Could a CEO’s User Manual help to bridge the trust gap in organizations?

Could a CEO’s User Manual help to bridge the trust gap in organizations?

“Want to know me? Read my user manual”

That was the title of this blog post that was shared with me by Adam Bryant at the NY Times New Work Summit conference in March 2016. Adam ran a conference session that really interested me where he discussed the idea of a company “User Manual” that would let employees in on what leaders or executives in the business want and the best way to work with them. The idea seems to have originated from an interview in 2013 with Ivar Kroghrud, a co-founder at Questback who specialize in getting customer and employee feedback.

The idea is that the user manual (or “UM” – it already gets an abbreviation) could shorten the learning curve for everyone in the company or the leader’s team.

Or is this an invite to bad behavior?

I was interested, but also a little worried that it could lead to a dictatorial “This is my way” – i.e. “My way or the highway” approach but Adam ran a good session explaining that a good CEO’s User Manual should be humble and should share things about the CEO that might otherwise take months or even years of experience to learn.

I ended the session intrigued so I drafted my own on the spot in the session’s break at the conference. To date, I’ve only shared it with a couple of people to get a very early view but today something happened that made me want to share it more widely and get more feedback.

“One in three employees don’t trust their employer.”

That is the headline stat from the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer, a study of 33,000 people across the USA which runs every year but this year, for the first time, examined the state of trust between employers and employees.

I read about this first in a Fast Company article by Lydia Dishman and she highlights some interesting aspects :

  • Trust decreases down an organization’s hierarchy: 64% of executives, 51% of managers, and 48% of rank and file staff say they trust their organizations, and employees say they trust peers more than CEOs when it comes to company information.
  • 50% of respondents said it was important that their CEO exhibits highly ethical behaviors, only 24% believed the CEO was actually exhibiting such behavior

The author of the study for Edelman is Christopher Hannegan and in the interview with Lydia, he said:

“Our study shows employees want to really understand who their CEOs are at a personal level, including the values that drive them, at levels higher than the general public want to understand CEOs… Employees want to know their CEOs as people.”

The article further explains:

“80% percent of employees said they wanted to better understand a CEO’s personal values, while 73% wanted to know about obstacles the CEO has overcome, and 68% said they wanted to hear about a CEO’s personal success story.”

Visibility, trust and open communication from leadership are repeatedly emerging as traits needed and prevalent in companies with great cultures.

I’ve been hearing this from multiple sources lately. A study by PwC on Millennials in the workplace talks extensively about the need for our new generation of workers to believe in the company they are working for, it’s mission and its leadership. My own experience engaging with Reward Gateway staff through Glassdoor has been hugely enlightening and I’ve been genuinely surprised at the impact that my commitment to answer all reviews in 24 hours has had. Our Head of PR, Charlie Lofthouse, who knows me well as she spent 5 years as my EA has been telling me for months how much people want to connect with their CEO, be seen and heard by them and know what they are doing.

So that’s why I’m wondering if the CEO’s User Manual actually has a bigger role to play than just shortening the learning curve for a team with a new leader. I wonder if it could be an active component of bringing CEOs and other leaders closer to their people and helping to create a more open and transparent culture?

I’d love to know what you think – lots of ways to get in touch with me, please use any of them. And my User Manual is up now on Slideshare and on my LinkedIn Profile so please have a look and let me know what you think.



Written by 

Glenn is an employee engagement and tech entrepreneur. He founded Reward Gateway, the HR technology company in 2006 and continues to lead it as CEO today.

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4 thoughts on “Could a CEO’s User Manual help to bridge the trust gap in organizations?

  1. […] just published my own “CEO’s User Manual” – anyone interested might like to look at that and see what else it says and see how it […]

  2. This is something we did at DHL, and I would certainly say that it had been successful. Interestingly, I haven’t done it for my current organisation (or at least not to the same extent – just high level). Perhaps it is time to update our intranet….. 🙂

  3. Monita dash

    Wonderful article and very very true !!!

  4. Shereen

    Loved your power point presentation…i hate managers who have no mission or vision. Managers that feels that it is right to do anything pretending that it is not affecting the people around them. Your manual is very inspiring. Hope your staff has a sense of appreciation of you. Best

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