How to Build Trust and Open Dialogue with Employees

“Physical proximity between leaders and employees isn’t always feasible. But mental or emotional proximity is essential.”

This quote from the Harvard Business Review article titled “Leadership Is a Conversation” by Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind stands out.

bigstock--131477594Leaders have to find ways to build trust with team members and employees virtually, not just in person. This is not a small undertaking, but it is a reality in 2016 and beyond. Extremely rare is the leader whose entire team can gather in a single, physical location.

This means, as a leader, you must build and regularly practice the following:

Listening Skills

If you want to truly build relationships with your team members, you cannot do all of the talking. You must listen and show a genuine interest in them, their jobs, their careers, their lives, their families.

Organizationally, practice this same concept. Enable forums where employees can raise issues or concerns directly to leadership. Too much gets stifled by well-intentioned middle managers. When it gets through, you can act on it.

Use and read or watch online forums, video submissions, internal social media or a variety of creative channels enabled by technology. Some may post inappropriate things, but most will share valuable perspectives.

Seek Feedback

The days of a leader giving the orders and employees automatically following are long gone. If you are experimenting with a new strategy, tell your team that and ask them for feedback on how it goes. Incorporate their suggestions in the next iteration. Don’t wait until everything is perfect to roll it out.

As Patti Johnson says in her book Make Waves, many of our old habits around expecting to have all of the answers can often work against us. Ask for help from your team. They will be more than willing to share it.

Many leaders are even asking for feedback on their own performance from their employees. It may not be easy to hear, but it can be insightful.

Embrace Technology

Go unfiltered. Every video does not have to be professionally edited. The casual video shoot typically comes across to your team members as more authentic than the polished one from the studio.

When you embrace low-fi, you can do things like publish videos from senior leaders more often. It’s not as big a level of effort or strain on the budget. Employees see that it may not have been perfect on the first take and that helps to build trust.

The most important thing is that you HAVE an online presence for employees to see and respond to and that they see you reacting to what others say. Don’t give rehearsed answers. Give real, genuine answers. That will draw more employees in to hear what you have to say.

Betsy Winkler is a Partner at PeopleResults. She can be reached on Twitter @BetsyWinkler1. Sign up to receive the PeopleResults blog at Current.