The role of undelivered promises in undermining Trust.

Our report – Leadership, Trust and Communication, created in association with the IoIC and Westminster Business School – distills the latest thinking on trust, introducing a number of thought provoking concepts that will change the way we lead in the future, in line with how organisations and the communities within them are evolving.

Here, guest blogger Catherine Park, consultant in external and internal communication, discusses the link between broken promises and trust levels in organisations.

The Institute of Internal Communication’s Insight seminar this year has got me thinking about various aspects of trust. What makes you lose trust in people and organisations?
Something that negatively affects trust levels for me is when people say very confidently they are going to do something, possibly by a particular date, and then they don’t. This is then compounded when they don’t acknowledge what’s happened or even that they made the statement in the first place.

However, I think trust levels fall off more in some circumstances than others, possibly due to the trust reserve that is already built up. You will be more forgiving or indulgent towards someone or an organisation whose words and actions generally tie up, and who can usually be relied upon to do right by you.

There have been plenty of high-profile examples recently of organisations espousing particular values and behaviours and then failing to deliver, with the resulting negative fall-out in terms of relationships with both internal and external audiences.

However, it doesn’t have to be about headline-grabbing organisational failures and scandals. Smaller let-downs can erode trust over time. One of the most commonly cited in the field of internal communication is introducing a new employee survey with a great fanfare of positivity and hope; and then everything goes silent after it is completed and employees have little indication that any feedback has actually been acted upon.

Even something like telling staff you are going to take them out for a thank-you meal and then not doing so because other pressures take over can result in a cynical response if it starts to seem habitual.

Internal communicators and HR professionals can play a valuable role in helping to flag up how the behaviour of senior leaders and line managers impacts upon trust levels, and facilitating the type of communication that builds and maintains trust.