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The Globe and Mail

Communicating business decisions is key to building trust

Melinda Park is chair of the partnership board at Borden Ladner Gervais (BLG).

Executive board room decisions are crucial – they set a course of action that ultimately impacts everyone in a company. However, implementation of those decisions will not be successful without buy-in from the larger workforce. For that to occur, employees must have trust in the decision-makers and senior leaders. Decisions will not be perfect and outputs will often deviate from forecasts, but there is a much higher rate of success when employees are aligned with strategic imperatives. This alignment is rooted in trust.

According to the Environics Communications CanTrust Index, CEOs and senior bosses yield the highest levels of trust when compared to other public leaders (including mayors, the Prime Minister, and provincial premiers). A higher proportion of Canadians (51 per cent) trust their CEO or most senior boss, while 50 per cent trust their local mayor and 44 per cent trust the Prime Minister. The questions in the survey were positioned as personal to the interviewee, meaning Canadians (on average) respect the leadership within their business and trust the individuals making decisions that impact their workplace.

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But trust isn't automatic.

Senior leaders need to use their external knowledge of the industry and their internal knowledge of their company's culture to earn that trust. In fact, 71 per cent of Canadians deemed it important for organizations to have leadership that openly communicates and is accessible when determining how much they trust an organization to do what is right for Canada, Canadians and our society.

While these results may not be earth-shattering, they reinforce the importance of a leader's communication to how they are perceived within their company, community and country.

Senior leaders can sometimes become immersed in implementation of their decisions. After all, they were part of the process that led to that choice. This is particularly true during times of management change, especially when senior leaders are accountable for the effectiveness of implementation. While it is necessary to remain focused on implementation, it is also important to take the time to communicate and be accessible, recognizing that not everyone in the company has the same depth of understanding about how or why a specific decision was made. The need for continuous communication (and increased transparency) continues to be vastly underestimated by leaders and organizations as foundational to establishing trust.

Regular and open communication by senior leaders provides valuable insight to employees and highlights leaders' credibility through their understanding of the challenges facing their people. Beyond sharing the purpose and reasoning behind their business decisions, they may also need to be more accessible and transparent than they were perhaps previously comfortable with. Further, senior leaders' accessibility through informal channels is as or more critical than formal communication efforts. This goes a long way to establishing trust.

My firm, Borden Ladner Gervais (BLG), is Canada's largest law firm, and our industry is rapidly changing. This makes communication even more critical. We consciously expanded our in-person communications with regular town halls and leadership road shows, smaller forums, round-tables and other formal and informal communication channels. This helped us establish understanding and trust in our strategic vision and leadership among our colleagues. It is their trust and commitment which enables us to successfully implement our business initiatives, many of which involve change. Our people understand, respect and trust what we need to do to continue to be leaders in our industry. There is real value in having senior leaders provide regular and relevant communication – and sharing their knowledge or thought process behind key decisions – in a style that is genuine and unique to them.

Authenticity can be conveyed, but it can't be manufactured. This comes through in leaders' communications and can go a long way in establishing trust.

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Executives, educators and human resources experts contribute to the ongoing Leadership Lab series.

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