Making a difference

by Marie-Claire Ross
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Many people working in waste management can rest easy at night feeling content that their work reduces the ecological impact on the environment. But how many of you work in organisations where that social purpose is deeply understood by everyone else in the organisation?

One of the most common attributes of companies with high-performance workplace cultures is that they have a clear, well- specified purpose that states both how and why the company makes a positive impact to the world. It’s their fundamental reason for existence beyond just making money.

This is not a feel-good statement. It actually works towards pulling people forward, especially in difficult times (and good). It helps people make better decisions and it generates tremendous energy that aligns everyone together towards a common cause.

But it doesn’t matter how much positive impact your organisation makes for the world, if you don’t communicate this to your employees. If you’re in corporate waste solutions and your organisation is not 100 percent focused on the impact you make, you are wasting (excuse the pun) an opportunity to build a world-class organisation.

Company leaders who fail to inspire their employees to rally behind their company’s purpose are sacrificing a golden chance to attract and retain top talent, improve stakeholder trust and confidence levels, and make it easier for employees to make business decisions that contribute to meeting the company’s long-term objectives. That’s why all the great business leaders of our time – from Steve Jobs and Bill Gates right through to Richard Branson – have always been so maniacally focused on their purpose.


What successful organisations have learned is that it’s important to develop a sustainable culture that champions trust. According to a study by Imperative Research, high- trust organisations generate 2.5 times the revenue of low-trust companies.

Building trust provides employees with the psychological safety they need to thrive in their jobs. Developing a high-trust culture doesn’t happen overnight. In a high-trust collective, you will find leaders who are trustworthy and who have a concept of what it means to act with trust. They lead by extending trust to all employees. They also expect this behaviour from others, ensuring that trust cascades throughout the organisation. Over time, it eventually becomes embedded within the company.

Here are five methods to generate a high-trust culture:

Enhancing leadership capabilities

Building trust starts with leadership. Trust is often overlooked as a leadership competency because it is taken for granted. If you look at the reasons behind disengaged employees, one of the top ones is a lack of trust in leadership. According to SunSuper 2016 ‘Australian Employee Insights Report’, 24 percent of Australian employees always trust senior management, while 47 percent always trust their immediate manager. Yet, few leaders have ever been taught how to diagnose, enhance and repair trust.

Leaders who understand trust at a comprehensive level and who work at building it every day ensure that employees know that they will do the right thing by them. One of the ways they do this is by aligning everyone through communicating the social impact purpose and core values.

Social impact purpose

The central pillar for building trust is a corporate purpose that’s defined by a genuine commitment to the social good. A socially relevant purpose that’s defined, communicated and embedded throughout the organisation provides employees with the context they need to understand how their work makes a diff erence to the world. Humans are emotional beings and they buy in to their workplaces based on how much the purpose resonates with their own values.

After all, we’re more likely to trust that a company is ethical if we can see proof that it’s visibly making a di erence to the world and not just paying lip service to it.

It’s even becoming more important to hiring talent. According to Deloitte’s Millennial Survey, 57 percent of respondents who perceived their organisation to have a ‘strong sense of purpose’ reported a ‘high level of employee satisfaction’ at their company, versus only 23 percent of those who worked at an organisation without a strong sense of purpose.

Lead with values

In addition to the core purpose, leaders need to espouse and model core values. Jim Collins spent 25 years researching leadership, and his seminal research found that the foundational element to leading an organisation is guiding by a set of core values and purpose (known together as core ideology).

Values are your handful of rules that define the culture and are reinforced through your HR systems and leadership communication on a daily basis. They tell people what’s important or what’s not important. They help people distinguish what’s right and wrong, and encourage people to make the right choice.

Crafting a clear core ideology that contains the how, what and why enables executives and managers to collectively focus their employees through a shared understanding and acceptance of the mission. It’s much easier to communicate and direct behaviour, as well as guide strategic decision-making when everyone is clear on the purpose.

Leading by a handful of rules

It may seem counterintuitive, but creating a high-trust organisation with relatively little compliance produces the best results. In a high-trust environment, the culture becomes self-regulating and reinforcing of trust, weeding out perpetrators. It becomes a much more effective form of ‘control’ than additional rules and policies.

It’s a common estimate that three percent of a company workforce will try to cheat. There will always be employees that can’t be trusted in some situations. But rather than create rules to stop them, create rules for the 97 percent who want to do the right thing. The end result is that the cheaters will become highly visible and ejected out of the organisation like a virus.

According to Verne Harnish in his book, Scaling Up, creating a strong culture driven by a handful of rules makes leading people much easier, reduces the need for stacks of policies and procedures, gives everyone a foundation from which to make tough decisions, and generally brings simplicity and clarity to many of the ‘people’ systems within a firm.

Improving internal communication

A Willis Towers Watson Communication ROI (return on investment) study in 2014 found organisations that communicate effectively are 3.5 times more likely to significantly outperform their industry and peers through a deep understanding of culture and behaviour.

Not surprisingly, they are also three times more likely to be focused on behaviour change, rather than program cost.

Human beings need certainty. If employees suspect information is being hidden from them, they are more likely to assume the worst-case scenario, which reduces productivity.

By having open, regular and transparent internal communication, which is focused on purpose and values, employees don’t have to guess what leaders are thinking and are less likely to gossip, take sickies and even conduct fraud.


Some industries struggle to tie their services into the greater good of humanity. Oil and gas, engineering and accounting firms often fail to grasp how they help the world. But one thing is certain, if you are reducing waste, you have a convincing and compelling story to reinforce your value.

Tying your social purpose to the noble ideal of improving the environment is a compelling way to influence your employees and customers. But it’s not enough on its own.

Ensuring leaders have the right competencies to communicate your purpose and values, and lead with trust, will ensure that you create a sustainable, high-performance culture. The result is a workplace environment that is enjoyable and employees who are enthusiastic about the work that they do.

Marie-Claire Ross is the chief corporate catalyst at Trustologie. She is a workplace sociologist, author and consultant focused on helping leaders create high-trust work environments. Her acclaimed book, Transform Your Safety Communication, reached number three on Amazon. If you want more knowledge on how to lead with trust, visit for free tips and resources.

This article also appears in Issue 6 of CWS magazine. Get your free, obligation-free trial of the mag here.

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