Nobody trusts the boss anymore

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Company directors are not trusted by their workers, and even their senior managers disagree with much of what they say and do, according to a major study, which found that only 11 per cent of UK workers "trust and believe" what their directors say.

Another found that while board members believe that their style is consensual, risk taking, proactive, open, innovative and decisive - their management colleagues see it as authoritative, bureaucratic, cautious, reactive and secretive. What has gone wrong? And what should directors be doing to regain the trust of those they are supposed to lead?

Improved communications is an obvious answer. But it is not as simple as that. Much depends on what is communicated, and how. Directors can communicate some things well but without earning trust.

Over three quarters of workers believe in their organisation's core values, and seven out of eight feel they understand what their employer is trying to achieve. MORI, which conducted the survey of 1,085 workers for communications consultants Smythe Dorward Lambert, says only 1 per cent was unclear about what they need to do to achieve the company's aims. This implies that companies are succeeding in communicating the task- based elements of workers' roles.

Another study, conducted by the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology and the Institute of Management found that a schism exists between directors and the managers who must implement their policies. Senior board members (Chairmen, Chief Executives and Managing Directors) think that restructuring has increased morale, motivation and loyalty. The effects are seen far more negatively by managers. Senior board members are also the only group to think that key skills have not been lost and, with the other directors, are the only group to think that decision-making is faster.

Directors think that their organisation has become a better place to work in than last year, senior managers and below tend to think it has become worse. Senior directors deny that a blame culture exists in their organisation, managers disagree. Managers are also much less likely than directors to think that their organisation helps them to balance their home and work commitments.

Managers were asked what one piece of advice they would give to the board to improve the quality of their working lives. Most referred directly or indirectly to the poverty of organisational communications and consultation strategies. "Listen to employees", "discuss important issues immediately", "communicate more with staff" and "be seen to act on feedback given" were the most common suggestions, followed by a reminder to value employees. One respondent said: "Treat workers as you would like to be treated yourself." There were many exhortations to "involve the troops" and to involve them early in the decision-making process. Directors were seen to "sit in an ivory tower making strategy without involving the people on the ground." Communication, if it is to engender trust, must be a two way process which actually involves people.