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The Connection Between Trust and a Culture of Change

Posted by Matt Banna

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Jul 29, 2020 8:30:00 AM

trust_goodHumans are hard-wired for change. As soon as we are born, we start to grow, learn, and adapt to our environment. If that's the case, why is it so difficult to create a culture of change within an organization?

There are many barriers to change from fear of failure to plain old inertia, but a critical ingredient for constant positive change is often overlooked: trust. Your employees are probably more likely than you think to walk the high wire of change, but they don’t want to do it without a net.

Trust in Leadership and Vision

According to Gartner, “Senior leaders at the vast majority of organizations (83% in our research sample) consistently communicate the importance of culture. In fewer organizations (29%), leaders consistently behave in a way that’s aligned with the culture. At very few organizations (19%), do leaders consistently manage business processes based on the desired culture.”

To employees, the actions of leaders speak far louder than words. If “change” is just a buzzword, unmoored from daily activities and unsupported by management, it’s unlikely to take hold. On the other hand, when leaders engage positively and productively, investing in tools to support improvement, employees gain faith, and a more optimistic vision of the future takes hold.

In addition to trusting leaders, people also need to understand the strategic vision and believe that they have a definable place in it. It is far easier to engage if you believe you are working on a mission that’s taking you somewhere you want to go.

Questions for discussion:

  • Do employee goals align with the strategic vision?
  • Do leaders actively engage in change?
  • Are employees penalized when improvement projects fail?
  • Does the organization invest in tools to support productive change?

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Trust in Each Other

Warren Buffett once said, “Trust is like the air we breathe—when it is present, nobody really notices; when it’s absent, everybody knows it.”

Effective collaboration is essential for consistent improvement. Unfortunately, in many organizations, each functional team develops its own culture and norms, creating silos that employees are unlikely to breach. One way to accelerate change is to break down these walls and create a consistent approach to improvement across all teams. Cross-functional projects and information sharing help to develop trust.

Another element of peer-to-peer trust is accountability. People need to know that when a task is assigned and accepted, it will be done as expected, or any problems will be communicated early and often. Technology that tracks activities helps keep projects moving forward and keeping everyone in the know.

Questions for discussion:

  • Can information flow freely from one team to another?
  • Are the goals of units or individuals at odds with others?
  • Is there a consistent method of communication and language for change?
  • Are actions taken when people consistently disappoint colleagues?

Trust in Information

People want to have all of the relevant data at hand when discussing a possible change. Nothing leads to bigger mistakes than decisions made with erroneous or missing information. That’s why organizations that are great at improvement build a repository of knowledge where employees can share information, access process control data, visualize work in progress, and flag any missing elements.

Transparency is one of the things that people want more than any other from their employers. Especially for today’s younger workers who are used to having unlimited data at their fingertips, access to as much information as possible is essential.

Questions for Discussion

  • Do we have an effective platform for collecting and visualizing process data?
  • Do we share as much information, including financial data, with employees as possible?
  • Is there a way for people to raise their hands when information is missing or incorrect?
  • Do we have a regular cadence and process for employee communication?

Webinar Recording: How to Ease the Pain of Change


Once a sense of trust across all three areas is built, employees will feel safer taking risks and engaging in improvement. Change will soon become normalized, and your team will be on the path to success.

Topics: Leadership, Change Management

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