April 30, 2014 in Events (live blogging), CIPD L&D Show 2014

#cipdLDshow – Creating a new generation of trustworthy leaders

Geoff McDonald – Unilever

Professor Veronica Hope-Hailey – Bath University


Today sees the launch of the CIPD research report on creating trustworthy leaders: http://www.cipd.co.uk/hr-resources/research/cultivating-trustworthy-leaders.aspx


Veronica Hope-Hailey presented the research which is based on 2 years work with a range of organisations (e.g. John Lewis, BBC Worldwide, Royal Mail, Church of England, BAE Systems). The initial report, just after the financial crisis, looked at ‘where has all the trust gone?’. The initial report found that even in really difficult times, trust can grow – depending on the behaviour of senior leaders. The new research looks at how we can help to create trustworthy leaders who make that kind of impact.


Trust is the state in which we choose to accept some vulnerability, to take a risk in uncertain times and it is is hard to earn. There is an old Dutch saying: ‘Trust comes on foot but leaves on horse-back’ as it can be lost very quickly.


The drivers of trust are well-known, and we tend to judge people on their ability (can they do their job?), benevolence (do they care about others?), integrity (do we agree with their moral code?), and predictability (will they do what they say?).


One of the biggest points from the research is that senior managers earned trust through the way in which they took actions, behaved, made choices, and communicated.


Trusted organisations need to demonstrate ability, benevolence, integrity, and predictability but it is clear that different organisations will place a different emphasis on these factors. For instance Unilever and John Lewis have a different emphasis, but still value all elements.


Some factors that helped develop trustworthy leaders:


– evidence-based, values-based, and whole-person interviewing (with what looks like an emphasis on authentic leadership). How leaders behave when they think nobody is looking seems to be an important predictor of success.

– Action learning (and other reflective learning) to increase self-awareness of strengths and weaknesses.

– Extensive 360 feedback (sometimes done in the open as a fishbowl exercise) provides evidence of trustworthiness and deepens relationships.

– Rewarding trustworthy behaviours, not just performance.

– Gut feel is valid!


HR can help create trustworthy organisations through:

– ensure that there is a truly open dialogue about trust

– having transparent selection and development processes


HR processes have sometimes hindered trust. Too many processes suggest that managers are not trusted to make the right decisions and processes can inadvertently shift the focus away from softer skills onto measurable things. Benevolence and integrity can’t just be measured as a one-off snapshot and need to be assessed over time, by observing behaviours and cultural fit.


All of the organisations seemed to want leaders who are human, real, and personal. People want to see honesty about strengths and weaknesses, admitting to mistakes, and showing some vulnerability.


Some leaders who have been trusted: Nelson Mandela, the current Pope were cited as examples of people who are flawed and might not have made it through assessments but really are authentic leaders.


Geoff McDonald then talked about why trust is especially important today, including the rising role of social media in helping to give people a voice. Social media was a key component of how the Egyptian government was overthrown and it happened in just 17 days. Goldman Sachs lost 3 billion after a tweet by one employee. Starbucks suffered at the hands of their own consumers as a result of their tax decisions. The wider societal context for Unilever is interesting; as a food company, they are very aware that 1 billion people go to bed hungry each night and 1 billion people are overweight. Social media provides the ultimate transparency.


We don’t expect perfection but we do expect honesty and there is no hiding as we have real transparency.


The only way to survive today is to build trust and it is essential that organisations have a very clear purpose which goes beyond just profit and survival. Geoff suggested that companies often have a rich heritage based on a higher purpose but that then gets lost as the organisations grows and things become institutionalised. As an example, Barclays was founded on Quaker values bust Bob Diamond was unable to articulate them when asked by the select committee.


Over the last 5 or 6 years, Unilever have been working to reinvigorate their purpose and have adapted Lord Lever’s original purpose into a purpose that fits today. Unilever believe that their focus on sustainability is essential to them being around in the future. Leadership development programmes in Unilever now help leaders to identify their purpose and look at how they can impact Unilever and the world. Unilever have found that helping leaders identify their underlying purpose will result in some of them leaving when they realise that their purpose doesn’t fit the organisation.


Geoff’s summary: People matter, they want honesty not perfection, and you must have a higher purpose in order to be trusted. Then you need to develop leaders with purpose and evolve all systems and processes to align with your purpose.



Live-blogged from a session at CIPD L&D Show – 30th April 2014

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