24/07/2013 13:38 BST | Updated 22/09/2013 06:12 BST

Restoring Trust From the Inside Out

From Tesco's horsemeat scandal to the BBC's recent bullying accusations, some of the UK's most well known brands are facing serious challenges from within. With reputations on the line, and the value of their brands being endangered by the weight of negative publicity, it begs the question, how do all of these factors impact on the internal organisational culture?

It can be guaranteed that whatever is being said by the media and general public is only going to be amplified by employees on the inside of organisations during challenging times. It is crucial that companies seize control of the dialogue and start to reshape internal brand perception before attempting to rebuild their external image. This will require a major cultural shift within organisations and may not happen overnight, but it is key that companies start this process internally.

Firstly, brands must be able to publicly hold their hands up and admit that a mistake has been made and that the company has been in the wrong. This, in my opinion, is the first and most important step to re-establishing organisational trust. While honesty doesn't grant companies impunity, and nor should it, it does enable organisations to start to rebuild trust amongst their most valued asset, their employees.

Trust is fundamental for a healthy internal culture, but during challenging times it is the first asset to disappear as finger-pointing and hand-wringing start to divide organisations into them and us. Exactly who them and us are can differ from business to business, but experience suggests that more often than not it's the management versus the rest of us. Within a healthy organisation there shouldn't be such a divide and there should only be an us, but in order to get there, organisations need to break down barriers and enable people to feel that for themselves. Telling employees to get on board is only likely to have the opposite effect.

Respect is the other key component required to repair internal perception. Similar to organisational trust, respect is reciprocal, and the two are co-drivers of a healthy internal culture. In fact, they are symbiotic - without respect, there can be no trust, and greater trust breeds respect. By building or rebuilding trust, and ensuring a culture of mutual respect exists, a positive internal culture will re-emerge.

Within highly engaged organisations, employees at any level are actively 'selling' their companies and its associated values to people in every conversation they have; with investors, customers, suppliers and even when talking about their jobs with friends. But these levels of engagement don't happen by chance - they take a forward-thinking leadership team and an innovative, comprehensive approach over the long term to create the right environment for people to engage, and give them something to engage with.

We recently commissioned an independent survey into worker engagement levels across all sectors in the UK, and found that not only were the majority of UK workers disconnected from their company brand values, many didn't even know what they were in the first place. In fact only one fifth of the 2000 workers we surveyed said that they cared enough about their job to learn more within their role. Of those questioned, retail employees were some of the most disconnected in the country with 77 per cent admitting to not engaging with their company's brand values. A further 63 per cent of workers in the sector said they'd never been trained on the importance of these values. We all know it's easy for people to get bogged down in the multitude of day-to-day tasks, and forget the basics, but as the research found the fundamental lack of grassroots training is reaching worrying levels.

The findings mirror the issues under close scrutiny by the wider UK business community, following the launch of the Engage for Success taskforce. In their research, the initiative revealed that, by investing just ten percent more in staff engagement, UK businesses in all sectors could add £2700 per employee per year in profits. This could result in a staggering £49 billion growth across UK PLC, equivalent to three per cent of the country's current GDP.

Add to that the fact that a quarter of employees working for companies who regularly advertise weren't aware of their firms' promotional messages, or what they were expected to do to support marketing campaigns at the point of sale, and it's not difficult to see why the Budget's failure to freeze the sharp rise on business rates has brought little comfort to UK retailers.

We cannot expect a magic formula to make engagement happen. Absolute trust within an organisation will involve a long journey that in most cases starts at the top of the organisation and slowly filters down through the business. It's worth remembering that, beyond brand values and visions, what employees seek is a blend of tangible and intangible elements that together create an environment of stimulation, contribution, recognition, development, learning and support (monetary and otherwise). Companies that understand these fundamentals are more likely to overcome reputational crises, restore and maintain trust from the inside out.