Employee Trust and Advocacy: The By-products of the Social Business

By Ethan Yarbrough posted 08-16-2010 15:37


Building trust with employees is hard.

I’m speaking from specific experience. Once upon a time the Great Recession stepped on my business and my partners and I had to make financial choices that had painful impact on all 200 of our employees.

We convened a company meeting and stood before the assembled employees to explain the changes we’d had to make. We told them it was for the good of the company. We told them where we’d had to make cuts we would make restorations when we were financially able to do so. We told them the truth, but we expected distrust at best. Outright anger at worst.

We got both. There are some employees who work in our main office along with us and some who work off site at client facilities. The anger and the distrust were coming from the people who worked off site. Then midway through the meeting a remarkable thing happened: Janet, one of the employees who works in the main office with us, stood up and turned to face the whole crowd. Janet stood up and defended us to the ones who had been expressing distrust. “You can trust these guys,” she said. “I know them. If they say they’re going to do something, they do it,” she told them.

Janet took over the meeting. She carried our message forward for us. She became our advocate.

That meeting taught me something significant about trust.

The farther away from us an employee worked, the less they interacted with us personally. And so they were more inclined to be distrustful. On the other hand, the closer to us employees worked, the more they interacted with us personally. And so they were more inclined to trust that our motives were honorable.

This story I’m telling fits in a discussion of Enterprise 2.0 because Enterprise 2.0 is not just about technology. Enterprise 2.0 is about the culture your organization maintains around the sharing of information and power. Stephen Baker writes about the new business environment and how information management plays into it in his recent blog post “Redefining Leadership in the Emerging Social Business Environment” ( ). Here’s how he outlines the new information and power paradigm of the modern workplace (what he calls the “social business”):

  • Information and content is the life blood of the social business and is shared openly and frequently (hoarding is not rewarded or tolerated)
  • Employees are empowered to make decisions….Empowerment also means the power and obligation to speak up when something is amiss.
  • Transparency which leads to ethical behavior.
  • Power and communication are networked not hierarchical and one way

And let’s define the modern workplace. Among other things it’s increasingly defined by a dispersed workforce – groups of people who are employed by the same company but may have little face-to-face interaction with each other or with management because they all work in different places. Places like my business. Technology makes that possible, but that distance can erode trust.

OK now back to my story. In response to the experience we had at the company meeting, we are now using technology to make information more transparent, to share it more frequently, to involve more people in dialog about what’s happening at our business, to enable even those employees who don’t see us every day to experience a more personal side of us, and to enable employees to speak up when they think something is amiss.

Executives are blogging on our SharePoint intranet – including our CFO who posts quarterly financials on his blog. We stream company meetings live via LiveMeeting. We use video to give a human face to management. But the most successful tool of all is the simplest: our You Ask/We Answer forum. It’s a forum on our intranet where employees can ask tough questions of senior management. It’s anonymous by default, but people can add their names if they want to. We have one rule for the forum: employees can ask us anything and we have to answer it within 24 hours.

People use it. And you know what it does? It doesn’t completely eliminate the distrust of management that can crop up from time to time. But it gives employees a place to express that distrust any time they want to and gives us a place to address that distrust while it’s still small and before it becomes big. And, like the situation with Janet at the company meeting, it gives other employees a place to join the dialog and talk directly to their peers publicly, hopefully in support of what we’re saying.

There’s a promise implicit in the blogs, the LiveMeetings, the videos and the You Ask/We Answer forum. We promise to share every bit of information that is relevant to employees and to their experience with our company, we promise to hide nothing. When we keep those promises, we create trust.

And when we create trust, we create advocates out of our employees.

This isn’t a technology challenge, but it is a challenge technology helps us meet.

#SocialBusiness #Advocacy #employeeempowerment #trust #SeattleSharePointConsultant #SharePoint