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According to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, released in January, trust has changed significantly in the past year. People are shifting their trust to the relationships within their control, referred to as “localized trust” — and represented mainly by employers. Trust in “my employer,” at 75 percent, outranks trust in any single institution. This is a global phenomenon, not just a U.S. finding.

Over time, trust has shifted away from societal institutions (government, religious organizations, etc.) toward social platforms (trusting what “friends” say) – and now away from social platforms toward employers.

A key factor of localized trust is the expectation for CEO engagement. More than three-quarters of respondents say they want CEOs to take the lead on change instead of waiting for government to impose it, and more than 70 percent of employees believe it’s critically important for their CEO “to respond to challenging times.”

And 73 percent believe a company can take actions that both increase profits and improve economic and social conditions in the community where it operates. Employees expect employers to actively join them in advocating for social issues. Companies that do are rewarded — with greater commitment, advocacy, and loyalty from employees.

The work companies are doing to build inclusive cultures is made even more essential by the rise of localized trust. If employees are looking to employers to create community — to provide a sense of belonging they are craving in a divided world — then efforts like addressing unconscious bias, adopting practices and policies that advance inclusion, strengthening cultural competency, and ensuring everyday artifacts and symbols are welcoming to all become the essential building blocks in creating community.

A 2009 Harvard Business Review article was ahead of its time with this reference: “Somehow, in our hectic, individualist world, the sense of community has been lost in too many companies and other organizations. In the United States in particular, many great enterprises, along with the country’s legendary sense of enterprise, have been collapsing as a consequence.”

The article goes on to explain how to build community in a company: start by creating an atmosphere that builds trust, then build a robust culture based on a clear purpose, and then put leadership at the center, highly engaged (not sitting at the top).

It sounds easy enough. But these are not easy times. Many CEOs aren’t equipped to engage on social issues or interested in becoming visible leaders of critical topics, let alone prepared to take the lead on challenges that government is struggling to solve. So, if your CEO is not Howard Schultz or Marc Benioff, how can you attract and keep talent that is looking to you as a trusted resource in an uncertain world?

We don’t have all the answers to this weighty question, but here are our top five recommendations for building community in 2019:

  • Prioritize communication. Healthy relationships are based on healthy communication. On the formal side, build thoughtful CEO and senior executive engagement plans that prioritize face-to-face meetings with employees and ensure a consistent cadence of communication. Informally, manage by walking around. Get to know people. Lead from the center, as an engaged member of the team.
  • Equip leaders at all levels. Don’t make the mistake of assuming mid-level managers and supervisors are building trust in the ways you expect. They are as local as it gets, so be sure you are providing them with the context and training necessary for them to engage and lead with purpose.
  • Acknowledge what’s happening in the world. Gone are the days of avoiding tough conversations and only communicating about activity inside the organization. Employees know their companies know what’s happening – and they expect a conversation, a point of view, or at the very least an acknowledgement. Companies can do this in simple ways, like sharing authentic messages from leaders in times of national strife, conducting nonpartisan campaigns and providing paid time off to get out the vote during election seasons, or hosting panel discussions of employees tackling tough subjects like race and gender. The expectation for connection isn’t going away, so if you’re not already practicing this in your organization, now is a good time to start.
  • Break down walls. Nearly every company, no matter how far along on the “welcoming and inclusive” scale, has silos — between operating companies, between business units, between departments, between teams, and so on. Create opportunities for employees to engage with one another beyond their roles — in community volunteer events or collaboration sessions designed to solve real business challenges. Convey an expectation to engage beyond the confines of the job description.
  • Do things that build trust. Tell the truth. Be as transparent as possible. Hire people who tell the truth and hold them accountable. Do what you say you are going to do. Explain why you are doing it. Make it easy for employees to share their point of view – and listen to it.

Do these ideas resonate? How well does your organization create community? We’d love to hear your challenges and successes.

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