(This the first post in a five-part series on Genuine Engagement)
I’m sure we’ve all encountered people who have a habit of not doing what they say they are going to do. The politician who promises to fight crime in his hometown and then does nothing about it, the neighbour who borrows tools and doesn’t return them on the agreed day, the father who misses his young son’s football match for the third time in a row …
There are consequences when people don’t follow through. The politician probably won’t be elected next time around, the neighbour will eventually have his ‘borrowing privileges’ revoked, and the young footballer will simply stop looking for his father among the spectators.
Things are no different in the workplace. When a leader doesn’t follow through on what they say they are going to do, their lack of authenticity erodes employee trust in them. Saying one thing and then doing another (or nothing at all) creates a credibility gap. And when that gap becomes too big, employees will disengage, morale and productivity will fall, and employee turnover will rise. Ultimately, the organisation’s bottom line will suffer.
Authenticity is defined here as ‘undisputed credibility’. I know some people who are not the most knowledgeable managers but who are, nonetheless, successful leaders because people trust them – their motives are transparent, their dealings are respectful and their actions honourable.
When one broken promise is one too many
Sometimes, one broken promise is all it takes to create a serious loss of credibility. It could be that a leader promises to talk to employees about increasing their performance bonus in the near future, and then doesn’t bother to follow-up on it – as the boss, he might think he doesn’t have to explain everything to them. Or tells employees involved in a change initiative that their jobs are safe, while knowing that at least ten per cent of them will have to be let go. Or agrees to consider the possibility of some employees working from home one or two days a week, only to completely change his mind when he looks at the logistics involved. If he doesn’t mention anything, the employees might forget all about it, or so he thinks.
Bit by bit, by bit …
The scenarios mentioned in the previous paragraph would cause most employees to mistrust their leader, but trust could just as easily be lost over a series of smaller matters that chip away at credibility, bit by bit. Broken promises that range from, say, looking into the possibility of healthier snack options in the company cafeteria, to creating an online portal for employee-leader communication, to the introduction of a more comprehensive employee health plan could have a cumulative effect. None of these issues on their own would cause an employee to lose considerable trust in a leader, but taken together they give employees the clear message that they are not being respected.
In the dark
Leaders are sometimes oblivious to the credibility gaps they create. They think certain employee requests are too insignificant to merit follow-up, or keep putting off negative responses because they don’t like to be the bearer of bad news, or forget to keep track of all the promises and pledges they make in the course of a busy day.
The way a leader says goodbye at the conclusion of a conversation with employees, either face-to-face or on the telephone, might also be misinterpreted. How often have you heard someone say, “Let’s catch up soon!”? Or “I’ll call you!”? Or “Talk to you later!”? This is just another way of saying goodbye, but some people might take it literally. A leader with this conversational style would be genuinely surprised to discover that some employees expect a call or a meeting to take place during the few days immediately following their conversation.
Do You Have A Credibility Gap?
You can easily assess your level of perceived authenticity by completing the following simple exercise over a week:
· Record each commitment you make, no matter how big or small. Ask yourself if your conversational style is creating unrealistic expectations.
· Record the number of commitments that are fulfilled on schedule during this week.
· If there is a gap between what you say and what you do – take it as an opportunity to adjust your behaviour and raise your credibility.
Use support people and systems to organise and schedule commitments.
One commitment at a time
If you discover you have a credibility gap, it’s never too late to turn things around. It might not be easy, depending on the size of the gap, but if you are determined you can gain the trust and respect of your employees – one commitment at a time. All you have to do is keep your word, be authentic, adopt an open approach to communication (don’t shy away from difficult conversations), and treat your employees with respect.
Your employees will continually assess the gap between what you say and what you do, so you will have to continually strive to maintain your credibility and their trust. When a gap occurs, it pays to address it immediately.
Employees who trust their leaders are more likely to report job satisfaction and a sense of alignment with organisational goals. And when your employees are thus engaged, you can expect increased productivity and a healthier bottom line.
So, what does your credibility gap look like?
Daniel Jackson specialises in building high performing work forces. He runs workshops for owners who want to create highly-engaged teams to dramatically improve productivity.