Building Trust in a STEM Environment

Building Trust in a STEM Environment

Building Trust in a STEM Environment

When Fortune and Great Place to Work (GPTW) released their list of “100 Best Companies to Work For” in March, more than 60 percent of the recognized companies had strong footholds in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) space. These standouts were acknowledged for building organizations where employees thrive and flourish. Interestingly, in nearly every case, the financial performance of the business is as strong as its culture.

How do these organizations do it? With a shortage of skilled workers and increasing turnover in the technology fields, building trust within a workplace is clearly a challenge. It’s only by careful design, with strategy and culture at the heart of the conversation, that these workplaces can be created.

What Makes these Businesses Different?

While GPTW described the winners’ cultures as a “driving force that unites, mobilizes and guides employees in a way that is cohesive and inspiring,” it didn’t happen by accident. STEM employees generally tend to bring a strong work ethic, intense focus, an emphasis on individual performance, and oftentimes introverted personalities, to the job. Without a strong strategy, the resulting corporate culture is often no-nonsense and nose-to-the-grindstone – but littered with organizational silos, making it difficult to achieve cohesiveness and inspiration.

There are six industries that dominate the list: information technology; healthcare; financial services and insurance; manufacturing and production; professional services; and retail. While they might appear to have little in common, research shows that their employees have similar beliefs and behaviors. The organizations’ people inherently believe in their mission and trust leadership to lead the charge. They have pride in the work they do and they enjoy the people that they work with.

And, while organizations like Google, SAS and Marriott oftentimes make it look easy from the outside, it’s not that simple for everyone.

For example, while the financial services industry’s global crisis has resulted in its frequent ranking among the world’s least trusted industries by polls including the Harris Poll Reputation Quotient® (RQ) study, its employees feel differently. According to the 2015 GPTW list, 92 percent of employees who work for the financial services and insurance companies on the list believe that “management is honest and ethical in its business practices.”

Why the difference of opinion? What have these companies done to earn the trust of their employees?

Success Comes with Authentic Communication

Keeping the lines of communication open and sharing the vision with employees were two of the areas cited as differentiators. Leaders at Capital One routinely hold “all-hands” meetings, giving junior employees access to senior leaders. These in-person visits allow employees at all levels to understand how their individual contributions impact the corporate vision. Hearing information directly further establishes an environment of trust.

ACUITY takes it one step further. Its employees enjoy regular lunches with corporate officers and senior leaders. Blended with an open door policy, this allows authentic conversations on subjects ranging from mundane routine tasks to the big-picture thinking behind corporate strategy.

Access to the leadership and opportunities to interact one-on-one make resounding impacts in companies of all sizes. Gone are the days when a CEO can lead from an ivory tower (for more on the changing role of the CEO).

Across the board, leaders agree that authentic communication is key. While it comes in many forms, authentic communication is often very simple, without a big price tag.

Tailored Communications for the Internal Audience

Putting the audience first doesn’t always come easy when communicators are focused internally. It’s easy to lump everyone into one category—“employee.” In reality, that doesn’t do justice to most complex, global workplaces. This rings especially true in STEM-based organizations.

A one-size-fits-all program typically works for no one. It’s important that companies determine how to best share information, utilizing a variety of channels and messages to reach employees from all backgrounds. And, it’s essential that they continue to evolve and fine-tune their programs. Successful corporations are constantly measuring and tweaking their programs to best meet employee needs.

Kimley-Horn and Associates, a privately-held professional services organization on the GPTW list, began tailoring its communications to suit its STEM-based audience several years ago. “We realized that our engineers and architects were focused on the data,” explains Julie Beauvais, director of communications. “By sharing raw data and specifics, we were able to build a stronger relationship with our employees. They are trusted with the information and they appreciate that responsibility. We provide the numbers and analytics to support our direction and encourage them to ask questions. We expect them to do that with client projects and we give them the same authority with our business.”

Many organizations turn to employee-led programs to help disseminate information and inspire goodwill for the company. One of the most important metrics for trust is the ability to treat employees fairly regardless of their personal characteristics.

Minnesota-based 3M utilizes 11 Employee Resource Networks to strengthen engagement with diverse communities throughout the organization around STEM. These groups help align affinity groups across the globe through the Global Women’s Leadership Forum, African American Network, China Resource Network, Disability Awareness Network, Latino Resource Network, Military Support Network, Native American Network, New Employee Opportunity Network, GLBT+ Network and South Asia Network.

On top of these grassroots resource networks, 3M also established formal Business Resource Teams designed to leverage the cultural insights and business knowledge of 3Mers based at headquarters. These dedicated Resource Teams inform and collaborate with key international sites to leverage STEM programs, especially in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Strong Employee Engagement Drives Solid Performance

Corporations that recognize the value and earn the trust of employees are seeing other rewards as well. Employee retention amongst winners of the GPTW was far higher than their industry peers, according to the report. Especially in STEM organizations, where recruiting and retention are becoming more and more critical, this is a vital performance metric.

Financial performance for most organizations was also significantly higher. Most of the honorees have long histories of outperforming their peers. With metrics like these, it’s easy to see why corporations of all sizes, in all fields, are making employee engagement a pressing issue.

The “100 Best Companies to Work For” list isn’t for everyone. But, the concepts ring true for all organizations, especially those with a heavy STEM emphasis. Study your employees, identify their needs, explore how to meet them and then define engagement for your organization. It may not catapult you to the top 100. It may not need to. But the strategic focus and energy will provide rewards that ripple much further than you imagined.

Ann Camden is Managing Director, Client Service, G&S Business Communications. As a business strategist, Ann believes that strategic planning is the foundation of all communications. Ann plays an integral role in developing strategies to build and enhance corporate reputations and strong brand identities for clients in agribusiness, advanced manufacturing, technology and professional services. She also manages external and internal communication efforts on a broad array of organizational needs ranging from change management and employee outreach to marketing programs. She has led GSU, the G&S internal management training program, and is a member of the Midtown Raleigh Alliance and the International Association of Business Communicators. Ann is a long-term member of the Advisory Board of Communications at Elon University, and an active board member for EarthShare NC. Ann was honored as a Triangle Woman Extraordinaire by Business Leader in 2011 and received the Horizon Award from National Agri-Marketing Association in 2012. Ann has a degree from Purdue University. Ann applies her life philosophy of “go above and beyond” to both her client service and her training for road races.


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