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Building and Keeping Employee Trust to Support Business Resilience

by Jon Flack

By keeping these points in mind, family businesses can continue to develop and build employee trust.

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Many businesses continue to navigate through unprecedented economic turmoil and a lot of uncertainty. Such ongoing disruption will test a family enterprise’s culture, values and capabilities. In these challenging times, building and maintaining business resilience is crucial — and resilience is dependent on trust.

Having a well understood and meaningful purpose can help companies build trust. What the company stands for – its values – can be differentiating for consumers and employees alike. When employees feel like they’re part of something bigger than just a job, they develop a connection. And when consumers feel like they’re buying a product or service from a company that has a purpose beyond the bottom line, they develop loyalty.

Family businesses have an advantage. With higher employee retention and satisfaction, employee trust is often a foundational pillar on which the company was built. But as family businesses start to look to the future and difficult business decisions need to be made, it's essential for family businesses leaders to take steps to further build up and maintain that trust.

It’s especially important to emphasize your company’s purpose in times of disruption and uncertainty. Keeping the focus on your employees changing needs is key. As a family business leader, that means thinking about what steps you can take to ensure your employees' needs stay top of mind. From frequent communication regarding your go-forward strategy to consistent check-ins with your employees, here are several steps we recommend to continue building employee trust and business resilience:

  1. Make the tough decisions that will help the company in the long term — Continue to analyze costs and focus on protecting the aspects of your business and capabilities that differentiate you from the competition. If you have to cut costs, be sure to do so in a way that does not harm the business. Look ahead and think about what drivers might impact the operating environment in 2021 and build scenario plans to help you be more prepared for what that future might hold. Use them to make balanced and informed decisions that will help propel your business forward.
  2. Communicate frequently and openly about the state of business operations and any changes — Provide regular updates to your employees about your strategy and your plan. Offer forward-thinking messaging when you communicate, and be transparent about what’s happening currently and what you expect. Even if you are unsure of what’s next, being open and transparent can not only bring people together but help foster loyalty. Providing regular communication to you family shareholders is also very important to ensure alignment and create a broader base to affirm the messaging to employees.
  3. Be considerate about the needs of employees – Stay in close contact with your employees, but allow for space, don’t be overbearing and be careful not to micromanage. Be respectful of individual situations, and keep in mind that your employees may still be working in shared spaces and caring for spouses, children or other family members. Set expectations for when and how people can be reached and be fluid with rules around working hours and working on-site. Maintain a pulse on your workforce so you can stay ahead of your team’s unique needs, whether they are mental, financial, physical, digital or something else, and how they might change.
  4. Hold true to company values and stay positive — Though transparent communication is critical to developing trust, what you do to help your employees can hold more weight than what you say. Your investments made to protect the health and safety can both drive loyalty and be differentiators in what will likely be a changed competitive environment. Think about how to emerge stronger — more focused on what’s most important and driven by what’s essential for the future. Recognize the positive behaviors that emerged from this crisis and commit to them. Make balanced and informed decisions that consider all of your stakeholders while staying true to your purpose and values.
  5. Leverage the family’s goodwill and history — Each family office has its unique history — why it started and how it grew. The family name is on the wall — who they are as a family is the core of the business and everything that extends from it. Explain the history to employees and highlight the family’s past and future vision. Lean on your board of directors to help you chart a course from crisis to recovery and to help solve problems in the bigger picture while you focus on the short- and mid-term strategy. Be sure to include employees in the family’s future story. This can build a strong connection to the family’s values and its financial and non-financial mission.

By keeping these points in mind, family businesses can continue to develop and build employee trust — because this trust is key to not only getting through times of uncertainty but also to thriving afterwards.

Jon Flack is PwC's Private Company Services Family Business leader.