Abraham Maslow once offered an ingenious insight, “For a hungry person, heaven is a place with bread.” Countless businesses battered by COVID-19 are in a similar place as the hungry person; heaven would be achieving results they were accustomed to pre-COVID. Which explains why businesses hardest hit by COVID are obsessed with bolting out of the gates once COVID-related restrictions lift so both sales and profitability can finish the year strong.
Careful though. There’s an elephant in the room that needs the CEO’s attention, because it has the potential of stalling – even nullifying – post-COVID resurgence. The elephant concerns the health of trust prevailing in the company when the world reopens for business.
Trust in the business world had tanked even before COVID forced us to our knees. According to the annual Global Edelman Trust Barometer, trust in businesses and its leaders reached its nadir a few years ago after steadily declining since the study’s inception in the early 2000s. No surprise that COVID-induced layoffs, furloughs, and outright business closures have weakened it even more. Consider a sampling of just three statistics from the Global Barometer’s Spring (Trust and the COVID Pandemic) Update:
- 29% ranked CEOs dead last on “doing an outstanding job” in responding to the pandemic’s demands
- Only 39% say businesses are doing very well or well in protecting the financial wellbeing and jobs of their employees
- 56% of employees and job seekers are very concerned about losing their job and not finding a new job for a very long time
Given this scenario of “Trust Fragility,” what should CEOs do to rehabilitate trust in their companies. Three suggestions.
- First, take the temperature of trust. Just like employees are being subjected to temperature checks before being let back in, CEOs should also take the temperature of trust to assess the nature and extent of fragility. The temperature check will pinpoint enfeebled areas that most need leadership’s attention. Additionally, the very act of taking trust’s temperature could invigorate it, since it demonstrates that leadership cares.
- Next, invest in listening. Nothing says to employees – “You matter” – more than giving them a voice, followed by listening to what they have to say with “ears of the heart.” Inviting and encouraging employees to share aloud reasons why their trust has taken a hit will provide additional insights of where trust needs greatest healing. It will also galvanize trust by assuring employees that the CEO and leadership team genuinely care about what they have to say.
- Finally, make a commitment to rebuilding and renovating trust. This is not a time for symbolism, this is a time for substantial commitment. If trust is fragile today, it’s because past affirmations weren’t backed by supportive actions. If the pattern of failed affirmations repeats, fragility of trust will limp along, dragging down post-COVID resurgence. What’s critical is a new will, renewed intent, and fresh action to rebuild and renovate the compact of trust between leadership teams and employees.
What will CEOs do, acknowledge the elephant in the room or ignore it? That depends on what they value. Based on what I value, this is what my head and heart are telling me – companies that acknowledge and address trust fragilities before pushing for performance are likely to outperform their competitors with their two most important stakeholders – employees and customers.