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Top 4 PR mistakes for leaders to avoid

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When it comes to effective public relations, there is a lot for a leader to take in. He or she has to be knowledgeable, clear, concise and confident. In addition, different rules of engagement apply depending on whether you're announcing good news, sharing your expertise or defending your brand for a crisis.

At Provident, we have used our expertise to coach companies, CEOs and other C-level leaders on how to connect with the media effectively. It isn't something mastered in a single sitting, and takes constant practice. With that in mind, we wanted to share some of the most common errors we see, and how to sidestep them.

Inaccessibility: It's easy for leaders who don't have a ton of experience in this area to think that their organization's media relations department should handle most interactions with journalists. We've seen leaders eager for profile in the media, but not willing to be the face of their company in a story. If you're interested in protecting and enhancing the brand and reputation of your company, that walled-off approach can actually hurt instead of helping.

For instance, when a reporter approaches you with interest in your recently launched product, the biggest mistake you can make is to respond with a simple statement or some press release links. The reporter will likely think you to be opaque, and you will miss an excellent opportunity to shape the public narrative about your company. And in crisis, especially when a company's core values and consumer promises are under attack, leaders have to be visible. Resorting solely to using spokespeople and statements can erode credibility and be perceived as minimizing the issue. In short, it can exacerbate damage to your brand.

Like it or not, if you lead an organization, you have to have to speak with the media, and it's important that you be good at it.

Lack of preparation: Congratulations, you've made the decision to engage with reporters! With that out of the way, it’s key that you begin preparing and practising, so that you’re ready for when the opportunity (or crisis!) arrives.

In good-news stories, a lack of preparation can be as wasteful as deciding not to talk to the media at all. For example, we've seen instances when a leader is convinced that they know their business backwards and forwards, and that media prep isn't a productive use of time. The leader does the media interview, only to be surprised when they receive minimal coverage in the resulting article. Often, jargon and technical language are to blame. Framing your story in plain language is a key objective of preparation, and should never be ignored. Your brand will thank you for it! For more on how untrained spokespeople can ruin even the best laid PR plans, check out this post.

In a crisis, a lack of prep can be lethal for your reputation. Aside from having a crisis management process which lets you round up key facts and decision makers inside your company quickly, you have to prepare for the questions you will likely face from the media and other stakeholders. Your answers have to be straightforward, factual and rooted firmly in fact. Avoid "freestyling" and speculative answers, unless you're looking to extend the negative news cycle and pour gasoline on the reputation fire. And if you've never faced a crisis before, here's what to do when your media line starts ringing.

Key messages only: You've practiced. You've got your key messages down pat. Now all that stands in the way of success is making sure that journalists report them. Surely, the best way to do that is by repeating them during the interview, over and over again, and regardless of what you're being asked. Right? Well, not exactly.

Because religiously sticking to key messages is sometimes seen as a security blanket for less-than-confident spokespeople, the "key messages only" or "block and bridge" approach is still alive and well today. At Provident, we counsel our clients that if you're looking for a quick way to damage your media relationships and hurt your credibility, this is the single best way to go. Check out this post for more on this subject.

If, on the other hand, you want to elevate your brand and establish yourself and your company as industry thought leaders, you need to think in storylines and narratives, rather than rigid key messages. And in a crisis, empathy and factual clarity almost always works much better than stonewalling the media with your "lines."

Not understanding the media: Last but not least, executive PR failures can often be traced back to a basic misunderstanding of the media and their audiences. If you want to see PR success, you need to think like a reporter, not an advertiser. That means you shouldn't give the reporter your blog copy, ads and fact sheet and expect a glowing front-page story about how amazing you are.

Instead, provide the reporter with something truly new, differentiated and innovative, and which gives their audience value. Invest a little time in researching the reporters with whom you plan to speak, and ensure they have at least a passing interest in your company or your industry. With a little bit of good timing, you will get interest, coverage and the licence to start establishing you and your company as experts in your field.

Engaging with the media is a crucial role for the leadership of any organization. To work well, it requires strategic planning, narrative preparation and strong execution. If you're interested in an unbiased expert opinion about your story, just drop us a line at wojtek@providentcomms.com!

Why PR is a must-have for startups

startup-pr-communications-strategy

Startups face a wide range of challenges and competing priorities. Between sourcing new business, maintaining relationships with your existing clients and refining your product or service, there is a lot going on. Marketing can sometimes take a back seat.

However, we believe firmly that the one thing startups shouldn’t forget about is public relations. Good PR does much more than just build some buzz and grow basic awareness. Here are three key reasons why telling your story effectively to the outside world is a must for young companies.

1. Seeking Financing

Finding financing and investors is critical to taking many startups to the next level. Over time, having a visible profile in the media can play a massive part in the success of your fundraising efforts. The reason is simple: many investors of all sizes and across all sectors look to the media as a key source of information. The more high-quality blog and media coverage your company receives, the more these investors will be looking at you.

As well, one of the best ways to show off the credibility of your business to potential investors is sharing links to positive media coverage highlighting your brand and product or service. This is especially crucial when making cold pitches, as the success rate can skyrocket when you have third-party coverage backing up your pitch.

2. Thought Leadership

Taking steps to establish yourself as a thought leader is a sound strategy for founders, and should be part of any startup PR plan. You launched your company because you’ve got deep expertise in a particular field, or a unique perspective about your industry. You should share it! This can work especially well if your company is in an industry that does not already have a ton of established experts writing white papers and regularly providing commentary. By sharing your knowledge, you and your company can gain exposure to new potential partners, new talent, and even new relationships with reporters.

In addition to speaking with media directly, a great way of doing this is by creating relevant and engaging online content, such as blogging or video. You can maximize exposure by sharing your storytelling through both your personal channels and your company’s, sharing your posts with the reporters who cover your sector, or spending a little money on promotion. This lets your leaders increase their own profile, while putting the company brand in front of a targeted audience.

3. Strategic Partnerships

Partnering with other companies in your industry makes sense for a variety of reasons. You may be looking to co-develop a product with someone who has capabilities you don't. Or, you may be thinking longer term, about one day selling your company. It might feel strange to be thinking about your company’s eventual sale right at the beginning, but many of your potential investors will be thinking this way as they consider whether to fund your business. That means you have to think about it too. Your PR plan can be critical to attracting the attention of major players in your industry, either for partnership or potential exit.

We see this every day in the telecom and finance sectors, with the next great company being purchased by a larger incumbents. Quality exposure matters, especially in sectors where there are many similarly oriented startups in a race to be first in a particular niche. To get on the radar of the large player who might one day partner with you or buy your startup, you have to successfully target both mass market press and trade publications in your PR strategy.

PR is a critical tool for a startup to employ in establishing its brand and credibility with investors, partners and a variety of other stakeholders. It takes hard work and expertise. In recognition of this, we have developed a specialized offering specifically for startups. Check out Provident Ignite, or drop us a line at wojtek@providentcomms.com

 

 

We should talk!

Photo courtesy of Ostap Melnik

Happy New Year!

I’m proud of how quickly Provident Communications Inc. has grown since launch. To continue building on this early success, I plan to expand the firm in 2017. If you are a communications professional who wants a rewarding, fast-paced challenge, Provident is the place. If you want to do great work for great clients in exchange for excitement, flexibility, financial upside and the opportunity to shape a start-up corporate communications firm, I would love to speak with you.

Here is, in very broad strokes, how I would define someone ideally suited to work at Provident:

You are never happy with the status quo and always strive for improvement, disrupting your own way of doing things and constantly learning new platforms and ways of communicating. You’re passionate, creative and excellent at connecting with people. You have a focus on action and results, driven by clearly set expectations. You’re resilient, calm under pressure, and thrive despite uncertainty. You welcome feedback, and give it freely, in pursuit of the best possible client outcome.

You have lots of experience developing new business and attracting new clients. While this is a senior role, you’re just as capable and excited to be actually doing the work as you are selling it. You have great media relationships. You never have coffee alone, and are always connecting with new reporters, bloggers, potential clients or future colleagues. You’re comfortable giving difficult advice to senior executives, and you’ve managed crisis and issues for clients in the past.

You know that the one thing you have over everyone else is the ability to outwork them, and that hard work is what turns your great talents into success. This is a start-up firm, and that means lots of hustle. You make mistakes, get over them quickly and don’t repeat the same ones twice. You believe failing fast is good, but not as good as failing less. Your vision of the future contemplates only success, because you know negativity is poison.

In return for the value you add, you want significant financial reward, a chance to shape a communications firm from the ground up and the ability to work with some of the best clients in Corporate Canada and, soon, Corporate America.

If that sounds like you, drop me a note at wojtek@providentcomms.com

(Photo courtesy of Ostap Melnik)

Six months in: a sincere thank you

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Today marks exactly six months since I launched Provident Communications Inc. It has been an incredible time: thanks to the trust and confidence of my clients, the firm has already exceeded every one of the full-year targets I set for myself at launch.

I couldn’t be more thankful. Across a variety of sectors, some of Canada’s biggest companies have entrusted me with their business, from strategy and executive communications to M&A and issues management. At the same time, I’ve helped several of the country’s most innovative and client-focused startups build their brands.

Provident operates in a highly competitive industry, and I know all of my clients have a great deal of choice, so I’m both honoured and flattered by their business.

I’m equally thankful for the awesome and generous people in my personal and professional networks. So many of them opened doors, made introductions, gave unsolicited recommendations and provided ongoing feedback on my various (good and bad) ideas. Much of this kindness has translated into new business, strong leads and potential partnerships. I’m committed to reciprocating in full, and also to paying it forward and helping others however I can.

Like any entrepreneur, I've also made mistakes and learned from a few hard lessons in the last six months. I expect this will continue for as long as I'm in business. I've learned to welcome and enjoy the tough moments as much as any success I achieve, because they teach so much about self-awareness and resilience.

The year ahead promises to be even more exciting. New and existing clients are looking to drive major change and large-scale projects as soon as 2017 begins, and I’m thrilled to support them in doing so. Provident will also seek to grow in size, so I will be looking to expand the team as the year progresses.

Above all else, I will focus on what I do best: blending my journalism and corporate communications expertise to work with brands and leaders to deliver great business outcomes. As it has been until now, the work Provident delivers will be backed by a commitment to unparalleled responsiveness and exceptional client service.

Thank you again to everyone who has helped Provident have an incredibly successful first six months. I wish all of you happy holidays and a great New Year!

-Wojtek Dabrowski, Managing Partner, Provident Communications Inc.

How communicators can stay ahead in the chaos of an M&A transaction

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Mergers and acquisitions are high-stakes stuff: for the buyer, its competitive position, the ultimate success of its strategy and the trajectory of its stock price are on the table. For the seller, there are often worries about what will happen to company culture, brand, and job security.

At the same time, with teams of lawyers, bankers and other advisors involved, a deal can feel like the proverbial kitchen with too many cooks. For communicators, the challenge is acute, as each of those groups has an opinion about how the story, rationale and messaging of the transaction should be conveyed to various stakeholders, including employees, investors and media.

Each of the aforementioned chefs is coming from the right place, and chances are they recognize that both early and ongoing communications are critical to a deal's ultimate success or failure. After all, if the transaction isn’t embraced by employees on both sides, or if investors feel the story isn’t clear enough to support it, even the best can falter.

From my M&A experience in the North American financial services industry, there are a number of effective ways to ensure communications considerations stay front and center in a deal scenario.

Get a seat at the decision-making table ... before it’s even set. Depending on your company’s way of doing things, you may be brought into a deal with just a few weeks before the public announcement. If that’s the case, you’ll be playing catch-up with the other people involved, and you’ll constantly be reacting to developments, rather than steering them proactively.

Before a deal ever gets announced, make sure your department is on the same page as your corporate development, strategy and investor relations (IR) teams. Set up a meeting yourself, or get the head of your department to do it, if you’re in a more junior role. Ensure that you and your partners understand the value each brings in helping the transaction land successfully. And, more selfishly, get them to understand the role your function can play in telling a deal’s story internally and externally.

When this is done well, your corporate development and IR partners will advocate for you in front of your company's senior leaders, which will ensure you're brought in earlier in future deals.

The ideal end-state here is that you’re signing a non-disclosure agreement about a deal at the same time as your investor relations colleagues, so that you can work as a synchronized team, instead of at cross purposes. Speaking of which…

Make best friends with your IR group, if you haven’t already. They are a font of context, information and financial knowledge that communications teams leverage all too rarely. And because most IR teams report to the Chief Financial Officer, odds are that they will have the most current information about a deal and its status earlier than you will.

Whenever possible, I try to invite myself to review sessions of the IR materials being created (the investor deck, the analyst conference call script, et cetera). This not only keeps me up to date, but also ensures I’m aware of the challenges and questions my colleagues in IR are grappling with.

It’s important to remember that while both you and your IR colleagues are working on communicating the deal, you are doing so with very different audiences. For example, for a communications team, it may seem natural to point out to the media that the deal you’re announcing is your company’s largest acquisition to date. But for your IR colleagues, you could be creating a major headache, as emphasizing the deal’s size may be creating the perception that your company just paid a very full price. That might not be something IR wants to communicate to investors at all.

That’s why having a healthy and established relationship with IR before a deal lands in your lap is so critical. That way, you understand each other and what you’re focused on accomplishing from the start.

Get the first drafts of everything done as soon as possible. I remember working on a multibillion dollar acquisition where I locked myself and two other colleagues in a conference room for three hours, and we wrote the first draft of the announcement press release. While the financial terms and closing timeline continued to evolve until the day before announcement, the core story didn’t mutate too significantly from that first draft.

If you do a good job capturing the deal’s narrative, my rough estimate is that 75%-80% of your first-draft announcement is likely to survive to the finish line. There will be lots of specific word-choice edits and legal vetting of all documents, but once senior leaders agree on the bulk of the deal's strategic narrative, its essence tends to stay relatively constant.

Getting the early press release down on paper also lets you turn attention to the other, equally important items on the deal’s to-do list: employee communications, the media list and spokesperson selection, among others.

Lastly, don’t lose sight of your long-term goals and your role. Fundamentally, deal communications are no different from anything else you’re tasked with communicating: you have to be engaging, compelling, emotive and innovative in the channels you use. As always, it’s important to truly understand your audiences. Typically, those include your company’s employees, the target company’s employees and the media. You might also be tasked with aspects of government and regulatory communications, in addition to customer communications.

How will you address these groups so that they easily and clearly get answers to their most pressing questions, and also understand the strategy behind the transaction? What role will your leaders play in conveying that information, internally and externally? And what happens post-announcement?

In a deal, it’s easy to get swept up in the immediate excitement of the transaction. But keeping a broader, longer-term view goes a long way to assure ultimate success. Think about how the news you’re announcing could be woven into your existing communications strategy, for example. Is there an opportunity to showcase the transaction and its early performance at town halls, or at your annual meeting? What about a blog post on your company’s intranet? A real-time Q&A with senior leaders? Announcement day is just the beginning!

I hope you enjoyed the post, and if so, that you’ll take a moment to like, share or leave a comment below!

 

Broken news: how untrained spokespeople can wreck even the best PR campaigns

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You’ve done it: you have finally hit the “send” button, and the announcement you have been working on for weeks is finally out. It’s newsworthy, it’s fresh and you know you’ll get interview requests from the media. It will be great for your company’s brand and reputation, it could force your competitors to scramble, and you and the rest of the communications team will look like superstars.

Sure enough, the media calls start pouring in. You line up your spokespeople, equipping them with shiny copies of the storyline and messaging. Now, all that’s left is for them to deliver, and for reporters to write the story accurately. Nothing can go wrong.

But when you check your phone for the latest headlines, you start noticing your story isn’t being told well at all. Big, obvious messages are being missed. Your spokespeople aren’t being quoted very much, and when they are, the comments are basic, bland or boring.

Then, your phone starts ringing. Your boss calls, then your business partner. They have one question for you: what happened?

If that sounds familiar, there’s a good chance that the one gap in your PR strategy is that your spokesperson hasn’t been trained on how to give media interviews, or could use a significant refresher. Asking someone untrained to be your spokesperson on a big announcement is like asking an amateur driver to drive in a Formula 1 race: the car might be an elegant thing of engineering beauty, but the driver is as likely to forget to switch gears as he or she is to crash into a wall.

Here are just a few ways untrained spokespeople can unwittingly sabotage your PR plans:

They ad lib

One of the most common spokesperson missteps is adding superfluous commentary that is irrelevant to the narrative, announcement or news you’re discussing. I’m not talking about a personalized turn of phrase, or an interesting data point to bolster the story. Rather, I’m referring to spokespeople who like to hypothesize about what the announcement might mean to the industry, who get facts wrong because they didn't prepare, or who exaggerate the importance of the news.

For example, you’ve just announced that you will use chatbots to deliver customer service. It's a good-news story, and a nice bit of innovation for your company. However, your spokesperson will sound rather tone deaf if he or she calls the announcement “a revolutionary technology which will cement our place as an industry leader.” Chatbots are no longer revolutionary, nor are you an industry leader if you’re launching them just now.

Reporters know this, and your spokesperson won’t get quoted in the story as a result. What’s more, the time spent self-congratulating takes away from delivering the messages that actually matter to your audiences: it will now take less time to address common customer service issues (consumer message) and chatbots are very cost effective (investor message).

It’s important to show, rather than tell. Instead of simply saying chatbots are amazing, imagine your spokesperson says “An average customer currently spends 20 minutes dealing with us on the phone to resolve an issue. Our chatbot lets you skip the wait time for the most common problems, so the resolution time gets cut in about half.” Much better, right?

"A trained, polished and effective spokesperson realizes that they and their brand come out ahead when they focus on providing value to the audience."

They don’t understand their role in the story

An effective spokesperson tells a compelling story in a way which is appropriate for the audience he or she is facing. They should not be doing the interview to build their own profile – that’s typically a happy by-product which accumulates over time. They’re also not there to ignore the reporter’s questions and hammer away at a scripted set of key messages they've decided is the most important.

A trained, polished and effective spokesperson realizes that they and their brand come out ahead when they focus on providing value to the audience. That’s what the reporter covering your announcement is most often focused on, and your spokesperson should be focused on it too. Their job is to inform, contextualize and, if the subject matter permits it, entertain.

If the spokesperson doesn't do this, the storyline will not land, they will rarely be quoted, and the reporter who just interviewed them might reconsider covering your news at all.

They have poor delivery

I'll keep this point short because it's an obvious one, especially in broadcast media interviews. If you're not good on camera, you shouldn't be on camera. With that said, spokespeople who don't know how to tell a story using short, simple and quotable sentences can also be a major problem in print interviews. Long-winded answers containing unnecessarily complex vocabulary choices don't do anyone any favours. The reporter tunes out, the message gets lost, and the audience doesn’t get to hear a good story.

"Having a group of polished, prepared and knowledgeable storytellers at your disposal can differentiate you from your competition."

How training can help

Practice really does make perfect when it comes to media interviews. Regular training and refresher sessions using either your in-house team or an external expert can be a big help in addressing and avoiding the above-mentioned pitfalls.

Company spokespeople are eager to conduct dry runs of crisis scenarios to ensure they're prepared for a misstep or emergency. That's a best practice, and absolutely worthwhile. However, fewer are willing to invest time to practice good-news media interviews, or to refine how they present information to journalists more generally. I’ve never understood this dichotomy. After all, one would hope that the average company conducts a far greater number of positive interviews regarding its products, services and expertise. You should be at least as prepared for good-news interviews as you are for the bad!

Simply put, companies are leaving significant value on the table by neglecting to train their day-to-day spokespeople. Having a group of polished, prepared and knowledgeable storytellers at your disposal can differentiate you from your competition and meaningfully elevate your brand. After all, if reporters see your spokespeople as more interesting, entertaining or informative than the competition, you can bet your media relations phone line will be ringing with greater frequency.

I hope you enjoyed the post, and if so, that you’ll take a moment to like, share or leave a comment below!

How to stop taking orders and start adding real value

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Early in my communications career, I was speaking with a colleague who was telling me about her overwhelming workload. “I currently have 35 pieces of work in flight or in the pipeline, and my clients just keep adding more. I don’t think there’s anyone else here who’s working as hard as I am right now!”

She was right, and it wasn't a good thing! My colleague was incredibly well-intentioned, capable at her job, and in charge of helping a dynamic business communicate with its employees. However, she always said "yes" and rarely pushed back with her clients. To them, she had become an execution-focused order taker instead of the strategic advisor she wanted to be. As a result, she was never consulted in advance of key decisions being made.

She wasn’t the only one hurt by this: while she was struggling under the workload, the business she was supporting was pumping out tactical, transactional and scattershot communications not bound together by any common strategic theme. The people ordering up these pieces weren't communications experts, and it showed. It was a mess for her, and it was a mess for them. That’s not to mention the end user – the company's employees themselves! Needless to say, there wasn’t a lot of happiness to go around in this situation.

Communicators are constantly striving for the strategic partner label, believing they deserve an early seat at the decision-making table. It’s a worthy pursuit to be sure – the status of a trusted advisor lets you add value before, during and after a project launches, and often gives you visibility with top leaders.

But how do you earn that coveted status without falling into the trap my colleague fell into? Here are a two things to consider:

Learn how to say “no.”

You hear this so often, but it really does bear repeating: as long as you don’t challenge and push back when you should, you will be seen as an order-taker. Your seniority inside the organization doesn’t matter. Whether you’re a senior vice president or a junior associate, you have to be able to productively and respectfully challenge and push back when something your business is proposing just doesn’t feel right.

This isn’t about blocking the way. It’s about showing a better one. "No" immediately refocuses the conversation on a very important question: "Why not?" This then creates an opportunity to show that you have expertise regarding the issue at hand and to recommend a different course of action.

Saying "no" also shows you're carefully weighing the positive and negative outcomes of what's on the table, rather than just mindlessly executing what is asked. Most importantly, you have to show the additional value your approach would yield over and above what has already been proposed.

Do this well, and your clients will see the value you bring, and mindsets will shift. In fact, “no” is so powerful that it can change perceptions with just one interaction. What’s more, your clients will start inviting you into the discussion before an approach is decided. After all, you’re the expert. Once that becomes clear to them, they will know there's no one better than you to advise on the correct way forward?

Be curious and understand the business you support

It’s often easy for clients to be dismissive of communicators who don’t sit in the business, and therefore “just don’t get it.” Few things show your client you care about their world more than genuine curiosity, and an ability to intelligently and accurately discuss the strategy and the priorities of their business.

This means you’re keen to get your hands on the strategy documents as soon as they become available, and you jump on the chance to sit in on and contribute to the team meetings your clients hold. It means asking lots of questions, and often getting to know your clients on a personal level.

It's difficult to paint someone who does these things well as an order taker focused only on execution. Again, by investing time and showing care and curiosity, you'll create more opportunities for your expertise to show.

If you want to add even more value, become more knowledgeable about the external environment. What sort of impact is the current economic climate or competitive picture having on the business you work with? Are you able to connect emerging external trends with what’s going on inside the company, and offer new communications strategies as a result?

The bottom line is that if you want to be a strategic partner, you have to earn it. Learning to say “no” and really getting to know the business you work with can completely reframe how you’re perceived. Your clients will thank you, you’ll get to do much more (truly) strategic work, and you’ll move the needle in terms of employee engagement and buy-in.

I hope you enjoyed the post, and if so, that you’ll take the time to like, share or leave a comment below!

Three ways strong leaders build trust

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Trust transforms everything inside an organization. When people trust each other, they’re willing to fight for each other, more readily work towards mutual goals, and aren't afraid to take calculated risks to drive positive change. Externally, the story is no different: trusted brands can command a premium for their products and services, attract top talent and enjoy strong customer loyalty.

Like a reputation, trust is difficult to develop and easy to lose. It also takes constant work to maintain, particularly in large enterprises which constantly have to fight to preserve their culture while adding new employees.

Senior leaders are the ones most often charged with fostering trust inside an organization, but it's absolutely critical that they ensure it cascades through middle management and is felt on the front-line, ideally reaching all the way to customers and clients.

I've had the luck and pleasure of working with many skilled, honest and impactful leaders, and there are definitely some consistent habits shared by those who are most trusted. I've seen them use these behaviours to maintain existing trust, nurture it in new employees, and strengthen company culture.

So, how do they do it?

1. They communicate early, often and openly. Good communication is critical to a leader’s overall success, and it's an essential skill in building trust as well. Open communication helps teams understand the “why” behind a project or initiative, rather than just the actions required to achieve the outcome.

And when things go wrong, transparency helps ensure that rather than blaming, the focus is on learning, planning and moving forward. (Two-way dialogue can help a lot here, as opposed to one-way announcements or speeches. More on that in a moment.)

Whenever possible, the most effective leaders also communicate about a project or initiative well before the final decision is made. Few actions foster trust more effectively than this. By communicating early in a project's life, a leader is effectively telling everyone in the organization, “we want to hear what you think before we decide what to do.”

There’s a fine line between open communication and turning every project into an all-employee vote. Some projects are also highly confidential, so discussing them ahead of the actual announcement may not be an option. However, employees provide a vital voice, so when it's possible, leaders seeking to build trust tend to lean toward more communication and sooner.

Why? Simply put, if you don’t trust your employees to involve them in a major decision until after the fact, it’s unrealistic to expect them to reciprocate - and unfortunately, research shows that many don't! In addition, if decisions (particularly contentious ones) are always announced after they’re made, speculation as to motive and ultimate outcome can take on a life of its own, which can be a difficult narrative to manage.

"Leaders have to be prepared to act on what they hear from employees, even if it challenges their plans."

A steady stream of communication from top leadership also ensures that new employees entering the organization hear from senior leaders often, and not only around the business-as-usual touchpoints (quarterly results, an annual meeting or annual employee engagement survey results).

2. They listen as much as they speak. Trust builds when everyone involved has a voice. That’s why using modern, two-way communications channels is so important. However, just giving your employees an opportunity to chime in simply isn’t enough.

Employees expect and deserve to be truly heard, and to have their voices reflected in the final decisions when they're ultimately made. That means listening is just the start. Indeed, leaders have to be prepared to act on what they hear from employees, even if it challenges their plans.

Empathy also plays a part here because the leader has to have ample emotional intelligence to truly listen, as well as a handle on his or her ego. This lets them understand other perspectives and put themselves in the shoes of employees or customers.

I remember one instance in which an internal announcement of a pending business decision was criticized by employees who worried about the impact the news would have on customers. Using an internal comment engine, employees urged the leader who made the announcement to reconsider.

The leader heard the feedback and reversed course within days. It could not have been easy, as the proposed decision would have made a contribution to the bottom line. However, as a result of the reversal, employees felt heard, empowered and respected – all key ingredients for trust inside an organization. 

"Authentic leaders are able to come across much as a brand would: the look, feel and experience of interacting with them is consistent." 

3. They try to be themselves, always and in all ways. Authenticity is a key condition for building trust. If your teams don’t feel you’re being yourself whenever they see or hear you, they won't respond as well because they will feel like you're acting.

This is true across written and in-person communications alike. If you use stilted prose or unnecessarily formal language in written communications, but then at a town hall you appear very casual, you risk creating cognitive dissonance rather than trust in your audiences. While it's true that leaders need to fit their style and approach to the occasion at hand, your "core you" shouldn't swing too wildly.

Indeed, authentic leaders are able to come across much as a brand would: the look, feel and experience of interacting with them is consistent. Just as a customer would be unlikely to trust a food brand whose hamburgers taste differently every time, employees require authentic consistency from effective leaders.

As an aside, I fully appreciate the irony of saying someone may need to consciously work at being authentic and manage how they're perceived - but it's the reality! Like anyone else, leaders often have self-expectations and biases about how they should act, which gets in the way of authenticity despite their best intentions. 

In addition to the three points above, it’s important to remember that organizational trust is a dynamic dimension of a business, rather than a static characteristic, or a box to be ticked. You can't "solve for" trust. It needs to be maintained, proven out in action, and unshakeable in its consistency thanks to the integrity with which its leaders and employees act on a daily basis.

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