5 Ways to Earn Trust: The Ultimate Competitive Advantage

Are you looking for that leadership silver bullet that will propel you past the competition? You can take public speaking courses and enroll in an MBA program or you can attempt the single easiest feat for which an individual can strive, trustworthiness.

Leadership is built on one core concept—trust. Without it, you can forgo every other attribute espoused by management experts. Confidence without trust is an egomaniac. Charisma without trust is a charlatan. And vision without trust is a hypocrite. This was supported by a meta-analysis study from leading trust researcher and Georgetown University professor Daniel McAllister.

Published in the Academy of Management Journal, McAllister concluded that leaders viewed as trustworthy generate a culture where team members:

  • display greater innovation, agility, and responsiveness to changing conditions;
  • take risks because they believe they will not be taken advantage of;
  • do not expend needless time, effort, and resources on self preservation; and
  • go above and beyond to exhibit higher performing customer service, brand loyalty, and problem solving.

This leads to a competitive advantage through significantly higher commitment, satisfaction, retention, and performance. Similarly, research from the Ken Blanchard Companies found a strong correlation between trust and the behaviors associated with highly productive employees—discretionary effort, willingness to endorse the organization, performance, and a desire to be a “good organizational citizen.”

“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”—Stephen Covey

Before you get insulted that I’m explaining something as elementary as the benefits of trust, have you heard of the Edelman Trust Barometer? The ETB has surveyed tens of thousands of people across dozens of countries about their level of trust in business, media, government, and nongovernmental organizations. In its 17th year, this is the first time the study found a decline in trust across all four institutions in all 28 countries surveyed.

For leaders, one of the more disturbing findings of the ETB is the shocking lack of confidence in leadership—63% of participants said corporate CEOs are either not at all or somewhat credible. That means only 37% maintained the credibility of CEOs, a 12-point drop from last year, and this is consistent around the world. CEOs are more trusted than government leaders (29%), but that’s setting a pretty low bar. Plus, with this “trust void,” only 52% said they trust business to do what is right.

So if trust is important and society is not feeling it, what can we do? Good news: you can (re)build trust. Here are five techniques to consider:

  1. Recognition, Recognition, Recognition. To increases trust between leaders and employees, nothing does it faster than acknowledging their achievements. It indicates you are paying attention and reinforces positive behaviors.
  2. Show Compassion. Did I say recognition is the fasted way to build trust? It won’t mean anything if you don’t already have a foundation of respect. Just try influencing someone who doesn’t respect you; see how engaged they are in your ideas. Treat your team like real-life people—listen to their ideas, care about their feelings, and empathize with their concerns.
  3. Keep to Your Word. You can’t build trust without following through on promises. Your team needs to believe that what you say is sincere, so follow through on commitments.
  4. Don’t Hide Your Humanity. Being human means showing your imperfections. Your ability to discuss your mistakes and share what you have learned from it makes you more relatable. No one is concerned with transparency for the good stuff; they need you to fess up to faults, so show your vulnerable side.
  5. Smile. If you don’t want to do something substantive to build your trust and would prefer a gimmick, consider a recent study published in Psychological Science where convicted murders with trustworthy faces received more lenient sentences then their peers with untrustworthy faces. The key, it seems, is that a gentle smile increases how trustworthy others perceive you. Keep in mind, that it needs to be gentle—too big can be seen as duplicitous or insincere, while too small may be seen as sarcastic or leering.

“I doubt that we can ever successfully impose values or attitudes or behaviors on our children certainly not by threat, guilt, or punishment. But I do believe they can be induced through relationships where parents and children are growing together. Such relationships are, I believe, build on trust, example, talk, and caring.”—Fred Rogers

We live in untrustworthy times, but that does not mean we have to lead in an untrustworthy manner. Generate a culture where honesty, transparency, and truth are the basis of your organization. This must start at the top of the organizational hierarchy with you. The team will trust you once you establish that you trust the team. It may take time, but as Seth Godin says, “Earn trust, earn trust, earn trust. Then you can worry about the rest.”

Purple Recruit: Applying Seth Godin’s Branding Ideas To HR

Brand marketing is a field that contains many innovators and sharp thinkers. Nowhere is this more visible than in the work of Seth Godin, author of books such as Linchpin and Purple Cow, has turned old mass marketing practices upside down, showing a more personal, more human and vastly more effective way of marketing.

But his insights, like so many from marketing, can also be applied in other areas. Godin’s ideas give us some great material to apply in HR.

The Employment Brand

Godin has talked about all sorts of fascinating aspects of the human brand — how we can turn ourselves into brands, making ourselves invaluable to employers through the unique combination of qualities we provide.

But this is true of employers as well as employees, and can be a way to draw in the best workers.

This is partly a matter of vision. Godin has shown that, in the modern world, it’s not enough to just provide the same thing everyone else does. You have to be the purple cow of his book title, the example that stands out from the crowd. When considering the vision for your HR department, and particularly for recruitment, you should be thinking about what that vision is, what makes you special to employees.

But some of it is also about specific tactics. Godin’s emphasis is on marketing as a matter of building up relationships rather than just scattering the news about yourself over a wide area. This is the key to how the best modern marketers engage with their audience, and it should also be used by recruiters. Narrow in on the parts of the recruitment pool most likely to be a good fit for you and then build up relationships with them. Reach out rather than waiting for them to come to you. Listen for what they want from an employer rather than telling them why they should want you.

Brand Benefits

This might sound like a lot of effort — any change to our familiar patterns does. But it’s really just a matter of re-focusing your existing efforts, and the rewards can easily outweigh the costs.

In going through the process of recruitment, a little extra effort building in-depth relationships with the best recruitment pools can increase the reliability of your recruitment process and reduce the cost per hire. After all, good recruitment is not about getting dozens of candidates through your recruitment process; it’s about getting the right one. If you already have a relationship with the talent pool, then you won’t need to cast your net as wide for interviewees, and you may even be able to hunt out the person whom you want.

This also increases the reliability of your hiring process and reduces the time to bring someone on board by removing the cumbersome mechanisms of mass advertising and mass interviewing.

But it has consequences beyond this, for the whole time that an employee is with you. If they know and understand your brand in advance, if they are not just accepting of it but passionate about it from an established relationship, then they will be more engaged with their work. This will lead to them working harder. It will improve morale and so increase retention, once again saving costs to you from recruitment.

Learning from others can be a humbling experience, as it involves acknowledging the limits of our own knowledge. But there is no shame in accepting that we know less than a best-selling leader in his field like Seth Godin, and in applying his lessons to our own field.

About the Author: Mark Lukens is a Founding Partner of Method3, a global management consulting firm and Tack3, a mid-market and not-for-profit focused consultancy. Most of Mark’s writing involves theoretical considerations and practical application, academics, change leadership, and other topics at the intersection of business, society, and humanity.

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Social Recruitment’s Present And Future

Social media has entered every corner of our lives. Facebook alone has more than a billion users, each averaging 15 minutes a day on the site. From the accumulated star ratings on websites to jobs found through LinkedIn and sharing holiday photos through Facebook, this crowded, chaotic world of human interaction is everywhere.

Like any technological change, the usefulness of social media is directly related to the human skills used to apply it. Social media is now a huge part of any company’s approach to marketing, and while it’s less prevalent in recruitment, it is playing a role there. But that role is changing, has already changed since the early days of social media, and is changing the wider face of recruitment. The trends that have shaken marketing are now gaining momentum in HR, and if we can learn from marketing’s experience, then we can get ahead of the recruitment curve.

Like Marvel’s superhero movie franchise, marketing’s use of social media has been marked by a series of distinct phases. And like waves in an ocean, the impact of each one is still felt long after something new has taken its place.

Phase 1: Interruption Advertising

The first phase, and an approach still as prevalent as it is old-fashioned, is what Seth Godin refers to as interruption advertising. This is the pre-internet approach to advertising, in which the aim is to reach as many people as possible as often as possible, wearing them into submission with the power and ubiquity of your message.

This approach has its advantages. It lets you say something cheaply, quickly and easily. It’s straightforward to understand and straightforward to apply.

In recruitment terms, this is using the advertising banners provided on social media sites, as well as projecting your recruitment ad through your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other channels. It’s a high-volume, low-thought approach, but in an age when we’re all glued to our screens, it can attract recruits.

Phase 2: Permission Marketing

Godin’s response to interruption advertising, widely read in his best-selling books, is permission marketing. This involves getting permission from potential customers to send them information, and gradually building layers of permission into a relationship where they are receptive to your particular message.

This is the sniper rifle to interruption advertising’s sawed-off shotgun — abandoning the scattershot approach in favor of focus and power. While its application to recruitment may not be obvious, it is potentially potent.

Each time you advertise for a job you receive more applicants than you need. Many of them might have made fine recruits if only you had another space for them. So why drop out of contact when they don’t get the job? Why not get their permission to stay in contact, to send details to them when other jobs come up? To draw them back in rather than lose them entirely?

And in finding recruits to start with, why not build relationships with the sorts of recruits you want in advance? Create mailing lists for different types of jobs, and give interested parties the opportunity to be informed without needing to go through the effort of application. Use this to show the benefits of working for you, and use it to draw the right candidates in, rather than making a big advertising splurge with no certainty of whom you’ll reach.

This involves developing a better understanding of the recruitment pool you’re after, just as a marketer must understand their market. It gives you the opportunity to add personality to your social media contacts in a way that will strike a chord with the right people, and so to better recruit.

Phase 3?

The world does not stand still, and social media is moving faster than many other parts. So where is social media marketing and recruitment heading next?

Itamar Simonson and Emanuel Rosen, the authors of Absolute Value, believe that it lies in understanding how far people are influenced by the opinions of others and in looking at how to shape those opinions. In recruitment terms, this translates into getting your jobs recommended by employees and third parties, people potential recruits might trust, rather than just through unfamiliar recruiters. It’s a way to build authenticity and a personal touch into the process, to attract the attention of people who might otherwise not be interested.

Using the huge data available on social media may be another tool. The information is out there for you to better understand what sort of personalities you want to recruit and where to find them. This is where big data and social media meet, letting you trawl the whole world’s talent pool in a proactive way, following the data trail to the people you want and then reaching out to them through social media. Some candidates may find it creepy, but many will consider it a compliment, and it lets you become ever more focused in your recruitment. It can become the route to a permission recruitment relationship.

What Will Your Strategies Be?

These strategies are not mutually exclusive. Interruption advertising can cloud the waters for permission recruitment, but it can also be its foundation. Recommendations and data analysis are no good if you don’t have ways to put your job out there and let people know how to approach you.

Recruitment is changing at an ever-accelerating pace. Whatever the eventual outcome, the winners will be those who step up first, who take risks, try new strategies and show what can be done.

About the Author: Mark Lukens is a founding partner of Method3, a global management consulting firm. Most of Mark’s writing involves theoretical considerations and practical application, academics, change leadership, and other topics at the intersection of business, society, and humanity.

photo credit: Viernest via photopin cc