Who people really trust in your business

Business and organisational leaders can be forgiven for feeling like they’re on an out-of-control magic carpet ride, as technology takes the principles of communication and twists them in ever-intricate spirals.

Just this week I read a piece from a well-known crisis communication expert, warning that in the first 15 minutes of a crisis, an organisation simply must get out their first tweet (even better if it’s within ten) This morning on radio I heard a discussion about a survey in which around a third of respondents reported experiencing the symptoms of a mini-meltdown if their Facebook or Instagram posting didn’t attract a ‘like’ within one hour.

How does this age of gratification-in-a-nanosecond marry up with the often stodgy systems organisations have in place to approve information before public release? Clearly, there’s a chasm of difference between the two.

In some circles – even with today’s digital pressures – it’s not uncommon for media statements to do the rounds for days and even weeks before getting the tick of approval. Senior executives (mostly) get that they’ve got to speed up their processes to try to keep up with the dizzying speed of social media, but they’re also concerned about going off half-cocked on an issue – which could do even more damage than a slow response.

Feeding the rapidly ravenous online machine versus taking the time for considered communication is one of the key reputational dilemmas facing leaders in this half of the decade.

The other one is that – to some extent – it’s a moot point anyway because people are now more likely to believe an employee or one of their peers when it comes to getting information about a company or organisation, rather than the CEO or leader.

Look at these figures from the Edelman Trust Barometer (www.edelman.com.au) comparing 2011’s results with 2013. Two years ago, 50% of people surveyed in more than 20 countries said the CEO would be an extremely or very credible source. That dropped significantly this year, but the credibility of “a person like you” rose dramatically, as did that of regular employees.

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So, the message is clear. People want information instantly, and they’re more likely to trust it if it comes from someone in the lower echelons of the business, not the boss. Where does that leave the leader?

The answer is: in a slightly altered yet still pivotal role. No longer outwardly driving the messages of the business, but making sure all employees live and breathe what the organisation stands for, with behaviour that impeccably reflects that essence, that DNA. As McKinsey and Company put it, “relentlessly embed your values and brand promise in your people and processes.”

Strap yourself in on that magic carpet. It will indeed be a wild ride.