ICology: What's trust got to do with it?

Episode #45, Tamara Snyder with Edelman

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Trust is a topic that has come up on a lot of ICology episodes, but this time it's intentional. In January, Edelman released the 2017 Trust Barometer. Every year, it sheds light on the role trust plays in all sorts of professional relationships at the personal level, including CEOs. Trust in CEOs had the largest drop of any category and is at the lowest it's ever been. Ever. 

With this year's findings, it's easy for communicators to draw parallels to their own corporate leaders. Are communicators aware of how trust (or lack thereof) is impacting internal communication and employee engagement efforts? 

In this episode of ICology, Tamara Snyder, Executive Vice President at Edelman, adds some flavor and context to this year's data. But while this year's report may shed a negative light on relationships with CEOs, there are silver linings for communicators to act on. 

Additional resources: 
Executive Summary
Global Results



Additional background:

The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer is the firm’s 17th annual trust and credibility survey. The survey was done by research firm Edelman Intelligence and consisted of 25-minute online interviews conducted on October 13th– November 16th, 2016. The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer online survey sampled more than 33,000 respondents consisting of 1,150 general population respondents ages 18 and over and 500 informed public respondents in the U.S. and China and 200 informed public respondents in all other countries across 28 markets. All informed publics met the following criteria: ages 25-64, college-educated; household income in the top quartile for their age in their country; read or watch business/news media at least several times a week; follow public policy issues in the news at least several times a week

Episode Transcript

Chuck Gose: This is ICology. It's a podcast about interesting people doing interesting things in internal communications. In this episode, I’m chatting with Tamara Snyder from Edelman. If internal comms is your passion, then this is your podcast.

Now, one of my favorite reports that comes out every year is the Edelman Trust Barometer, and if you’ve been listening to this show, you hear the word and the concept of trust come up all the time. When the report comes out, you see people like myself scrambling through it to find nuggets of information to write about, and I’m guilty of it this year, but we’ll come to that later on in the episode.

The statistic I see people gravitating to though in this year’s report is that the number one audience that people trust the most is, drum roll, people like themselves. Now, this makes sense to some degree, and I’ve seen people pointed this as good news, but my take, it’s not good news, and here’s why.

We humans, we see our peers as the credible experts. Even that trust number declined from last year though, so in 2017, that number is still only 16%, which also happens to be the same as academic experts and technical experts. Let’s bring this on to my level here. I love physics. I’m fascinated by it. I watch YouTube videos about physics, but please, don’t trust my physics knowledge over that of an actual physicist. They know more. Trust me on that.

Now, I want to introduce today’s guest, Tamara Snyder, the Executive Vice-President at Edelman. Tamara, welcome to ICology.

Tamara Snyder: Thanks, Chuck. Thanks for having me.

Chuck: New part of introducing the guest, I’m copying from the podcast, "Tell me something I don’t know." Here’s what I do know about you, Tamara. You’ve been with Edelman since 2006, and before that, you were at Whirlpool. You’re a Western Michigan grad, so that’d be a really good football season for you. You speak Spanish, and you can surf. Now, tell me something I don’t know about you.

Tamara: There’s only really two things about me that could even be remotely considered cool. You already mentioned the first thing which is that I surf, and then the second is I live in this old loft apartment that is a converted barometer factory. I’m actually not making that up given this topic that we’re discussing today. That is actually what they used to make in my old apartment.

Chuck: Did you host like a Trust Barometer launch party inside your barometer loft?

Tamara: I’m thinking about it for the spring perhaps if I can figure out the apps and the drink situation.

Chuck: There you go. I think that’s going to happen as long as I get invited, as long as I get invited.

Tamara: It’s a date.

Chuck: As I mentioned earlier, the Trust Barometer to me, it’s an absolute must-read for internal communicators, but before we dig in to the results and the takeaways, I think it’d be helpful for listeners to talk about the mechanics and the work that goes into creating this report each year.

Tamara: Sure, so this is the 17th year that we have done the Trust Barometer. It is our annual … It’s a global study, annual trust and credibility survey. We talk to roughly around 33,000 respondents in 28 markets all the way across the globe, so it’s undertaken every year in the fall, on October and November of last year, and obviously, involves our Edelman Intelligence Unit that fills the survey, and then comes back with the insights like our discussion around CEO trust in particular and internal communications this year.

Chuck: In the report, you measure trust across several areas, but I do want to focus on the CEOs first, and this year’s numbers are low. They’re the lowest that I’ve seen since I’ve started paying attention to the Trust Barometer. In the data you got, is there something you found, or what do you … Personally, what do you attribute to this low trust with CEOs because I know it’s not necessarily employees saying they don’t trust their CEO? There’s just a lack of trust in CEOs, but I think you can draw correlation that didn’t probably … a lot of trust in their CEO.

Tamara: Yeah. No, exactly. To talk to your point that this is the lowest you’ve ever seen, that’s because it’s the lowest it’s ever been. I think it’s around 37% basically of respondents said they actually trust a CEO, which … That was I think 12% down from last year in one year alone, so pretty significant. It fell off a cliff, and I think really, we have a lot of explanations in terms of the populism not trusting the elite and figures of authority losing their credibility, especially when you think about peers, people like me, regular employees taking the mantle from them, but honestly, I think what this really points to is people are tired of the BS.

You look at what happened with the election. People have tapped into the sense of, “I want someone who can tell it like it is,” right? I think you can extrapolate that to really think that employees are expecting that out of their own leaders too. When they’re standing up at town hall, for example, going through quarterly earnings, I think people are getting tired of hearing, “We’re performing strong in these four key indicator areas on our balanced scorecard, and this is what it means.”

It’s all so much noise. They think to the point where people are looking for honest, personal human connections and CEOs that essentially, A, don’t lie to them, straight-out, but also, B, are telling it like it is and not lying by omission, and just being honest with people, and just treating employees like the adults they are. That’s my take.

Chuck: You think they’re tired of paradigms being shifted and leveraging core competencies?

Tamara: No. Gosh, please. Oh my gosh, and building our core … Yeah, building our core skillsets. Oh my goodness. Yes. Please, don’t ever say those words again.

Chuck: A follow-up to that then is, should companies, and I guess companies, and HR, and internal comms, whoever does this, should they scrap engagement surveys and do their own internal trust surveys because I’ll be the first to admit the way a lot of companies do engagement surveys, I’m not a fan of, but it seems to me that if there isn’t any trust, then engagement is going to be awful as well, so is trust now the way to go?

Tamara: I think that’s actually … That’s a very provocative idea, and I do think … I completely agree that so often, the annual engagement survey is really an ineffective way to get at the root cause of what’s going on in your organization, right? I think it’s very well-intentioned. It tends to be this massive undertaking that takes probably six months to sometimes even get through the data and make some action plans, which get very diffused and almost too big sometimes to even really do … to really enact change.

I think that the relationship between an employee, and their company, and that, meaning their immediate manager which, of course, everybody will tell you always that that’s … People leave managers. They don’t leave companies. I think exploring that dynamic and exploring to the extent that you trust the people that are running your company and the people that you work with. I think that is a very undervalued and overlooked rather aspect of engagement.

So often, I think there’s plenty of other things play into it. Let’s be honest. You’re making sure that what you’re doing has meaning and purpose. You feel like you’re able to grow and advance your career. I think those are all certainly really important, and I don’t mean to disparage the importance of any of those, but I do think that one-to-one personal relationship or appearance of that with folks that frankly are making decisions on your behalf as an employer absolutely needs to be looked at I think more than it is now certainly.

Chuck: I think that engagement surveys are very self-serving of companies because if it’s great, then they can tell them. If they’re awful, then the responsibility is shouldered by employees, “Why are you not engaged at work?” Whereas trust falls on both. 

Tamara: Absolutely.

Chuck: If the employees trust the CEO, and all of a sudden, he sees or he realizes he doesn’t trust them, but they trust him or her, then they identify that disconnect between the two, so I think now, I think it would be interesting to see companies take what you guys do externally across all these markets and all those 30-plus thousand data points and people, and bring that internally to see where that trust is or where the trust is failing. Maybe those gaps could be discovered. I just think that would be an interesting avenue to take. If somebody is a little frustrated by the typical engagement approach.

Tamara: No. I think that’s absolutely right. You think about things like compensation, benefits, all of that, that’s … No one person really owns that, right? Those are big, hard leverage to pull, right, when you’re thinking about how do you affect change and help improve engagement, but whether someone trusts you or not, you can own that. That is a very individual, very like specifically accountable aspect that one person can drive, so I think you’re on to something there.

Chuck: I like to use leverage there because that’s a physics term, but let’s move on.

Tamara: It also might be corporate speak, so sorry.

Chuck: Globalization, that was another key point this year that people are concerned about. This was long before recent actions by the White House around immigration, employees abroad, and protests that are in the news. Do you think that this will now begin affecting the employee-company relationships?

Tamara: Absolutely, and I think it already has long before the election and everything that’s happened in the last couple of months. Anybody that’s worked in a global company or a company that has globalized, right, has seen this because it’s a tough and ongoing conversation because you’ve got … Take for example a company that’s globalizing, right? A multinational that has probably moved jobs across borders in the name of being competitive, right?

I think so often, the storyline that I see internally is all about, “This is why this new move is good for business,” and everybody gets it. It’s a very rational argument, but what it really ignores is the emotional sort of employee aspect of that, right? The fact that there are winners and losers in some of these business decisions, and the reality is very complicated, and a lot of times, leaders are not particularly comfortable addressing those and acknowledging that yeah, there’s going to be some upsides and some downsides, and you’re not always going to like what each of these decisions mean.

I think it goes back to this whole idea of being straight about it and being honest. Here’s another corporate term. When you’re talking about synergy, right? Somebody that has relatively good business acumen will look at that and know what that means. That means cost savings. Sometimes, it means headcount or consolidation. Not always, but so often, you see this residency even really be honest about, “Okay. This is the reality that we’re looking at. We have to be competitive. Here’s how we’re thinking of doing this. By the way, this is what it could mean potentially to our workforce.” I think it’s just maybe balancing the emotional and the rational side of it a little bit better and just being open to having the conflicts or having the conversation around the conflict.

Chuck: This year, the media also took a big hit, and I guess that really everybody did across the board. Every single audience went down, but what I thought was really interesting as the results pointed out that people are more likely to trust leaks of information than they are official statements. With social media and internal communicators especially always trying to get employees communicated to at the same time or a little bit before the public because they don’t want people to find out stuff about their company in the news versus what they can share, how do communicators begin to deal with this or respond to it when they know that their information may not even be trusted?

Tamara: I think there’s actually, in some ways, there’s opportunity here. In this sort of forest communications environment, there is no domination, right, between internal and external communications. Anytime that you send anything out to your employees, you should basically assume that you’re sending it out to the entire known universe at the same time because they can be easily clicked or forwarded, shared, leaked, so on and so forth. I think that actually does present somewhat of an opportunity, right?

If you think about it, if you are doing the right thing, which is to say you’re actually communicating in a transparent, honest, adult-to-adult way with your employees, you know that there’s a very good chance that that will end up somewhere externally as well, and I think that can actually be … can help you say a lot about how you treat your own employees in a way that ends up making it externally.

Take a look at some of the really good feedback that a lot of CEOs got immediately following the election in November where they talked about, “You know what? Who we are as a company isn’t changing. We value diversity. We are holding steadfast by our commitment to working across all different types of borders and types of employees, and this is who we are. We stand by that.”

A lot of those internal CEO-to-employee messages ended up actually getting leaked. I don’t know if that was by design or by an employee, but in a lot of cases, actually a lot of companies got quite a bit of applause for doing that because it showed that they were willing to engage and be honest with your employees.

Chuck: Yeah. I liked in the previous episode Sydney Leonard, who’s a communicator at Southwest, talked about how they have the challenge of getting ahead of social media, and basically, they know that they can’t with employees because of how quickly information spreads, and we know then that people read that information and trust a lot of it that their goal is then to provide depth and context to it.

They know they can’t get out in front of it, so instead of doing that where we’re a nation of headline readers, they’re trying to build depth to have people read and understand the response, and the business, and the whys, and I think that’s also a good strategy for internal comms and external comms through thinking about you know you’re not going to get ahead of it, so go a different direction. Zig when they zag.

Tamara: Provide value versus urgency only. 

Chuck: Going back over this year’s report, was there anything in it that did surprise you, or has this … Have general trends continued from previous years?

Tamara: Mm-hmm. We’ve continued to see the rise of disparate authority, right, so people like me, peer-to-peer credibility. That’s a surprise. I do think some of the new ones and some of the new question that we had asked this year around, “What worries you as the workforce?” Right? What are the things that you as an employee keep you up at night? Right?

As we were talking earlier around globalization, that hit … really struck a nerve. We had people saying that there were two top things that they were worried about, foreign competition for jobs and lacking the training or skills to compete in this global company. I thought that was really interesting and not … I wouldn’t say surprising. I think that seems fairly intuitive, but I do think there’s an opportunity in there because to talk about, “What is your company doing really to help prepare and continuously improve and train their existing workforce?” Right?

One of the mistakes I see companies make is that when they’re recruiting folks, getting them in the door, in new-hire orientation, they talk about, “We have career development opportunities. We got this rotational program. We’ve got on-the-job training, tuition reimbursement.” All great stuff, right? Then, they get in the door, and then they forget about the people that have worked there, right, for years, or months, or whatnot.

I think it’s really important to continuously educate and re-recruit your own employees to take advantage of the resources, the programs, the training that’s available to them because unless they’re an HR, they’re not thinking about those things day in and day out. Ultimately, just making sure you’re telling people, “Look, you don’t have to leave to grow your skills.”

Chuck: I like the term re-recruit because this segues nicely into my next question. I had mentioned in the intro that there’s a lot of people like me who as soon as the report comes out, we scramble and look for little nuggets, and so I wrote this topic on LinkedIn that I think amongst all the negative news that we’ve talked about that has come out of the Trust Barometer, I think there’s a big silver lining for communicators in the report because the number one action item that companies can take to build trust is to treat employees well, and this is people saying this about building that trust again with companies, so how do you think communicators can take advantage knowing that treating employees well really matters to people?

Tamara: That’s always music to every internal communicator’s ears, right? Even though we think it’s rather obvious, we love to see it reflected in actual hard data. I think, first off, the most obvious thing is you have to treat employees well like you can’t fake that, and if you see … It’s very obvious if a company really has a dysfunctional culture or an unsafe working environment conditions because frankly, that’s going to show up in how your employees treat your customers, how willing they are to recommend the company as a place to work, its products, its services.

Look, you know if you’re proud of where you work and what you do. It’s not something that you can PR around. You can’t market around it. You have to fix the problem. That’s a larger discussion. There’s a whole lot that goes into that, but I do think there are some opportunities for a communications perspective.

First of all, I think you can make sure that you’re really engaging with folks in forms where you know they go, so if you’re not paying attention to glass door and what employees are saying there, you’re really missing out. There’s some research out there that says that even just the act of responding to reviews, negative, good, bad, and different, actually can boost your reputation and how others perceive you simply because it shows that you care and that you’re paying attention which I think in some ways is half the battle, that whole sense of, “I’m actually listening to people and I care what they think.”

The thing I would caveat or add on to that is simply trust is such a two-way street. As you were saying earlier, if you expect employees to trust the CEO and their company, you have to trust them in return, and that means things like investing in their work environment, asking employees for feedback on things that … where they need to improve, not just in the auspices of an annual engagement survey that may or may not end up leading to action, but doing it on a regular basis, having that input and dialog, and then doing something about it, and then telling people that you’ve done that.

Chuck: I spoke to someone in class for once who they said that they felt the glass door, the feedback that’s on there is essentiality its own engagement survey, that the data, and the words, and the context that’s built inside that demonstrates a certain type of engagement.

Tamara: Absolutely. There’s a lot of great data in there too that you can … It’s all there for the taking. You just need to pay attention.

Chuck: Now, where can people go to learn more about the Trust Barometer if they haven’t checked it out already?

Tamara: Go to Edelman.com. We’ve got a whole section on the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer. Our engagement team, employee engagement team here is on Twitter. @EdelmanEE is our handle there, so please connect with us.

Chuck: I would love people to know there’s all sorts of variety of content as well. There are some videos. There’s a presentation. There’s executive summary. Then, there’s the full report, so there are certainly different ways to begin digging in and looking at some of the great data. Let’s move along to the Lightning Round in this, Tamara. This is a chance for listeners to learn more about you. Are you ready?

Tamara: Let’s do it.

Chuck: Okay. First one up. A penguin walks through that door right now wearing a sombrero. What did he say, and why is he here?

Tamara: He’s looking for the restroom, and he says, “Nice shoes, Tamara.”

Chuck: What is your number one traveling pet peeve?

Tamara: People who stand on the left of moving walkway.

Chuck: That’s a new one.

Tamara: It’s so annoying.

Chuck: More than the people that line up an hour before their flight when they have an assigned seat?

Tamara: That’s up to them. That’s their decision, but when you’re standing when you should be on the right and I’m trying to get to my flight, dude, come on. Please move.

Chuck: What’s a book that you recommend every communicator should read?

Tamara: The Trusted Advisor by David Maister. Great book. All about how to become a better consultant and business partner.

Chuck: What’s a tool that you rely on to make sense of your world? This could be an app. This could be a website. This could be a hammer. What’s yours?

Tamara: I was going to say a barometer, but come on, that’s just really obvious now. I would actually say a thermometer because the first thing you got to do in the morning is go in with a great outfit and feel confident and well-dressed for the day, especially if you live in Chicago.

Chuck: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, and do you remember who gave it to you?

Tamara: I had a surf instructor that told me, “Look out for those rocks.”

Chuck: I’m sure that can be applied in a lot of ways in business.

Tamara: Oh, yes. It’s a metaphor. I’m sure.

Chuck: Then finally, what is a final piece of advice that you want to share with listeners? Obviously, on the podcast, we have communicators that listen, but we also have business people that just want to be better at communicating, so what’s that piece of advice you want to share with them?

Tamara: If you were going into your discussion with maybe a new client or a new business partner, they always say, “There are no dumb questions,” and I totally disagree. I think there are dumb questions, and those are the ones that you can answer through a Google search, so do your homework. Go in prepared. Know as much as you can about the person you’re talking with.

Chuck: I hope there were no dumb questions today.

Tamara: Not at all. This is great.

Chuck: Okay. Thank you, Tamara, for coming on ICology and adding some flavor and some context to how communicators can use the results from this year’s Trust Barometer. You can go to Edelman.com. Check it out. Start digging through it. It really could help you not just in your communication planning, but understanding maybe some new metrics, or new channels, or new avenues, and you get a sense for what your employees are thinking about when it comes to trusting your information versus the information from your CEO versus other sources, so definitely check it out. Great research there.

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