Happy Days: To Foster Employee Trust, Know Your Company's Values

September 3, 2019

[john m. lund photography]
[john m. lund photography]

As internal communicators, how do we build a strong company culture among employees who are always looking for their next career opportunity? It’s an important question, and one sparked by a problem across the country.

According to a 2017 Gallup poll, 77 percent of employees are not engaged in their jobs — in other words, they’re miserable. When companies don’t have engaged employees, it is not only damaging to company culture, but also the company as a whole.

In fact, according to Gallup, among millennial employees job turnover caused by lack of engagement costs the U.S. economy $30.5 billion every year. Millennials represent the largest part of today’s workforce, and yet their loyalty to employers is declining rapidly. Some are quitting their jobs without even giving two weeks’ notice. Why? Lack of trust.

Trust is what it takes for employees to protect, maintain and deliver your company brand — your reputation — on a daily basis. When employees understand, contribute to and believe in the company’s mission and vision, they want to spread it and protect it. But as communicators, how can we inspire our internal teams to become brand ambassadors?

Know where to start

By now, many of us have heard Simon Sinek’s famed TED Talk, “Start With Why,” and know his concept of the three golden circles — one inside another, each bigger than the one before. From the outside in, Sinek labels these circles “what,” “how” and “why.”

In his talk (and subsequent book), he explains that all companies know what they do, which is how they often define themselves in the marketplace. But moving inward through the circles, fewer companies know how they do what they do.

At the bull’s-eye, the center circle, very few companies know why they do what they do, Sinek says. As a result, those companies let opportunities for inspiration, innovation and personal connections to their brand fall by the wayside.

But what if we start from the inside, from the “why,” and move out from there? This question has challenged many of us to rethink how we deliver our brands to the marketplace.

In another talk, Sinek would go on to say that shared beliefs and values spark trust — which is vital to healthy company cultures. Where there’s trust, internal productivity increases and employees are inspired to become brand ambassadors.

But in order to understand a company’s “why” — much less to start there — we first need to set its core values. That way, teams have behavioral guideposts about what is expected of them — from the way they do business to how they treat one another.

Develop core values

When we think of companies with the happiest employees and customers, it doesn’t take much digging to see that each one of them has a set of core values. And those values aren’t just arbitrary words meant to sound like third-grade inspiration posters, either.

Take Chick-fil-A, for instance. In its corporate-purpose statement, the company pledges to be “a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come into contact with Chick-fil-A.”

Chick-fil-A’s core values are also strategic. They clarify the company’s identity and let consumers know what to expect every time they walk through the door. Its employees also embrace those concepts, which is why we’ve grown accustomed to seeing them smile, hearing them say “my pleasure” and reading news stories about Chick-fil-A employees going above and beyond in their work.

By identifying your own company’s mission, vision and values, you establish the vital “why” with which you and your teams can then start.

Once our company, Crawford Strategy, established our mission, vision and values, we knew they shouldn’t be just a piece of paper in an employee handbook or a slogan on a breakroom poster. We review our core values at every staff meeting, and use our mission and vision as benchmarks for our growth and success. We reward employees for living out our core values through their work and attitudes. We also include our core values in our job postings and interview questions. That way, potential employees know from day one what our agency is all about.

Along with Chick-fil-A and other brands such as Disney and Delta, we take our commitment to our values a step further by investing in our employees’ continued professional development. We strive to elevate our company culture by giving our teams wings to fly.

Invest in your team

Can we afford not to invest in our employees? Research shows that companies which invest in their employees are more likely to see increased worker satisfaction, retention and productivity — which all lead to greater financial outcomes. When people are motivated and inspired, they work harder.

Investing in employees also begets better leaders. When they’re given professional development opportunities, employees are more prepared to be promoted when the time comes. They also have a track record within the company that encourages other employees to follow suit. While it’s never wrong to search externally for the “perfect” leader, that person may already be on staff because the company has given him or her the tools — and the time — to rise.

As the instructor of a program offered through Crawford Strategy intended to help inspire internal teams to become brand ambassadors, I’ve seen the lasting benefits when companies invest in professional development training for their people. I encourage you to be creative in finding ways to immerse your own teams in learning — from lunch-and-learns to book clubs to sharing podcasts. The return on your investments of tools and time will be significant.

To build a strong company culture that helps retain the best employees, start by ensuring that your team knows the company’s “why.” Show your trust in them by investing in their professional development — through both time and your attention — and watch as their satisfaction and buy-in increases. In return, they will have trust in you, too. And that’s when the magic happens.

Addie Hampton

Addie Hampton is communications strategist for Crawford Strategy in Greenville, S.C. She helps agency clients with PR needs, as well as media training and crisis communication planning. She also leads Crawford Strategy’s Deliver Your Brand program, helping companies’ employees to be genuine representatives of their organization and brand. Reach her at addie@crawfordstrategy.com.


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