background, she explained that the training would need to connect into a dialogue about the employee survey results. “Overall our scores are alright, I am just worried about a few items where I have discovered a slight decline.”

Digging into the numbers more deeply, I was intrigued. Her statements didn’t make any sense. So, let’s look at exhibit C. First I have selected the survey items where this entity C reported higher favorable scores than average for the Group. Their best relative results are given in order of lead.  

Now remember that we’re looking for four distinctive levels of employee engagement, and this is the third case. Keep in mind the strengths of this nationwide market organization. What do you think is driving their engagement? What values are most important to them?

“I believe decisions are implemented quickly enough at my business entity (+ 70 %).”
“My work group/team is free from conflicts that negatively impact our work (+ 89 %)”
“My immediate supervisor/manager does a good job of resolving conflicts (+ 88 %).”
“I rarely think about looking for a new job with another company (+ 79 %).”
“I have the training I need to do my job effectively (+86 %).”
“My business entity provides me with opportunities for learning and development (+ 82 %).”
“I receive timely information relating to my work (+ 81 %).”
“My work group/team does an effective job managing change (+ 90%).”
“It is easy to get things done in my work group/team (+ 85 %).”
“The leadership of my Business Entity has communicated a vision of the future that motivates me (+ 76 %).”
“My work group/team has taken action based on the feedback from the last survey (+ 67 %).”

This is an organization with high employee engagement scores, well above the global external norm. All the important building blocks for employee engagement seem to be in place.

There’s teamwork and collaboration, focus on change and innovation, and execution and speed. Immediate managers are effective and resolve conflicts, and there’s confidence and trust in senior leadership.

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So, what is wrong with this picture? Or rather, must there be something wrong? Why are we always focusing too much on the few things that may not be world class?

Still puzzled and curious about the HR manager’s concerns, I decided to look more closely into the one aspect that was missing in both previous cases. That is confidence and trust in leadership. Let’s see how this nationwide sales and marketing organization scored. Their favorable scores are still compared against Group average, yet now the results are given in order of how strongly each item correlates to confidence and trust.

“I am satisfied with the way top leadership communicates in my business entity (+ 9 %).”
“In my business entity, there is open and honest two-way communication (+ 9 %).”
“I have confidence in the leadership team to make the right decisions for my business entity (+ 12 %).”
“My business entity has a climate in which diverse perspectives are valued (+ 7 %).”
“Our leaders are role models for the Volvo Way (+ 7 %).”
“My business entity’s leadership is genuinely committed to attracting, developing and keeping a diverse work force (+ 14 %).”
“I believe decisions are implemented quickly enough at my business entity (+ 24 %).”
“I believe that my business entity conducts its business in an ethical way (+ 10 %).”

This reads like a shortlist of behaviors and values that senior leadership need to demonstrate if they want to build confidence and trust. What have you already learned from this case? What advice would you give to the managing director of this company? And most importantly – what would it take for this organization to move beyond employee engagement at level 3?

4 thoughts on “Building confidence and trust

  1. The basic engagement needs seem to be met here, but there seems to be some room for improvement in the openness for ideas up the corporate hierarchy. Showing an active interest in dialogue and the ideas of everyone is also how the leaders become role models for Volvo Way.

    By the way; being open to the ideas of sales people is being open to customer needs. Seldom a bad thing.

    • Mårten, it feels like we’re in 独参 dokusan.
      Sometimes you look too hard and believe that you see clearly. Make yourself a cup of tea, or take a walk in the garden. Look away for a moment.
      When you return to this case – and the two previous – only glance at everything as from a distance. Make a mental picture of the first case, as the broad rock at the bottom. The second case is the next rock. The third case is the third stone.
      What is the difference between the rocks?

  2. You are describing three levels of engagement, suggesting something like a Maslowian needs hierarchy.

    I am the first to agree that clear objectives, clarity or focus is a prerequisite to engagement. After all, that is the one side of the engagement matrix I suggested several years ago. That may be called transactional leadership, traditional management or the Maslovian need for Esteem. Everyone from Taylor to McGregor to Yukl have described it as a basic but insufficient form of management.

    The next level is group cohesion. Once you perform you want a group where you can belong and that can bring development. That is Maslow’s “Love and Belonging” but taken to an extreme it was well described as Blake & Mouton’s “Country Club leadership”.

    And your third text describes the need to contribute. That is a bedrock of transformational leadership. Modern leaders do not just transform their subordinates; they engage on a journey together with their people where the personal growth of everyone becomes corporate growth.

    I’m curious to see the fourth step you have been foreshadowing.

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