An incredibly easy way to boost wellbeing this Family Day weekend: just talk

How much time do you think Canadians spend talking with kids every day?

Family day statI’m talking real conversation – not the “pick up your socks” or “you’ll be late for the bus” type interaction or receiving instruction in school. I mean conversation, listening to kids read or reading to them, playing together, helping with homework and even reprimanding behaviour. It’s what Statistics Canada’s General Social Survey calls “talk-based activities with children aged 0 to 14 years.”

While it may feel like you’re spending hours talking with your kids or believing they’re engaged in a lot of one-on-one talk interaction at school, the truth is less than one hour a day is spent in meaningful talk-based activity with kids under 15.

Time spent in talk-based activities with kids ages 0 to 14 years was only 34.2 minutes in 2014, down from 36.8 minutes in 2005.(1)

Ontario fared slightly better at 40 minutes with Central Ontario coming in at a provincial high of 45 minutes. Still, that’s less than an hour a day.(2)

This connection time is important for kids’ overall development, helping make them great members of our families and of society. It’s important time for adults too to know what’s happening in their world and to glean how we can support them. And, it’s an indicator of our overall wellbeing.¬†Yet it’s not always easy to find time to connect. We’re rushing through dinner to make it to the kids’ swimming or guitar lessons or to dashing off to our own commitments.

I’m hardly the role model on this one. Too often, the big picture is a victim of the tyranny of the immediate or the interaction is not what I had hoped for; but, from one flawed parent to an interested reader, my family has had a lot of fun with these games. They’re great for the dinner table or for a longer drive and they introduce topics where everyone’s equal. They open the conversation enough for someone to broach a rule they think is unfair, to share a dream or to thank someone in the family in a way that’s not “weird.” (My kids are 11 and 14… everything is “weird” or “cringy” right now.) It allows the kids to see their parents as people too – not just the cook, driver and disciplinarian.

Card games and books that can help spark a conversation
These games make it easy for a family to connect at the dinner table or on a longer drive.


Just curious, what’s the best question you’ve ever asked a family member or been asked yourself? What happened? I’d love it if you would share ūüôā

Signing off and wishing you a great Family Day weekend.


(1) Canadian Index of Wellbeing, 2016 national report indicator trends data tables, data from Statistics Canada, General Social Survey.

(2) Canadian Index of Wellbeing, Profiles of wellbeing in Ontario, Central Region, p.35


8 proven ways Canadian businesses can start building trust today

Yesterday the Edelman Trust Barometer released its¬†Canadian results to a packed room at the Toronto Board of Trade. While an all-star panel called on Canadian business leaders to “step up” to capitalize on Canada as the most trusted country of origin globally and to reverse the erosion of trust domestically, there was little concrete direction on how to do that beyond “changing the narrative” and pinning our hopes on millennial CEOs.¬†Edelman cdn highlights

To be fair, former minister of justice and attorney general, Hon. Peter Mackay, did point out that government, media, NGOs and business have to focus on “outcomes over optics” and Kirstine Stewart, President and Chief Revenue Officer of TribalScale, called for “systematic fundamental change.”

So if you want to start building trust today, what does that look like in a very concrete way? 

From strategy to tactics, here are 8 proven ways Canadian businesses can start building trust today:

  1. Be trustworthy. Look deeply into your operations and ask yourself these 10 ethical questions to bullet-proof your business. This is not solely the purview of millennials. These are questions from Aristotle, St.Augustine, Locke and Adam Smith. The most trusted companies have been doing this from the start. Think of Interface, Rhino Foods and many of the companies listed as Best Employers, Most Ethical Corporations, etc.
  2. Appreciate trust-building as a framework for performance, value creation and risk management. Businesses that are trusted have better results, a licence to operate, dedicated customers, less regulation, less time spent managing crises and more resilience during a crisis. Trustworthy companies attract and retain great employees. I could go on. Instead, here’s my list of ¬†22 business benefits of trust identified in academic studies. (These don’t even cover psychological and sociological benefits.)
  3. Show benevolence. Rahul Bhardwaj, President and CEO of Institute of Corporate Directors, said “employees want to know their leaders have their interests at heart.” This is true of all stakeholders. Benevolence, or goodwill, is the key differentiating factor for trust, without it, it’s just a credible transaction. Invest in your communities. Protect the environment. Pay out pensions before investors. Offer generous bereavement leave or professional development. Go the extra mile for customers (WestJet and Southwest are great at this.) Benevolence is the antidote to the perception of self-interest. Are you aligned with your community and customers’ values?
  4. Set your employees and your partners up for success. They are your best ambassadors. Here are 12 proven and practical ways to build trust internally and with your partners. They include setting norms, communicating, formal and informal governance mechanisms and my MA in a nutshell.
  5. Prove your point and build coalitions.¬†Make your case with facts to engage the mind and with stories to engage the heart. Media messages need empathy, information and action. Advocacy efforts should involve a coalition of supporters to show broad benefit as opposed to self-interest. As the spokesperson for a national insurance company, I never expected reporters to take me at face value. I always provided contact information for a regulator, an academic or another industry leader – a credible third-party “expert” as identified in the Trust Barometer.
  6. Embrace outcomes that are bigger than your business. The Trust Barometer shows Canadians want businesses to: “drive economic prosperity, invest in jobs, innovate, guard information quality and ensure equal opportunity.” Globally, we’re seeing that leadership with ambitious plans for electric cars set by car manufacturers, not by governments. The Co-operators Group recently announced a significant increase in mental health benefits, not because government made them but because they are acting on an important social and business issue. If you don’t believe me or the Trust Barometer respondents, the need to embrace social purpose is exactly what Blackrock Chairman and CEO,¬†Larry Fink, is urging in his recent letter to CEOs.
  7. Tell your story across different channels. It’s never been harder to reach your audience in a meaningful way so it’s important to have a consistent message across multiple channels.¬†First, ensure your employees are your best ambassadors – nothing beats face to face communications. Second, ensure your customers are fans and give them an opportunity to say so in online reviews. Although this year’s Trust Barometer shows that trust in “people like me” is down slightly, online reviews have been proven to drive purchasing decisions. Never erase negative reviews, rather, use them as an opportunity to recover the customer and to use the feedback to improve operations or processes. Third, ensure you’ve got the right mix of: (A) earned media (news stories in traditional media generated by press releases are traditionally seen as more credible); (B) owned media (your website and the social media accounts you control should have great usability, helpful and accurate content and a user-focus); and (C) paid advertising (just make sure your ads hit the mark, unlike the recent, costly Pepsi fiasco.) ¬†Another form of paid placement that simultaneously allows you to build bigger outcomes is investing in partnerships and sponsorships that align with your brand and your customer’s values.
  8. Build Canada into your brand, especially if you operate globally.¬†It’s not just the Olympics that have us waving the Maple Leaf. Global results for the Trust Barometer show companies headquartered in Canada are the most trusted in the world. Edelman Canada CEO, Lisa Kimmel, attributes this to stable regulation, a skilled workforce and our values. So let’s strengthen those norms and values, keep investing in our workforce and enforcing good regulation. Let’s also not be complacent about serious issues like food fraud, price-fixing, kick-backs, system-wide harassment, precarious work, etc.

The Edelman Trust Barometer is important because it sparks conversation from Davos to dinner tables. At the same time I’d like to see that conversation shift towards macro-solutions – actual mechanisms- that address global macro-trust problems. Canadian businesses can start that process now.

One panelist said yesterday that “Leaders have to have the courage to have these conversations in the workplace.” I just don’t understand the hesitation that exists around embracing an amazing value-creation and risk management opportunity.

Embracing trust-building is incredibly cost effective with a potentially incredible ROI for the organization and society writ large.

You can do this in your organization. It’s easy to start. Years ago, I led a series of internal town halls with staff from all levels of a national organization to identify: What can I do to build trust?; What can my department do?; and What can the company do? The results were distilled and presented to each department which integrated its top 3 take-aways for the year’s corporate plans. That focused attention on the importance of trust and sparked concrete corporate action. ¬†It’s not a branding exercise. It’s an ongoing process.

Related posts: Reflections on the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer; 

Respond to the global trust crisis: 12 Weeks To Trust now updated


Reflections on the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer

“A Battle for Truth” and “Trust Crash in the U.S.”¬†proclaimed last week’s 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer. Then, the usual, ridiculous hand-wringing ensued. Yet, there’s plenty of research in business strategy and ethics that points the way out of this quagmire; and it’s not the inter-personal stuff you may be familiar with. I’m talking real business practices and systems that make your organization more trustworthy and therefore, more trusted. Trust has tangible bottom-line benefits.

The need for macro-level trust interventions is urgent. Here’s what scholars Reinhardt Bachmann and Andrew Inkpen pointed out in the wake of the 2007-2008 financial crisis.

Clearly, the problem has not emerged in that trust has broken down at the micro-level, i.e. in relationships where individuals know each other face-to-face. The trust crisis is essentially due to a breakdown of macro-level trust, i.e. trust in (large) organizations. This is why we urgently need to know more about the development, repair, reach and potential of institutional-based trust. (Bachmann & Inkpen, 2011)

Here are few trust-building tips off the top of my head, inspired by my MA Research and illustrated by 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer slides.

The Edelman Trust Barometer says trust in platforms (like Facebook and blogs) is

Screen Shot 2018-01-29 at 2.22.49 PM

down but trust in journalism is up. That’s a good start. Now…


Newsrooms: Stop slashing staff and chasing clicks. Re-invest in real reporting and fact-checking.

Stop closing local news outlets. Hint: One key determinant to building trust is to provide appropriate resources (or Transaction Specific Investments).

Journalists: Quit the bandwagon journalism and rewarming celebrity stories. Find new stories. The world is full of them. For example: ¬†Is everything ok in Haiti? What about Fukuyama? What’s happening in South Sudan? (Yes, I know you need newsrooms and budgets to do that… see above.)¬†Stop interviewing one another and covering your endless retirement stories! Stop inserting yourselves into the story, especially if you’re lying about it (Looking at you Bryan Williams). Interview the experts on these stories: technical experts, academics, the people involved, the leaders who are responsible. That’s who your viewers trust.

Screen Shot 2018-01-29 at 2.28.46 PM

CEOs: Behave ethically (Really? I have to say that?). For example, Volkswagen, don’t fudge your emissions tests. Require your employees to behave ethically (I’m thinking banks and telcos pushing products people don’t need). Loblaws, don’t engage in price fixing and imagine a $25 gift card makes it all better.

Establish clear norms of appropriate behaviour and penalize those who transgress (#MeToo, enough said).

Communicate. What you are doing?  Why?  How does it impact your stakeholders? Communicate your values and be honest about the world in which you operate.

Show benevolence (Looking at you Tim Horton’s … cutting out paid breaks, give me a break, Mr. Grinch!)¬† If you partner with NGOs, be sure the power in the relationship is equal, otherwise you’re trying to co-opt them.

Invest in your people, your communities and your business partners. Where you can, cut hierarchy and monitoring in your organizations (those cost a lot) and empower people to do what you hired them to do. Establish longer-term goals so staff aren’t tempted to cut corners to meet quarterly results.

Develop joint plans and mechanisms for joint problem solving for staff, teams or partners  Рwhichever is appropriate Рand ensure compensation rewards collaboration. Resource projects appropriately. Ensure employees can deliver on their promises and have the flexibility to show benevolence (Southwest Airlines does this so well.) Ensure you have role clarity and distributive justice within your organization (Hello BBC!).

Implement ethics as a practice  Р not as a once-a year code of conduct or a once in a while gut check, but a real practice. It can be an excellent lens for risk management Рbefore you get into trouble Рas well as a source for value creation.

Show competence. Deliver. Period. Just do what you said you would do. (This reminds me of the Phoenix pay system… what happened there? The government needs to trust its supplier and employees need to trust they will get paid properly.)¬†Ensure your premises – physical and digital – convey trust by showing your accreditations, reviews, awards, etc.

NGOs: See CEO recommendations and use as applicable. Be transparent. Show good governance. Apologize when you mess up. Measure your results. Be transparent. Share your good news – we need it. Show benevolence not just with your clients but by collaborating with other NGOs for the greater good of the community, not the survival of your organization. (I KNOW this is a hot topic. But we need an attitude of abundance. Are you putting the community first?)

I’ll have more to say when the Canadian results come out on Valentines’ Day! For the moment, here are few Canadian results from the global release.

Screen Shot 2018-01-29 at 2.47.55 PM

Despite the fact that Canada is the most trusted country of origin, last year the country fell into the category of distrusting nations. This dubious distinction lands us exactly in line with the 25-country global total and in the neighbourhood of such bastions of democracy as Argentina and Columbia.

Oh Canada! We can do better. In fact, we must.




Source for all graphs: 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer.

Insights, introverts and index cards

Before I started teaching a new PR class last year, I wanted to improve the classroom environment for people with different styles. The previous semester was my first teaching experience and the class included lots of debate, group work and presentations. As the semester clipped along, the same handful of students were always raising their hands or leading discussions. They were terrific, but I also wanted to hear from the “unusual suspects,” people whose ideas and grades were excellent Introvert pull quotebut who weren’t speaking up in class. I debated just calling on them to coax an answer but didn’t want to put anyone on the spot.

My friend suggested I just ask my students at the beginning of the semester whether I can call on them “out of the blue.” That’s simple enough. So on the first class, I distributed blank index cards and asked the students to write: their name, whether I can call on them in class even if they haven’t raised their hand; what they hope to get out of the class; and a fun fact about themselves.

The first thing that surprised¬†me was that students’ personalities immediately shone
through the simple 3×5 lined index card. Their handwriting, use of adjectives, smiley faces all told me something about them.

Answers to a simple “can I call on you?” ranged from enthusiastic “Yes!!!” with¬†multiple exclamation marks or “Absolutely” to emphatic “No thanks!” or “I prefer to formulate my thoughts first,” and variations of “it depends.” I used that information to create a little chart of green, yellow and red dots on my class list so that, at a glance, I could nudge discussion along, without putting anyone on the spot.

index cards
A five-minute index card exercise provided insights that make me a better teacher.

The real value came in the “throw-away” fun fact question. One student let me know she’s allergic to nuts and carries an epi-pen. That’s potentially life-saving information that would never come up in the course of regular classroom interaction. Another student wrote that she is hard of hearing. ¬†She didn’t have an official accommodation, so I might never have known; but with eight little words on the bottom of an index card I could make sure I was facing her, speaking loudly enough and checking in privately every once in a while.

Students told me they have young children or two part-time jobs, others are simultaneously completing other programs, are international students or world-class athletes. Having this background information gave me instant empathy about some of the challenges and demands students face outside the classroom. When students shared previous education or work experience, I was able to incorporate those into examples and exercises throughout the semester.

Whether students told me they love travel, cats, dogs, hockey, tea, piano or the number 12, that little index card immediately gave me a tiny peek into their lives. It provided an instant connection. Now, when students walk into the classroom, I really feel¬†they are bringing all of their hopes, dreams, talents, interests, lucky numbers and challenges with them. They bring their whole selves to class. It’s different than knowing it conceptually.

You could argue that PR students should be fast on their feet and ready to be called on at any time. I think they’re teenagers in an 8am class who are learning to be PR experts. They have every right to put their best foot forward in their learning environment. They’re not all extroverts who learn by thinking out loud and who get energy from being in front of a group. Some students are introverts who want to think, read, reflect and craft their response before sharing it. Some students have English as a second language who need a little extra time to formulate their thoughts. In all cases, the answers and ideas are just as good. My job is to tailor my approach to get the best from them and to encourage them to participate.

Thanks to my brilliant friend for her suggestion. A five-minute exercise and an index card gave me the information I needed to keep the conversation flowing in class and wonderful insights into the lives of my students. That little bit of insight makes for a richer and more effective environment for all of us.

Do you have a classroom trick or great ice-breaker to share? I’d love to hear it.