5 steps to build trust in any organization with Leah Roe from The Perk

  • Leah Roe, founder of The Perk, helps companies take their culture and leadership to the next level. 

  • Leah believes that 99% of your organizational issues are trust issues. But even with broken trust, relationships can be repaired with five behaviors: connection, commitment, clarity, safety, and celebration.

  • The Perk throws ‘Trust Parties’ where leaders learn how to scale trust in their organizations. 

Leah Roe was ready to do people ops. She just needed to Google ‘people ops’ first.

Leah started her career as a CPA, but like some, lost the passion for public accounting. Then she moved on to an outsourced CFO and controllership company. That touched a bit closer to her interests, giving her an entryway into the entrepreneurial world. 

“[I] got really into working with entrepreneurs in the startup scene. I loved working alongside people that were so passionate and solving big problems. And I was also really interested in how they were building their teams and their culture. I helped one of my clients raise a series B round and then joined them as their full-time VP of Finance and Operations,” she explains of her transition from CPA to the startup scene.

It was in that position that Leah got tasked with a bigger job on her very first day of work: people ops. 

“I learned that people ops is HR, but it's also employee experience, culture development, leadership development, trust building, and scaling trust. And I just became totally obsessed with it and realized that while I am a great accountant, a great CPA, my calling was really in the people development space,” she says. 

Now with The Perk, Leah helps companies work out trust issues in their culture. On episode 62 of the Accounting Leaders Podcast, Leah shares how to rebuild trust in a firm using five key principles.

A bump in the road

Leah eventually transitioned from VP of Finance, Operations, People and Culture to just VP of People and Culture, a role she especially loved. She was a big proponent of leading by example, so much so that she planned to actually not check in during her maternity leave with her first child. 

“We decided as a leadership team that it was best for me personally and for the company to take my three-month maternity leave. I was not going to work or check in,” Leah says on the podcast. “We really wanted to be an example that you could be a woman executive at the company, take time off, and have it not negatively affect you.”

However, fate had other plans for Leah. While she was out on leave, the company did a 40% reduction in force—including her position. 

To top it all off, Leah’s husband had recently left a full-time job to build his own accounting firm. So there they were: a couple with a new baby and no income. 

Having always admired entrepreneurs, Leah decided that time was as good as any to strike out on her own. She founded The Perk in the summer of 2018 to help organizations take their leadership, teams, and culture to the next level. 

Things work out as they do

When the pandemic came around, it introduced different kinds of challenges to Leah and her business. 

The Perk, which both Leah and her CPA husband, Dan, were working for, saw a temporary drop in revenue to zero. That’s because given the uncertainty of the pandemic’s early days, clients were more focused on cost savings than spending on corporate culture.

However, when companies started realizing remote work is the new normal, Leah was uniquely primed for the pandemic’s demands on the workplace.

“My background is in building, developing, and scaling remote teams and culture. So that came in handy when the pandemic happened and everyone had to go remote. We were able to pivot and really help companies and leaders go remote, and then engage a remote workforce. As the pandemic was evening out, everybody was looking for that kind of expertise,” Leah tells Stuart.

Recommended viewing: Using a process to build a culture

Five behaviors that build trust

According to Leah, the foundation of company culture revolves around whether or not employees trust their employer. In short, trust is everything—or almost everything.

99% of your issues are trust issues.
Leah Roe, The Perk

“Even when it comes to education, a lot of the time it's the trustworthiness of the person who's communicating the message that decides whether people are going to understand it. It’s the same with alignment. Often, we are misaligned because we don't trust the person's vision, or we don't trust the team.”

Pulling from her extensive experience in culture and trust, Leah identifies five behaviors that build or break trust

1. Connect

Rome wasn’t built in a day—and the same goes for trust. Trust is all about relationships, and it doesn’t happen overnight. Relationships are built on genuine connections, so connecting with colleagues is a top priority. 

2. Commit

This one might seem simple: do what you say you’re going to do. 

The key is not overcommitting. Commit to doing a few things well, not to grand promises that are impossible to meet. People trust less when you promise the moon and deliver something far less. 

3. Be clear

Leah puts this one simply: “Ambiguity and confusion, in all forms, decreases trust.”

As a leader, make sure the basics are covered, and covered well. Places to avoid ambiguity are vision, strategic direction, and roles and responsibilities. 

4. Create safety

This one can be the scariest for many leaders because it involves vulnerability. 

“One of the best ways that you can do this as a leader is to demonstrate vulnerability. Say things like, ‘I don't have the answer. I made a mistake. I don't know, let's collaborate on this together. I'm not sure of the right answer’,” Leah advises.

Letting your guard down lets employees know that it’s a safe space to be emotionally vulnerable. 

5. Celebrate

It’s easy to have your eye on what Stuart calls “the never-ending horizon.” You finish one monumental task and are already mentally on to the next one. But in team environments, that can be incredibly harmful.

The key is surrounding yourself with people who are celebrators.

“You need those people around you to be like, ‘Let's stop, we need to celebrate this. This is a big deal. This was a goal. Everyone's working for it. I know that you're past it, but we need to take the time to celebrate’.”

Next up: world domination

Looking into 2023, Leah has one goal in mind: world domination. What does that mean for her? 

“I have a goal to throw 50 paid ‘Trust Parties’. Trust Parties teach you how to scale trust to maximize belonging and results,” she says. 

However, Leah acknowledges that goals change as a business grows and as the people running it grow. 

“We're really enjoying having this small but mighty team, working with awesome clients doing work that we love. And we're also able to spend a lot of time with our young kids right now. So our success might change in a year or two when the kids are in school. We'll pivot and evolve and change the company to meet that idea of success.”

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