Key takeaways

  • During times of mistrust, building back confidence in a company can be a long and difficult process.
  • Strategic, honest and open communications to employees will go a long way to rebuilding trust — from the inside out.
  • Organisations must consider the words and actions of their leaders and how they engage staff and customers in retelling, and rebuilding, their story.

They’re often subconscious, but the many small leaps of faith that we take everyday, that agreements made will be fulfilled, and promises kept, are what enables trust in society and allows it to function. But promises sometimes do get broken, and trust in institutions and governments can be lost. How can it then be rebuilt?

PwC Australia’s The Difference recently released a paper on Communicating to rebuild trust,’ which examines how strategic communications should be used to help reestablish trust. It’s clear that in the wake of a series of Royal Commissions in Australia and the fake news-driven deterioration in media credibility, many trusted institutions are now facing their lowest levels of public trust in decades. Often, this is due to a breakdown in culture, and a disconnect between brand promises and the lived experiences of employees and customers. As these fractures become the new norm, standards of appropriateness change and ethical decision-making suffers. 

Given that greater trust can be equated with happier employees and business growth, it’s important that if trust is lost, organisations do what they can to build it back up. Yet, employees are often the last to be considered in these situations. Public relations is often seen as more important to repairing the external brand. But employees are vital to include in efforts to change for the better, and communication strategies must aim to build trust from employees through to stakeholders and customers from the inside out.

Ten key principles for
communicating trust

1. Align leaders on the reason for change — There is nothing more disconcerting, or detrimental to rebuilding trust, to an employee than receiving mixed messages from leadership. Support for the communication intervention has to come from the leadership team. All of them. Bringing key leadership together to talk openly about the issues to be solved and how to communicate them will enable the fastest ownership and alignment.

2. Agree on a foundational narrative — Narratives can be used to shape identity, knowledge and behaviours. In internal communications, narratives can hold networks of people together and provide a sense of shared identity, while simultaneously conveying the organisation’s strategic objectives.

3. Actively involve your audiencesEmployee experience is critical to business, and understanding and including staff in the creation of communications will create shared ownership and bring insights into why and where things stand. Including your audience in the creation of the change initiative will be the most effective way to garner success.

4. Equip leaders to be the voice of change — It is crucial that informal and formal leaders are given support to share the narrative in their own style, in a way which resonates with their team. Developing communications tool sets that play to the strengths of your leadership’s capability and building their communications skills will have the greatest influence over teams.

5. Create a defining moment — Building trust back up once it’s been lost is not easy. When it’s between employers and their people a circuit-breaker moment, potentially in the form of a unique experience for the organisation to participate in, can be necessary to signal that things are going to be different.

6. Be honest about where you’ve been and where you’re going — Authenticity, honesty and integrity are especially important when there is mistrust or uncertainty. Acknowledging the missteps along the journey and seeking transparent feedback will grow credibility.

7. Be consistent and compelling —It’s not only crucial to be consistent in your language, but also your intent when it comes to purpose, KPIs, strategy, values, service principles and the code of conduct. Centrally aligned messages need to match up across different business units, and make sense across the whole employee experience. Ensure comms are consistent and compelling (in language, tone, action) across all channels.

8. Engage hearts and minds for cultural change — Cultural plans should be included in communications. If changes include formal levers, such as roles, responsibilities, policies, KPIs, remuneration or informal levers such as norms, mindsets and networks, ensure that they are being communicated clearly, to the right people and in the right way. Formal levers are less effective in hearts and minds, so informal ones should be a focus.

9. Measure what is meaningful — Measurement of strategic comms is often greatly lacking. But when done well, it can shed light on how well communications are going towards achieving organisational goals. Knowing what and why you are measuring is key. Choose key data points that link to your main goals, and highlight these in your reporting. To course-correct over the long haul, metrics are needed to show you when to intervene.

10. Bring a strategic mindset — Communications shouldn’t be an ad hoc afterthought to a company’s trust building efforts. Internal and external communications need to be strategically thought through, integrated and enacted. Professional communicators should be involved throughout the entire process and given a seat at the planning/decision-making table.

For further information on these ten principles and insights into how to put them into practice, download the full report, Communicating to rebuild trust’. 


Contributor Sonia Clarke


Sonia Clarke

Sonia is the national creative comms lead for The Difference at PwC Australia.

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