Leading with Trust

You Must Address These 3 Things if You Want to Restore Broken Trust

Trust is often one of those things we don’t think about until we don’t have it. Much like oxygen, we take it for granted, but once it’s gone…YIKES! We suddenly realize how critically important it is and we’ll do just about anything to get it back.

The good news about broken trust, if there is any, is that it can be rebuilt in most circumstances. Trust is incredibly resilient when it’s been properly nurtured in healthy relationships. With the exception of the most willful, intentional acts of betrayal, trust can usually be rebuilt if both parties are willing to put in the effort. However, in order to rebuild it, you must address three important things.

The first thing to deal with to restore trust is the past. As the 12-step recovery process has taught us, the first step in fixing a problem is to acknowledge you have one. When violations of trust occur, it is tempting to sweep the fallout under the rug and pretend it didn’t happen. Breaches of trust need to be met head-on and burying your head in the sand and pretending it doesn’t exist only makes the wound fester and become infected. It’s helpful to assess which of the four elements of trust has been eroded and then admit your mistakes. There are few trust-building behaviors more powerful than admitting and owning your mistakes. After your admission, let others express their feelings. Listen with empathy and understanding; don’t debate and argue.

The second thing to address in restoring trust is the present. You can reconcile the past with the present when you apologize. The apology is a make it or break it moment in the process of rebuilding trust. If you apologize well, you set the course for healing and higher levels of trust in the future. If you botch the apology, you can dig yourself into an even deeper hole of hurt and dysfunction. Effective apologies have three basic components: admitting your fault, expressing remorse for the harm caused, and committing to repairing the damage. Check out The Most Successful Apologies Have These 8 Elements for more tips on apologizing.

The third thing to address when restoring trust is the future and you do this by determining how you’re going to act moving forward. This is where the rubber hits the road in rebuilding trust. You can articulate the most awesome apology in the world, but the relationship will suffer permanent harm if you don’t change your behavior. The key success factor is to have a plan of action that is agreed upon with the person you offended. Outline how each of you will move forward in the relationship, what accountability looks like, and how you’ll know when the breach of trust has been repaired. The time it takes to repair trust is usually proportional to the severity of the offense.

Rebuilding trust in relationships requires us to be vulnerable and courageous. We must deal with the past and acknowledge we did something wrong, address the present and apologize for our behavior, and move into the future and act in ways that repair the damage we caused. However, the net result can be even stronger levels of trust. Relationships that have experienced the crucible of broken trust can come out stronger on the other side if both parties are willing to engage in this hard work to get to a place of healing and restoration.

Your Return-to-Office Strategy Is an Opportunity to Build Trust With Employees

Enjoy this article that was recently published in Ignite!, the newsletter of The Ken Blanchard Companies. I was interviewed about the opportunity to build trust as organizations develop plans to return workers to the office.


Organizations have an opportunity to intentionally increase trust with their people by the open and collaborative way they handle plans for people returning to the office, says trust expert Randy Conley.

“As a leader, you have a choice on where to invest your energy. You can do it through micromanaging and strictly enforcing everyone’s work schedules—or you can spend your time empowering your people, investing in them, trusting them, and helping them achieve their goals, regardless of whether they’re sitting in a nearby office or joining a Zoom call from home.

“A large percentage of people have enjoyed the freedom and work-life balance that working from home has provided. They are concerned about losing some of these positive changes as companies begin to roll out their plans for returning to the office.”

Sending people home at the start of the pandemic was a great trust experiment, says Conley.

“Organizations were forced to extend trust to their people. There was no more physical monitoring. The norm of everyone showing up at the office at 9:00 a.m. was broken.

“The good news is, by all accounts we’ve seen, the ‘experiment’ was a great success! Leaders and their teams found new ways to work and were amazed by not only the increase in productivity but also the satisfaction with their life and work situation.”

So what do organizations do now? Continue to build in that direction—or collectively exhale that it went well, bring everyone back to the office, and return to the old ways?

“I think that train has left the station,” says Conley. “Employees have had a taste of a new way of working and they want certain aspects of it to continue. They’re not willing to go back to the old life. If their organization doesn’t want to make a change, many will look for something else or stay only until a better opportunity comes along.”

This has employers worried about losing their best talent as well as finding new talent in the future, says Conley.

“It’s a very practical concern. I think a lot of old-school mentality leaders still believe the office is where people need to be to do their work.

“It’s dangerous to generalize around this topic. Leaders have a lot of sticky issues to work through. It’s important to take some time to think things through, be open, share information, and make decisions based on data—not on old-school mindsets or ideas.

“If you have data points that support onsite collaboration and productivity, make sure your team understands that. Conversely, if your data supports remote work, share that. Have an open dialogue about it. Involve people in the change and the decision-making process.”

The key to creating this atmosphere of open dialogue is building a culture with high trust. That begins with connectedness, says Conley.

“Go slow. Tread lightly. Unless you have a rock-solid reason for bringing back people immediately without their feedback, take it slowly and involve them in the process. Let them know you’re hearing their concerns.”

Another leader behavior that builds trust is having clear expectations, says Conley.

“Be explicit about what the hybrid work model will look like for your team. How many days per week are people expected to be in the office? Are some days mandatory? The more you can spell out the details, the more confident people will be about complying with team norms.

“During times like these, it’s important to build on the trust we extend to each other in how we get our work done. By setting clear expectations, involving everyone in the process, soliciting feedback, and staying flexible as leaders, we can better enjoy the progress we’ve made and will continue to make as we move into the future.”


Would you like to learn more about building trust in your organization? Join us for a free webinar!

Accelerating Trust During Times of Change

Wednesday, July 21, 2021, 7:00 a.m. Pacific Time

Trust is critical anytime an organization is embarking on great change. To ensure high levels of organizational performance, leaders must tackle trust head-on by demonstrating the behaviors people most associate with trust.

People need to know they can trust their leaders in four key areas. In this webinar, Blanchard trust practice leader Randy Conley will show you how to improve the levels of trust in your organization by identifying potential gaps that trip up even the best leaders. Participants will learn how to:

  • Recognize the warning signs when people lack trust in your leadership.
  • Purposefully engage in four trust-building behaviors.
  • Create strong, long lasting, trust-based relationships.

Don’t miss this opportunity to learn how to raise the level of trust in your organization by increasing the “trust-ability” of your leaders.

Register today!

I’ve Led Hybrid Teams for 15 Years – Here’s the Truth About What Works

Many organizations are embracing hybrid teams (a mixture of onsite and remote employees) as a model of working in the post-COVID19 world. Hybrid teams are not new, but this model of working is new to many organizations and leaders.

I’ve been leading hybrid teams for 15 years, so I have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t. I’ve learned a lot over this time, mostly through trial and error. I thought I’d offer some straight-up, real talk about what it’s like to lead a hybrid team, so that you can learn from my experience and possibly avoid some of the mistakes I made.

Work From Home (WFH) and In-Office Schedules

Years ago, when I decided to allow team members to work from home a few days a week, I worked with my managers to create an elaborate schedule of the days team members would WFH and be in the office. We wanted to maintain at least 60% of our team in the office on any given day and we also wanted to limit people working from home on Monday or Friday (because, you know, those untrustworthy workers would use their Friday/Monday WFH day to make it a long weekend). To limit time out of the office, we had a policy that team members were to schedule personal appointments on their WFH days.

Life doesn’t happen according to our neat little plan. Legitimate circumstances would arise that caused a team member to shift their schedule – a sick child, a broken water pipe at home, or an impromptu meeting at the office that required the employee to come in on their normal WFH day. We quickly found ourselves spending more time and energy managing our team member’s whereabouts than the important work we needed to accomplish. I eventually decided to leave it to the employee’s discretion of when to WFH and when to be in the office. They came into the office when they needed to be there for meetings or to collaborate with others.

Team Meetings

The first few years of leading a hybrid team, I had less than a handful of team members who worked remotely (full-time), while everyone else was in the office. Our team meetings would consist of everyone gathered around a conference table with a polycom in the middle, and the remote people joined in via conference call. Of course, the experience for the remote people was horrendous.

As my hybrid team grew and more people worked remotely, we started using Zoom for our team meetings. We were doing Zoom calls years before anyone had ever heard of Zoom (weren’t we progressive!). However, we still gathered everyone in the conference room, hooked a laptop to the LCD projector, and showed the remote people on screen. Of course, they were still connected via the horrendous polycom conference phone, so really the experience didn’t improve much for the remote folks. They were still second-class citizens when it came to team meetings.

We finally got smart and started holding our team meetings all-virtual. Everyone, including the entire team in the office, got on Zoom from their individual offices. Compared to our previous meeting formats, the experience was night and day better for everyone! All-virtual meetings level the playing field for everyone because each team member has equal opportunity to participate.

Clear Expectations

Make the implicit, explicit. That’s what I learned, and that’s what my colleague, John Hester, calls out as one of the key skills to leading a hybrid team. Document expectations so there isn’t any room for confusion. Everything from working hours, response times, technologies to be leveraged, backup plans, and communication norms should be clear, regularly communicated, and most of all, followed.

Most importantly, trust is the foundation for leading a hybrid team.

Foster a Connected Community

My friend, Michael Stallard, is an expert in this area. He emphasizes that a culture of connection meets the seven universal human needs at work for respect, recognition, belonging, autonomy, personal growth, meaning, and progress. I’ve found this to be true in leading hybrid teams. My managers and I found we had to work differently, and more intentionally, to foster relationships with team members. Team members themselves must be more intentional about being seen and heard when they aren’t in the office. Many leaders fall into the trap of proximity bias, which is giving preferential treatment to those in their immediate vicinity. Leaders need to be conscious of that bias, work to eliminate it, and employees need to know that it’s a factor that may impact their personal situation.

Hybrid Teams Are Different from Co-located Teams

In the early days of leading a hybrid team, I thought something was wrong because it didn’t feel the same as when everyone was in the office. I learned that nothing was wrong, it was just different. Hybrid teams “feel” different, both from the leader and team member perspective, than teams that have everyone physically located together. As mentioned previously, everyone needs to be more intentional to foster connected relationships in a hybrid team. Hybrid teams miss out on those chance hallway encounters, the lingering conversation after a meeting ends, or the chit-chat in the office lunch kitchen. You have to make up for those times by planning them into your online team meetings and specific events to build team camaraderie.

In-Person Meetings

Face-to-face meetings are critically important for building relationships. I learned the importance of scheduling periodic meetings to bring the team together, usually for non-work, social activities. I would organize regular team lunches in the office and invite everyone to come in (free food always attracts a crowd!) or plan a cook-out at a team member’s house and then let them take the rest of the day off work. I leveraged yearly all-company meetings to bring the entire global team together, and the agenda for those meetings would be roughly 1/3rd work-focused and 2/3rd team-building focused.

Performance Management

There will be some team members who turn out to be ill-suited to work remotely. Some people have challenges staying focused and productive when working from home or don’t have the technical chops to effectively self-manage the technology required to be productive. I learned you have two choices: either require them to be in the office full-time (which often creates resentment because they feel they are being treated unfairly), or share them with your competition. Whichever route you choose, deal with it promptly. Don’t let it linger because it will eventually need to be dealt with, and it’s much easier for everyone involved if you act quickly.

Trust is the coin of the realm

Most importantly, trust is the foundation for leading a successful hybrid team. If you can’t trust an employee to do a good job when they WFH, then they probably shouldn’t be on your team. As a leader, you must take the risk of extending trust to your team, which is exactly what you did last year when you sent your team to WFH during the pandemic. Why would you want to pull back on that trust now by trying to run your hybrid team with an iron fist? Don’t do it.

I love leading and working in a hybrid team because it provides people the autonomy they need to do their jobs in the best possible way. I think most organizations have learned during the pandemic that there are tremendous upsides to remote work. Are there challenges? You bet. Are they manageable? Yes, they are.

Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water by returning to the old ways of work just because it’s familiar and comfortable. Hybrid teams work. Make them work for you.

Build Trust by Sitting on The Same Side of The Table

By their very nature, unionized workplaces and industries often promote a culture of distrust between stakeholders. Each party is suspicious of the other and is afraid of being taken advantage of, so they hold their cards close to their vest and try to cut the best deal possible for their stakeholders. It’s us on one side of the table versus them on the other.

Must it be that way? I don’t think so. I think both sides can build trust by sitting on the same side of the table.

First, let’s talk about why we don’t trust each other. We refrain from trusting because it involves risk. If there’s no risk involved, then there’s no need to trust. But if you are vulnerable to the actions of another, then trust is required. You have two choices when presented with relationship risk: you can withhold trust to protect yourself, or you can extend trust in the hopes it will be reciprocated and both parties will benefit.

Reciprocation is a key factor in the development of trust. There is a social dynamic in relationships known as the Law of Reciprocity. Essentially it means that when someone does something nice to us—give us gifts, show love, extend trust, give grace, grant forgiveness—we have a natural human instinct to respond in kind. Unfortunately, the opposite is true as well. When someone acts cruelly or hostile toward us, we often respond in even more cruel and hostile ways.

In the public square these days, negative reciprocity is the norm. Warring factions have developed a singular membership criterion: you’re either with me or against me. We have demonized those whom we believe to be against us. They are no longer honorable, well-meaning people with different ideas. They are mortal enemies who cannot be trusted at any cost. The result is one group treats the other with contempt and hostility, the other group responds in kind and even turns it up a notch for good measure. Around and round we go in a negative, downward spiral, zero trust loop.

Trust cannot begin to grow until one party extends it to the other. Trust must be given before it can be received. It really is that simple.

Once you understand someone must make the first move to extend trust, how do you get both parties on the same side of the table? I think it involves have a common mindset and skillset about trust.

The trust mindset is understanding the fates of each party are intertwined. All successful relationships are built on a foundation of trust. It doesn’t matter the type of relationship—husband/wife, parent/child, boss/employee, or union/labor–trust is what binds us together. Operating from this mindset eliminates the fear of being disadvantaged by the other party and allows you to work toward solutions that provide mutual benefit. In a relationship of trust, both parties are searching for win-win solutions, not win-lose or win-break even.

The skillset of trust involves behaving in a trustworthy manner. Sometimes this is challenging because people have different perceptions of what constitutes trustworthy behavior. That’s why it’s helpful to have a common definition of trust.

Research shows there are four key elements of trust. Since every language has an alphabet, we’ve created the ABCD Trust Model to define the language of trust. You build trust with others when you are:

Able—You demonstrate competence by having the knowledge, skills, and expertise for your role or profession. You achieve goals consistently and develop a track record of success. You show good planning and problem-solving skills and make sound, informed decisions. People trust your competence.

BelievableActing with integrity. You tell the truth, keep confidences, and admit your mistakes. You walk the talk by acting in ways congruent with your personal values and those of the organization. You treat people equitably and ethically and ensure that rules are applied fairly.

Connected—You care about others. Connected people are kind, compassionate, and concerned with others’ well-being. They readily share information about themselves and the organization. Being a good listener, seeking feedback, and incorporating the ideas of others into decisions are behaviors of a connected individual who cares about people.

Dependable—People trust others who honor their commitments. DWYSYWD—doing what you say you will do—is a hallmark of dependable people. They do this by establishing clear priorities, keeping promises and holding themselves and others accountable. Dependable people are punctual, adhere to organizational policies and procedures, and are responsive to others.

Building trust is not a one and done proposition. Trust is not a destination you reach, but rather a journey that never ends. Extending trust, embodying a mindset of trust, and using the skillset of trust will transform distrustful relationships into trust-filled partnerships that promote the growth and well-being of both parties.

This article was published in the March 2021 issue of Partners in Progress magazine.

Does Forgiveness Need To Be Earned?

While watching a college basketball game today, I saw this statement in the scrolling news ticker at the bottom of the television screen: “From our conversations, he understands that forgiveness must be earned, and he is willing to work for it.”

Uh…what? Forgiveness has to be earned? Since when?

Let me tell you the backstory. Gregg McDermott, head coach of the men’s basketball team at Creighton University, recently stuck his foot in his mouth, big time. In delivering a post-game speech to his team in which he was trying to emphasize the importance of team unity, he used a racially insensitive analogy that was completely inappropriate. He recognized his mistake and quickly apologized. Last week the university suspended him indefinitely while they investigated the incident. Today, Creighton athletic director, Bruce Rasmussen, issued the following statement:

“Through his immediate apology, ownership of his actions, difficult dialogue with his team, and more, Coach McDermott has demonstrated a commitment to grow. I believe his apology, his commitment to grow from this, to learn, and to regain the trust of his student-athletes and others impacted by his words. From our conversations, he understands that forgiveness must be earned, and he is willing to work for it. His actions during his career reveal an individual committed to his team and his community. As such, coach Greg McDermott has been reinstated for all team activities, including this week’s Big East tournament.”

Perhaps it was just an awkwardly worded press release, or maybe Bruce Rasmussen was simply trying to emphasize the importance of Coach McDermott working to regain the trust of those around him (which was explicitly mentioned), but the truth is this: Forgiveness can’t be earned; it can only be given. (click to tweet)

Forgiveness is not something under the control of the person who committed a breach of trust. Forgiveness rests solely with the person offended. The offended party has the choice to offer forgiveness or withhold it. What McDermott does, or doesn’t do, has no impact on whether his players, assistant coaches, university administrators, fans, or anyone else chooses to forgive him. There’s no way he can earn it. Don’t confuse forgiveness with making amends. Making amends is the responsibility of the party who committed the offense. Forgiveness is the responsibility of the offended.

If forgiveness had to be earned, it would also mean that forgiveness was conditional and could only be granted upon meeting certain criteria. How would that work? If Coach McDermott doesn’t say anything stupid for six months, does he earn 25% forgiveness? Maybe six months is worth 50% forgiveness? Or maybe it’s only worth 15% forgiveness if the offended party is still holding a grudge? Forgiveness is either given or it’s not. Forgiveness is not a weapon to be wielded to manipulate, coerce, or control someone into doing what you want them to do.

There are many misconceptions about forgiveness, like it’s a display of weakness, it lets the offending party off the hook, or opens the door to people taking advantage of you. Those are misconceptions for a reason: they’re wrong. I’ve written in-depth about the role of forgiveness in restoring trust. It’s the most powerful tool at your disposal to move beyond the pain and suffering of broken trust. Forgiveness is a soothing balm to the wounds of broken trust. It works best when applied liberally and frequently.

What are your thoughts about the role forgiveness plays in restoring trust? Do you believe forgiveness is earned or given? Please leave a comment and share your perspectives.

You’ve Got to Give It to Get It

While teaching a class this past week on Building Trust, I found myself giving the participants this admonishment: “Just like anything in life, you’re going to get out of this what you put into it.”

I’m not quite sure where that came from, but I suspect it was the words of advice given to me over the years from my mother, teachers, coaches, and bosses. I imagine you’ve probably received, or given, that same advice before. It’s good advice because it’s true.

When it comes to trust, it’s especially true. You see, trust can’t begin to grow until someone first extends trust. That’s because there’s risk involved. Risk and trust go hand in hand. If there’s no risk involved, then there’s no need to trust. But if you are vulnerable to the actions of another, then trust is required. You have two choices when presented with relationship risk: you can withhold trust in order to protect yourself, or you can extend trust in the hopes it will be reciprocated and both parties will benefit.

Reciprocation is a key factor in the development of trust. There is a social dynamic in relationships known as the Law of Reciprocity. Essentially it means that when someone does something nice to us—give us gifts, show love, extend trust, give grace, grant forgiveness—we have a natural human instinct to respond in kind. Unfortunately, the opposite is true as well. When someone acts cruelly or hostile toward us, we often respond in even more cruel and hostile ways.

In the public square these days, negative reciprocity is the norm. Warring factions have developed a singular membership criterion: you’re either with me or against me. We have demonized those whom we believe to be against us. They are no longer honorable, well-meaning people with different ideas. They are mortal enemies who cannot be trusted at any cost. The result is one group treats the other with contempt and hostility, the other group responds in kind and even turns it up a notch for good measure. Around and round we go in a negative, downward spiral, zero trust loop.

I’m not being Pollyannaish and suggesting you always need to blindly trust everyone; that’s foolishness. You need to assess an individual’s trustworthiness before you extend trust. However, if you find yourself never or rarely willing to extend trust, it’s likely you’re being negatively influenced by some common problems that cause people to withhold trust.

Leaders in all realms of society need to get back to leading with trust. We need to smartly, yet courageously, extend trust to our stakeholders with the positive expectation they will reward our trust by responding in kind. Trust begets trust. The Law of Reciprocity.

You’ve got to give it to get it. That’s the way it works with trust.

Vote for Trust – 4 Signs of a Politician’s Trustworthiness

trustA trustworthy politician…some might say, “Is there such a thing?” Listening to the rhetoric of this year’s presidential election would make one think neither of the two major party candidates has a trustworthy bone in their body. But trust isn’t an “all or nothing” proposition. Very few people are unequivocally trustworthy or untrustworthy in every aspect of their behavior. We all make mistakes and act in ways that erode other’s trust, but by and large, I think most people strive to be trustworthy the majority of the time.

The definitive way to judge someone’s trustworthiness is to observe their behavior over time. Does the person consistently act in ways that build trust with others or are they inconsistent and unpredictable in their behavioral patterns? When examining a person’s behavior to assess their trustworthiness, there are four factors to consider: Ability, Believability, Connectedness, and Dependability. I call these the ABCD’s of trust.

  1. Ability—Does the person demonstrate competence in their given role or function? Do they have the skills, expertise, and track record of success that gives you confidence in their abilities? We trust competent people because they have good planning, problem-solving, and decision-making skills. They know how to get the job done and how to do it right.
  2. Believability—A believable person acts with integrity. You can believe this person because he/she not only talks the talk, but walks the walk. A believable person is honest, credible, authentic, and owns up to their mistakes when they happen. Believable people are also fair in their dealings with others. They treat people equitably and ethically and don’t bend the rules by playing favorites.
  3. Connectedness—A connected person demonstrates trustworthiness by caring about people. They are kind, compassionate, and concerned with the well-being of others. They are also open communicators. They readily share information, are receptive to feedback, and listen well. Connected people build rapport with others and promote a sense of connection and harmony, not divisiveness and rancor.
  4. Dependability—A trustworthy person is dependable. They honor their commitments by being reliable. If they say they are going to do something, they do it. A dependable person builds trust by holding him/herself accountable, and if they lead others, holding their team members accountable as well. Dependable people are also responsive. They anticipate others’ needs and flexibly respond to the situation at hand.

I like to think of the ABCD’s as the language of trust. When a person’s behavior shows they are able, believable, connected, and dependable, they are communicating to me they are trustworthy. I know I can extend my trust to them with a reasonable expectation they won’t let me down.

As you head to the polls this year to cast your vote in local, state, and national elections, consider the trustworthiness of the candidates by examining their ability, believability, connectedness, and dependability. Vote your conscience. Vote for trust.

Use This Survey to Conduct a Trust Tune-Up with Your Team

Teammates, Fistbump

If you’re like millions of other people, you’ve been working remotely part or full-time since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Literally overnight, teams were challenged with finding new ways to communicate and collaborate, and the bonds of trust those teams had established were put to the test.

High performing teams thrive on trust and research has shown that trust in one’s team leader is one of the two primary factors that drive employee engagement. There are four elements of trust that characterize trusting relationships among team members.

Trusting teams are able. They possess the skills, knowledge, and expertise to perform their work. They achieve their goals and demonstrate the ability to make smart decisions and solve problems. Trusting teams are also believable. Team members are honest in their dealings with each other, act in alignment with team and organizational values, and treat each other fairly. A third characteristic of trusting teams is being connected. Team members look out for each other, have each other’s best interests in mind, share information readily, and find common ground with each other. Finally, trusting teams are dependable. They keep their commitments, are accountable to each other, and are responsive to the needs of the team and organization.

Whether your team has performed with flying colors during this pandemic, or if they are clearly in need of help, there is no better time than now to do a trust tune-up. Remember the old management saying, “What gets measured gets managed?” Well, it applies to trust, too. The only way to know if your team has high trust is if you measure it. If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it.

To help you in this effort, I’ve included in this post a survey you can use to gauge the level of trust in your team. Have each team member download and complete the survey below. Tally up the scores, identify the lowest scoring element of trust, and then involve your team in creating action plans to strengthen that particular element of trust. Keep your team’s level of trust tuned-up so they continue to perform their best. 

After you’ve surveyed your team, please come back and share the results of what you learned and what you’re doing about it. The Leading with Trust community will benefit from your experiences!

6 Ways Leaders Build Trust During Change

Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash

Death and taxes have traditionally been viewed as the two guarantees in life, but I think a third item has officially made the list: change.

The pace of change accelerates with each passing, day, month, and year. The exponential growth of technology has enabled new products, services, and businesses to rise to prominence in short order, and has caused others to become obsolete just as quickly.

Yet research has shown that 70% of all organizational change efforts fail, cost more, or take longer than expected. Leading people through change is not a natural-born talent for most people. It’s a skill that must be developed and practiced over time for leaders to become comfortable navigating the complexities of organizational change.

The one must-have ingredient of successful change efforts is trust. If the people in an organization don’t trust their leaders, they won’t buy-in to the change. They will question their motives, drag their feet, or actively work against the change. It’s critical that leaders foster a culture of trust before, during, and after a change effort if they want to have any chance of success.

Here are six specific steps leaders can take to build trust during organizational change:

  1. Set realistic expectations – One of the primary ways trust is eroded is a failure to meet expectations. Leaders can easily over-promise the benefits of the proposed change effort, and when those benefits aren’t achieved, trust is broken. Once employees lose trust, it’s hard to regain it, which handicaps future change efforts. Set clear and realistic expectations and then work hard to hit those deliverables.
  1. Address people’s concerns – Research from The Ken Blanchard Companies shows that people have predictable stages of concern when faced with a change. Leaders improve the chance of success if they proactively address those concerns, rather than finding themselves on their heels having to react to resistant employees. The first stage is information concerns. Your people need to know what the change is and why it’s needed. The second stage is personal concerns. Team members want to know how the change will impact them individually. Will I win or lose? What’s in it for me? Will there be new expectations of me? The third stage is implementation concerns. What do I do first? Second? Will the organization provide the necessary resources? Will I have enough time? Will there be new training involved? It’s critical for leaders to address these stages of concerns to alleviate fear and anxiety so their team can embrace the change effort.
  1. Make it safe – Employees will not embrace taking risks or innovating in new ways if they are fearful of being punished, criticized, or looked down upon for making mistakes. Leaders have the responsibility to create an environment of psychological safety where people feel safe putting themselves on the line, such as asking a question, seeking feedback, reporting a mistake, or proposing a new idea The three most powerful behaviors that foster psychological safety are being available and approachable, explicitly inviting input and feedback, and modeling openness and fallibility. People will embrace change more completely when they feel safe to express their true thoughts and feelings without fear of admonishment.
  1. Share information liberally – Ken Blanchard is fond of saying, “People without information cannot act responsibly. People with information are compelled to act responsibly.” Leaders can fall prey to not sharing information because they fear people won’t have the proper context to interpret what it means, or perhaps they feel that people may take information and act in irresponsible ways. The root of this fear is a lack of trust. The opposite of trust is control, so when leaders withhold information, they are showing a lack of trust by wanting to control what people know, when they know, and how they know it. In the absence of information, people will make up their own version of the truth, and more often than not, that version will be a more negative view of the truth than what it is in reality.
  1. Admit when you don’t know – As a leader, admitting you don’t know something can be one of the most powerful trust-building behaviors you can use. It shows humility and honesty to admit you don’t have all the answers. It’s easy to let our egos get in the way and not want to appear incompetent or unable. Instead of spinning the truth, evading answers, or tap-dancing around difficult questions, admit you don’t know but commit to finding the answer. Your people will trust and respect your authenticity.
  1. Involve others in planning and implementation – One of my favorite sayings is “Those who plan the battle rarely battle the plan.” People take ownership over plans they create and implement. Successful change efforts are those that are done ‘with’ people, not ‘to’ people. Involve your team in planning and implementing the change effort and it will go much smoother than if you try to force it upon them.

Leading organizational change is tough work! In my viewpoint, the biggest difference between being a “leader” and a “manager” is that leaders initiate change. That responsibility comes with the challenge of being in the line of fire. You’re under the microscope and carry the weight of making the change effort a success. Rather than carrying all that weight alone, why not spread it out among your team? Get them involved, make it safe for them to participate, address their concerns, be honest and authentic in your dealings with them, and be the torchbearer for leading with trust.

3 Assumptions That Keep Leaders from Building Trust

Building and maintaining trust is an issue that most leaders agree is critically important, but few have a plan to achieve it. A recent survey by YPO showed 96% of chief executives said building and maintaining trust was a high priority for their success, yet just 34% of the respondents said they had defined and specific plans for building trust in their organizations. It reminds me of the old project management adage: people don’t plan to fail; they just fail to plan.

Street sign of the word trust with a red circle around it

Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

I’ve found that principle also applies in my work teaching leaders how to build trust in the workplace. Most leaders don’t plan to fail in building trust, they just fail to create a plan. I’ve observed three common assumptions leaders make that prevent them from building trust in a consistent and proactive way.

They assume trust “just happens.
Like some sort of relational osmosis, people figure trust just naturally develops over the course of time, and the longer you’re in relationship with someone, the greater the likelihood you’ll build a strong bond of trust. Well, if you believe that, I’m sorry to burst your bubble. Trust doesn’t work that way. Trust is based on perceptions, and those perceptions are formed by the behaviors you use. If you use trustworthy behaviors, you’ll be trusted. If you use behaviors that erode trust, people won’t trust you. Building trust is a skill that can be learned and developed, and once you have those skills, you can be intentional about acting in ways that build trust with others.

They assume others view trust the same way they do.
When I conduct training workshops on building trust, I often like to ask participants to draw a symbol or picture that represents trust. I’ve seen hundreds of representations of trust: wedding rings, a cross, a child holding a parent’s hand, a bank vault, and people shaking hands, just to name a few of the common ones. I conduct this activity because it illustrates the point I mentioned earlier: trust is based on perceptions. Everybody has their own view of what trust means, based on their unique personal experience. This varied understanding of trust reminds me of the classic movie, The Princess Bride. The character Vizzini uses the word “Inconceivable!” as an adjective to describe just about any situation, even if it doesn’t quite make sense. Finally, Inigo says to him, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” The same misunderstanding happens between leaders and their team members if they don’t share a common definition of trust.

They assume trust is only a “warm and fuzzy” concept.
When you discuss building trust, many leaders jump to the conclusion that you’re talking about building warm and fuzzy relationships. You know, the “let’s all hold hands and sing kumbaya” kind of warm and fuzzy. Well, trust does have a relationship component, and it’s the interpersonal connection that often sparks the development of trust in the first place. However, trust also has a hard, bottom-line impact on organizations. The research is clear that high-trust organizations have lower turnover, higher employee engagement, and outperform low-trust organizations on practically every measurable metric. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that pizza lunches, fancy off-site retreats, or ropes courses check the box for having a strategy of building trust in the workplace.

I’m sure you noticed I used the word “assume” in the three examples above; that was intentional. You’ve probably the heard the familiar warning about what happens when you assume, right? Well, when it comes to building trust, you don’t want to assume anything. Don’t assume trust just happens by chance. Have a defined plan for building and sustaining it. Don’t assume other people perceive trust the same way you do. Chances are they see it differently, and if you’re not on the same page as to what trust looks like in a relationship, your efforts in building trust will miss the mark. Finally, don’t assume trust is solely a “soft” relationship dynamic. Trust can literally make or break the success of your organization. To build trust, I’m reminded of another project management adage: plan your work and work your plan.

Saving Face – How to Preserve Dignity and Build Trust

Everyone wants to be respected and valued. As long as you have a heartbeat and breath in your lungs, you will have the desire to be appreciated, honored, and trusted in your relationships with others. We all want to “save face.”

Saving face, the notion of preserving individual honor and dignity, is often associated with Asian cultures. Although having it’s cultural birth in China, saving face is a universal concept that transcends national culture. In her new book, Saving Face—How to Preserve Dignity and Build Trust, Maya Hu-Chan examines face as a global concept that enables one to connect with people, break down barriers, and build trust and long-term relationships.

Face is important, says Hu-Chan, because it represents a person’s self-esteem, reputation, status, and dignity. She emphasizes that face is a form of social currency. The more face you have, the easier it is to accomplish things at work, the smoother your relationships, and the more social capital you have at your disposal.

Since saving face is human nature across cultures, generations, and genders, there are harmful consequences when it is lost or damaged. Losing face provokes shame, guilt, fear, vulnerability, and a wide range of negative emotions.

I find the concept of face to be interesting given its close connections to trust. Saving face is a means to building trust in relationships. In that regard, Hu-Chan suggests the BUILD model as a construct for developing and preserving face.

Benevolence & Accountability—I love the concept of benevolence because it’s at the heart of building trust. Benevolence is the desire to do good to others; it’s having another person’s best interests in mind. When people see that you care more about them than you do yourself, they are willing to be vulnerable with you and extend their trust to you. Accountability comes into the picture when you consider the two-way aspect of respect in a relationship. Face involves honoring each other. It encompasses acting in ways that preserve the dignity and respect of each party in the relationship, and for that to happen, each person must be accountable to the other. Face, like trust, requires reciprocity. Each person must give and receive it in order for it to grow.

Understanding—Hu-Chan shares that understanding is about putting yourself in the shoes of others and seeing situations from their perspective. Being able to see multiple perspectives of a given situation or problem allows you to act in ways and make decisions that honor and respect the positions of others. This ability is especially critical in the twenty-first century. Technology and globalization has made our world much smaller, and many times the decisions we’re facing have an inordinate number of dynamics that must be considered. A leader’s best move is to be understanding and tap into the viewpoints of others.

Interacting—This element encompasses your interpersonal and communication skills. Written and verbal communication skills are important for leaders, and even more so is emotional intelligence. Leaders who save face are those who are self-aware of their own and others’ behaviors, and the impact those behaviors have on the relationship. They know how to self-regulate the behaviors they use in relationships because they understand how the other person will be impacted. Hu-Chan states that “interaction involves both the message and the method of conveying the message. It’s also about creating the context in which clear conversations can be had. And of course, the ability to interact effectively creates an environment where face is protected and strengthened.”

Learning—In order to build and preserve face, it’s important to be a lifelong learner. Face is not an outcome; it’s a way of being and relating to others. As such, you never stop learning how to improve your relationships. Hu-Chan offers four “P’s” about learning: passion, practice, persistence, and pattern recognition. Passion is pretty straight-forward. When you are excited about learning, it fuels the motivation to do so. Practice is putting in the work. It’s using what you’ve learned to become more skilled and proficient. Persistence is going the extra-mile. Inevitably you will encounter challenges that threaten to knock you off-track, but the most successful leaders are those who push through the barriers. Finally, pattern recognition. Once you’ve begun to master a particular skill or subject, you start to see connections and trends that others don’t see, which increases your level of contribution.

Delivery—This is putting all the elements of the BUILD model into practice. Being benevolent and accountable, understanding others’ perspectives, interacting effectively, and learning continuously are all well and good, but they don’t mean much if you don’t deliver and put those skills to use with your team. Delivery is about walking the talk.

One of my core values is respect. I believe everyone deserves to be treated with respect, regardless of their socio-economic status, color of their skin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or any other distinction that identifies us. Respect is at the root of saving face. It’s a way of relating to people in a way that increases the level of honor, dignity, and trust. How can you go wrong with that?

Do You See Me? A conversation among friends about bridging the racial divide

Who do you see when you look at a black person? Do you see a husband, father, wife, mother, son, or daughter? Do you see a businessman, tradesman, doctor, lawyer, scientist, soldier, or educator? Do you see someone with hopes, dreams, ambitions, fears, and insecurities? Do you see a person who is very much like you?

Unfortunately, whether we realize it or not, many of us don’t see those things. We see different. We see a threat. We see contempt. We see distrust. We see suspicion. We see fear. We see “less than.”

That needs to stop. If we are ever going to bridge the racial divide that separates us, we need to start trusting each other. The only way for trust to begin is for someone to take the risk of extending trust to another. It’s through that act of vulnerability that intimacy can develop and trust can flourish.

A few days ago I held a conversation with four of my friends, all African-American men, to learn more about their personal experience with racism. The discussion was rich, educational, humbling, and impactful. I encourage you to watch, listen, and reflect on what you can do to keep this conversation alive in your own sphere of influence.

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