Posted by Sandy Yu on 12.3.2019
Trust in leadership is critical in nurturing key business-driving results, including employee engagement and satisfaction. Fortunately, many leaders are getting it right. In fact, the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer found 75% of employees trust their employers, outranking businesses, NGOs, government, and media.
While this statistic proves promising, trust in leadership isn’t unwavering -- or guaranteed. There is always the potential for unforeseen obstacles to render your promises all but impossible to keep, depending on the circumstances. And the truth is, employees don’t immediately see or sometimes even agree with the reasons your word falls through. As a result, their trust in leadership dwindles and productivity, morale, and the overall company culture risk huge impacts.
It’s important you know how to prove to employees you deliver on promises -- especially if former ones haven’t come through. We asked four leadership experts to share their experiences when it comes to making and, unfortunately, breaking promises. Here’s their advice for proving you’ll deliver on your word:
1. Make promises that are within your means of control
There are people who revert to an instinctual habit of promising employees things they ultimately might not be able to follow through on.
I try to avoid making promises when it comes to concrete, quantitative goals. There are many factors out of my control that could lead to that promise not coming through. Instead, phrase
promises as, “I promise to utilize all my resources, knowledge, etc. to help us reach this goal. While I can't promise we will hit 'X' number, I can certainly promise that we will exhaust every possible resource in order to try and hit that number.”
If you’re unable to follow through on promises, making excuses, weaseling around and trying to provide justifications for a failure -- however warranted or relevant -- will never be well received. Loyal employees will be supportive of the business and empathetic to the challenges it faces in hard times.
For example, we had planned to set up a benefits package for employees and negotiated a package with a healthcare provider that seemed ready to roll out, so we announced it to our employees as a done deal. However, when it came down to things, the price we'd supposedly locked in wasn't honored.
Alternative options were offered, but there was still some anger and disillusionment, naturally. So, we offered alternatives and also took feedback on what employees would like us to do, how we could make things better within the limitations of our budgets, and how to involve employees in future decisions.
Once I deliver on the promise, I let the person know in written form. I also send out a message to everyone else in the company.
We have a Basecamp board with ongoing team projects and this is where I write my promises down. For example, we had someone in customer support who wanted to evolve in their role and move up to marketing.
It took me about two months to deliver on that promise, but when I did, I made sure everyone knew it.
Recently, I had to explain to my entire division that a critical marketing tool I told them would be operational this week was completely scrapped. I had been communicating enthusiastically about the impending launch.
Bad news never gets better with time, so I got the word out quickly, explained the rationale behind the decision from a corporate perspective, and told them what I would be doing to ramp up other alternatives. Once the fact sunk in that this was no longer up for discussion, I put my “big leader pants” on and started thinking about solutions, since that is the only way you can get your people to do so.