Patrick Pearson

Employee Engagement: Building trust and strengthening corporate governance

Given the current spate of corporate failures around the globe, trust in big business is at an all-time low.  As a result, corporate governance rules in many parts of the world are emphasising the importance of culture, values and integrity, yet the focus tends to be limited to the Board. 

While it’s right that the onus is on the Board to establish the rules and set the tone, it’s equally important to engage the employee as the heartbeat of the organisation. Values on the wall must be translated into values in action. If done properly, it is the employee voice – rather than the statements of Boards and regulators – that will strengthen a company’s purpose, cultural behaviours and ethical compass.

For companies to engage employees in building trust and strengthening governance, they must first understand the principles of corporate trust. Black Sun conducts extensive research every year to assess the drivers of value creation that are not captured by companies’ financial statements. The main hypothesis of this year’s research is that trust is the foundation of value creation. We break the components of corporate trust into six principles: Purpose; Culture & Values; Stakeholders; Diversity; Wider Value Creation; and Long-term Thinking.

Business leaders need to consider how to engage employees across each of these principles:



A company that communicates how it is ‘part of the solution rather than the problem’ is a more trusted company.

Key methods of employee engagement:

1.       Involve employees in defining the company’s societal purpose beyond profit.

2.       Put purpose at the core of the company’s strategy and use it to redefine the playing field and reshape stakeholder value propositions.

3.       Communicate the story internally to inspire employees and harness people power.


Culture & Values

A company with a healthy corporate culture is seen as a safer and more attractive company to invest in, partner with and work for.

Key methods of employee engagement:

1.       Co-create culture with the people who embody your brand.

2.       Express your culture & supporting values and roll out across the organisation.

3.       Integrate culture into every employee-related process to firmly embed.



Stakeholder relationships must be built on the highest standards of ethics and responsible business practices to earn a company’s social licence to operate.

Key methods of employee engagement:

1.       Communicate material environmental, social and governance issues internally, so that employees can help mitigate risk.

2.       Use e-learning to reinforce understanding of the Code of Conduct, Bribery Act etc.

3.       Demonstrate the Code at work through regular communications (eg. cascade briefs) to bring it to life, keep it real and relate to customers, suppliers etc.



A diverse board and workforce that represents a wide range of stakeholder views will make a company more informed and ultimately more trusted.

Key methods of employee engagement:

1.       Explain the business case for D&I, not the box ticking case, and foster an open-minded approach that rejects the ‘round peg, round hole’ approach to role eligibility.

2.       Roll out training and development, such as unconscious bias, and change processes accordingly.

3.       Dispel the myths and encourage meaningful debate through internal channels.


Wider value creation

Communicating total economic contribution, including social & environmental value creation, will make a company appear better prepared for the future.

Key methods of employee engagement:

1.       Ensure that employees own and advocate the ESG agenda so that it resonates externally.

2.       Actively seek ideas from those closest to the business, encourage participation and share success.

3.       Present the sustainability strategy and annual performance internally, with CEO endorsement.


Long-term thinking

Demonstrating long-term thinking and preparedness is the glue that holds the narrative together and makes it believable.

Key methods of employee engagement:

1.       Share the strategic vision with employees, with clear milestones along the roadmap.

2.       Report internally on progress, with an open Q&A eg. via a dedicated CEO channel on the company intranet or employee app.

3.       Don’t restrict long-term performance incentives and rewards to the Board, cascade downwards to discourage short-term gain at every level.

Active employee engagement is vital if the Board wants the workforce to ‘get with the programme’ and share the same belief system. But how do we know it has worked? Measurement is an important part of the mix, not just to determine how well your employee engagement programme is working, but to report your performance externally.

Annual employee surveys and periodic pulse surveys are now commonplace and should be seen as part on an ongoing continuous improvement programme, listening to the workforce and acting upon results. Far less common are culture metrics, measuring observed behaviours that build or (damage) trust, evaluating alignment with the company’s defined culture and checking culture consistency across the organisation. As well as measuring observed behaviours, it is also possible to measure the business indicators that those behaviours produce, such as productivity, quality, absenteeism or customer satisfaction. Once companies have allowed time for cultural changes to filter through to the outside world, external sentiment can be measured too, including associated behaviours such as intention to invest in or purchase from a company.

In today’s business world it is trust, not money, that is the real currency of business. If companies actively engage their employees across the six principles of trust, values on the wall should convert into values in action. If there is trust within the organisation, it will automatically extend to the outside world.

For more information on employee engagement, contact Patrick Pearson, Director of Communications Planning.