Array of fictional dog food cans.

5 ways to build trust through internal communications

As Director of Communications and Learning at Sky, Mark Johnston is tasked with building relationships with thousands of employees throughout the UK. Here he shares his secrets on building trust through strategic internal communication

Words: Robin Gillie Illustration: Louise Duffy

“You have to eat your own dog food”, Mark Johnston explains as we sit in the buzzing canteen of Sky Livingston HQ. With over 18 years experience working in internal comms and having managed communication within a high-street bank during the financial crash, Mark understands the importance of effective corporate communication. “I believe ten years ago you could fool people with the corporate story and shiny words, but now employees are looking for a more hands-on approach”, says Mark.

Getting employees to trust you is becoming increasingly difficult in the current economic and political climate. Research by the Edelman Trust Barometer has shown 63 per cent of survey respondents believe their CEOs are somewhat or not at all credible. The level of trust an employee holds in their company directly impacts their long term satisfaction, productivity and willingness to work overtime.

As a greater number of employers look to invest in an effective trust strategy, we asked Mark for tips on building trust through an effective communication strategy. Here’s how Mark suggests you keep those employees engaged:

  1. Don’t get lazy
  2. Read the mood
  3. Make your employees feel seen
  4. Amplify the employee voice
  5. Burst the corporate bubble


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“A lot of internal comms practitioners get stuck in the old model of do a corporate piece, tell everybody about and hope they’ll read it”, says Mark. “In reality, these pieces do nothing to initiate change, generate conversation or gain trust. You want an enthused workforce who wants to read the communication, learn about their company and contribute to the conversation. Don’t rest on your laurels, innovate to captivate employees.”

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Your market has a lot to do with what’s going on within your company. If your customers are unhappy with your company then your employees will be too. A poor performing company or sector suffering from eroded trust needs a specialised form of communication.

“Take the financial sector”, says Mark, “the mood is very different, with the financial crash and the ever-changing business model, you need to communicate to employees very differently. Take note from your external marketing and your company’s state of play, maintain trust through honest communication.”

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“You need to make your employees feel like their needs are being seen,” says Mark. “I have been focusing our comms on issues faced by our employees so on a monthly basis the company is having conversations around mental health, inclusion and women’s issues. It’s more than simply transmitting ideas; it’s about getting people involved in every country and recognising the issues they face. Making people feel like individuals then earns you the right to ask them to do more. As employers, we have in our mind that mentality of ‘I’ve paid you money and now I can ask you to do whatever’, no once you gain that person’s trust and earn their respect, then you can ask for more.”

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“In internal comms you can set up a campaign, but what it really needs is to take on a life of its own, away from the marketing team”, says Mark. “The problem with traditional stuff like posters is they are quite static. Yes, you can make people the face of the campaign, but you are relying on employees to interact. I have set up internal social media and found this is a great way for employees to interact and air concerns. The first year we got people to share their mental health stories, and soon we found senior leaders filming themselves and sharing stories. It creates a culture where people trust each other and can share; a culture people want to be a part of.”

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“You have to go to the front line”, explains Mark. “Go and spend time with each division, each team has their own personality. Speak to real people to burst the corporate bubble. We often sit in offices saying we need to address Brexit, but in reality, there’s a woman in the call centre desperate for a new headset. So to prevent this division, we have regular forums where staff can talk to managers about how things can be improved. They can hold them accountable and ensure things get done”. By creating a way employees can hold you accountable, you are building trust and can ensure your employees are more than just a human resource – they are happy, engaged participants.

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