Bottoms up! It's a question of trust

Bottoms up! It’s a question of trust

Do you trust your boss? Do you trust your employees? Probing questions, I admit and ones to which you might not have given much thought. Shame that because trust is a prerequisite for any system of bottom-up or lateral communications to succeed.

In a recent blog, I talked about the need for bottom-up communications – that is, a system where ideas and communications flow freely from the frontline through the middle managers and up to the lofty Directors’ tower above…

Without bottom-up communications, companies and bosses could be missing out on many great ideas and be oblivious to festering problems sometimes until it is too late and talented people, customers or profit has walked out the door never to return…

Is it possible to put in place a system to capture those thoughts, conversations and suggestions, vet them and finally to do something with the worthwhile ones among them? Unfortunately, unless trust exists as a two-way street, the answer is ‘no’.

Setting up communication channels to the top such that people know their message will be read, heard or seen is one thing.  Before much of value will be tabled by employees a fair degree of trust needs to be established so people feel safe: safe to complain without fear of being shot, safe to blow the whistle without fear of being shouted down, safe to bring good ideas to the table without fear of rejection or being treated with disrespect.

It’s safe to say that within Corporate UK trust has taken something of a knock. In 2009 trust hogged the headlines, what with the banking crisis and the behaviour of MPs over their expenses, many of us were left feeling fairly cynical towards those with power.

In that same year, Management Today and the Institute of Leadership and Management conducted a poll to establish what trust there was between employees and their managers. More than 5,500 people were polled, of whom nearly 3,000 were managers (the rest were not) among all sectors and sizes.

Close to a third of respondents (31% of non-managers and 28% of managers) had little or no trust in their management team.  According to this poll on trust:

  • Employees trust CEOs who they believe can do their job well.
  • Leaders actions need to be principled and honest to earn trust.
  • The most trusted line managers are also highly competent, understand what is involved in their employees' roles, are principled, honest and treat people equally.
  • The longer a CEO or manager has been in the job, the more they are trusted
  • The longer a member of staff has been in his or job the less s/he trusts the CEO or manager

While the survey is, of course, several months old, conditions for trust have certainly not improved since then. The results reinforce the importance of building and enhancing the trust between levels and departments in an organization as a pre-requisite for a system of bottom-up communications to be truly affective. It is vital we do not assume sufficient trust is already there.

This is the second in my series of blogs on bottom-up communications. For the next, I’ll be focusing on defining our terms – get the terminology right and you’ll get the system right.

If you’d like to talk to me about bottom-up communications, please get in touch.

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