Warning signs of a breakdown in internal trust


By Samantha White

Internal trust is vital to the smooth functioning of an organisation. It is an important factor in employee engagement and retention and can underpin productivity, performance, and innovation. Any breakdowns in that trust can therefore be far-reaching and have a significant impact on customers and other external relationships.

Whether employees perceive their employer to be trustworthy depends on authentic and open communication between staff and leaders, as well as a close alignment between the values espoused and what goes on day to day.

Monitoring levels of employee trust can provide early warning of any problems, so they can be acted on before they reach crisis point.

A new briefing from the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) and St Paul’s Institute, Internal Trust: Building Alliances From Within, highlights the monitoring role finance professionals can play.

Finance as an early-warning system

In light of their inherent stewardship role and access to internal data, management accountants are well-placed to identify any changes or breakdowns in trust within the organisation.

Finance professionals are alert to conflicts of interest and can flag any gaps in information. They can also provide analysis and insight to support management, or indeed challenge the leadership when measures could be taken to improve the levels of trust.

A further contribution involves ensuring that management information is aligned to behaviours and values, and establishing suitable tracking mechanisms. According to the authors of the report, this alignment remains a challenge for the majority of organisations. Yet, there is increasing demand for this kind of information from boards as well as from external stakeholders such as investors and regulators.

‘Trust’ in the data

There are many behavioural indicators of poor trust within an organisation, such as employees who are disengaged, unwilling to share information openly, or unwilling to raise problems for fear of blame or reprisal.

But internal data can shed further light on these issues. Finance professionals should track levels of absenteeism, employee turnover, and grievances taken out. A decline in productivity and the nature of issues raised on “speak up” phone lines can provide further insight.

Employee survey data should be analysed to identify any trends or sudden changes over time, and resulting heat maps can flag problems in certain teams or divisions.

Related CGMA Magazine content:

Measuring Employee Trust”: Gauging workers’ faith in the organisation can help employers understand retention patterns, productivity risks, and other indicators of engagement.

Samantha White (Samantha.White@aicpa-cima.com) is a CGMA Magazine senior editor.