Years ago, business owners were asked, "If you had to choose between a fire that wiped out your facilities versus having all of your people quit and walk out at the same time, which option would you take?" Almost everyone said they'd rather lose their buildings and equipment because to rebuild their human organization would require a lot more effort and be more difficult to accomplish.
The recession of the past two years put many organizations into a position of having to decide between people and profits in order to stay in business. Some of those decisions were painful, and in some cases, the way decisions were made had an adverse impact on the human side of the organization. As a result, trust, commitment, and morale have all taken a hit. The facilities and the equipment are intact, but the people are not present in the same way as before.
As a result, employees are watching senior leadership more closely than ever before, says Ken Blanchard, best-selling author and cofounder of The Ken Blanchard Companies. "People are looking for clues to see if their organization is only interested in the bottom line or if they are equally concerned with the people side of the business."
As Blanchard explains, "When you look at the leaders in great organizations like Chick-fil-A in the quick service business, Nordstrom in the retail industry, Wegmans in the grocery business, and Southwest in the airline industry, you'll find leaders who make necessary business decisions yet their people still feel that they have their interests in mind also. In these organizations, the employees trust their leaders."
Rebuilding Trust Takes Time
Building or rebuilding trust can be a challenge. It isn't something that can be addressed directly. It is a byproduct of how people perceive your actions and intentions over time. While senior leaders and immediate managers cannot command trust—because trust must be earned—there are things they can do to rebuild a sense of respect and confidence over time.
What Can Senior Leaders Do?
A good place for a senior leader to start is to look at where the organization is headed. What is the strategic direction and how will the organization get there?
Senior leaders need to create a compelling vision that defines or redefines the organization's business. The key here is to have a clear focus on the customer and make that everyone's goal. During the past recession, people saw what looked like self-serving behavior on the part of a lot of leaders. In many organizations, it seemed as if top leaders saw the organization only as a way to achieve personal ends.
A variation of poor visioning, while not quite as bad as pure self-serving behavior, is an organizational vision that makes the bottom line the "be all, end all" reason for existing. These leaders start to think that the only reason they are in business is to make money and to watch their bottom line. The unspoken message to rank-and-file workers is that people are a side venture—a means to an end.
Without a clear vision, people do not have anything to serve except themselves. When senior leaders identify a compelling vision of the future and align the organization's goals and values toward this vision, everyone can move in the right direction and focus their energy on the customer.
Advice for Frontline Managers
Frontline managers are the implementers. They have a responsibility to understand the vision, goals, and values of the company and communicate them effectively to their people. Make sure that each and every employee's work is connected to an overall department or organizational goal and that the employee can see how their work has an impact. Everyone needs meaningful work; it unleashes energy and raises morale.
To build trust and respect with direct reports, frontline managers should schedule regular one-on-one meetings with their people. Managers should use these sessions to clarify expectations, solicit input, answer questions, and provide feedback. Nothing shows that you care and respect a person—and their work—more than spending time with them, checking on their progress, and providing help when necessary.
What about Individual Contributors?
Individual contributors have a responsibility to make sure they are clear on the goals of the organization and have the authority and resources necessary to serve the customer. If individual contributors are not clear on what the vision is, or don't feel they have the resources necessary to succeed, they need to ask their immediate manager for help using "I need" statements. They must push for help on behalf of serving the customer better.
Trust and respect are cornerstones in rebuilding the soul of an organization. Immediate managers and senior leaders must include people in the decisions that affect them as much as possible. Inclusion sends a message to employees that leaders really care about what they think. When employees sense this, they are more willing to trust leaders. But when people see their leaders go behind closed doors to make important decisions, they get a feeling that their input doesn't matter. Organizations that trust and respect their employees include them in the decision-making process.
To rebuild trust, you have to see your people as business partners and respect them for their contributions. Senior leaders need to set a clear vision of something bigger than themselves for people to serve. Frontline managers need to operationalize the vision and goals and bring the values to life. Finally, employees need to ask for the resources they need to serve customers. When everyone in the organization works together to live according to the values and accomplish the goals, then you have a great human organization that is focused on both results and people.
Thanks to Ken Blanchard Companies