The latest Edelman Trust Barometer provides the usual mix of insights and commentary on public trust. The headline to me was that the relationship people have with their employer is now the one they value most. In the words of Richard Edelman in Davos, “the employer is the most trusted institution in the world.”
This is interesting. At this point in history, we feel our employers are the institutions closest to us. We place our trust in them and expect them to honour that trust, now more than ever. As Richard Edelman expounds, we believe we can influence our employer (he cites the Google walk-out in November last year as an example), we want our employer to play an active role in the local community and we expect our CEO to be a shining light, taking action on social issues without waiting for government.
The crystallisation of the CEO’s role as an ‘activist’, for want of a better term, is an interesting insight that I’m sure will command more exploration and analysis. However, I was disappointed in some of the other conclusions drawn from the research. In particular, the four-part model developed to sum up steps to success: “the new employer-employee contract”, as Edelman have termed it.
The first part talks about the importance of purpose, “a big idea” as Richard Edelman termed it at Davos. In other words, employees believe an organisation should do more than seek profit. That’s hardly news, is it?
Similarly, the second element of the model focuses on ‘Empowering Employees’: this has been central to the concept of employee engagement, and at the heart of high-engagement cultures, for many years. Surely the idea that employees need to be informed and should be your “first order of business” is simply common sense.
The third element suggests employers must ‘Start locally’ by contributing the communities in which they are based. The words may be different, the concept is not new.
Finally, the model’s requirement for ‘CEO Leadership’ breaks little new ground, emphasising as it does that CEOs must be exemplars of an organisation’s values and engage directly with people, on a personal level, both within and beyond the organisation. There is some new context associated with this, given the point around activism and social focus outlined above, but the basic guidance is not a revelation.
Overall, then, I couldn’t help feeling a tad underwhelmed, as I often am with new models. On this occasion, too, I am reminded of previous (and rather ephemeral) attempts to establish an intangible ‘contract’ between employers and their people.
The research crystallises the context in which organisations are now operating and reinforces the responsibility that employers have. However, many of the solutions proposed, in my view, re-tread familiar ground. Much of the advice already exists in different forms and enlightened employers are already working with it.