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Trust is the Foundation of a Successful Business Transformation Process

Have you ever led a leadership team or an organization where trust didn’t exist? It feels dysfunctional. Often times, little progress is made due to passive aggressive behaviors where teams agree initially, only to chip away at what little alignment may have occurred in the meeting. Without trust, there is a focus on personal gain over that of the collective team or the company. In the absence of trust, as discussed in Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, you have stagnation.

On the contrary, have you ever led a leadership team or an organization where trust was a core value? Where leaders knew how to lead and build teams of leaders? Have you led or been part of a leadership team that worked together for a greater common purpose and vision? Where cross-functional teams work together to deliver a common goal? Have you ever looked back and celebrated a highly functioning leadership team that delivered on a clear vision and strategy, trusted and respected one another, and remained aligned and focused on the priorities and deliverables? In the presence of trust, there is a foundation and a belief that all parties are acting on the best interests of the greater team and purpose.

“Two factors explain the Berkshire miracle. First, his trust level.”
2019 CEO Profile – The Transformation of Warren Buffett

Or perhaps you find your team in the middle. Trust is passive, uncertainty might prevail, lukewarm support slows progress due to lack of sense of urgency or passion. Do you feel like your leadership team is complacent? Do you wish there was more passion to deliver growth? Maybe you’ve found that members of your team do trust one another but they’re not willing to use radical candor to challenge the status quo and push their peers beyond their comfort zones – how long can that last before the competition takes over? In the absence of an outside force demanding change, they get along, for the most part, but lack the drive to excel.

These challenges are enough for any leadership team but now add change into the above scenarios. Whether it’s change driven by strategic innovation or a business transformation, how confident would you feel approaching a transformation with a team that had little urgency or passion? Change simply cannot be successful without trust running across leaders and through their teams. Distrust runs deep and can dismantle the best laid plans. What do you do when you witness and experience mid-to-low levels of trust at the top of the organization? If your leadership team is passive, their teams are likely behaving the same way. Where do you begin? Buckle up, because it takes work…hard work…but this must be addressed to successfully transform your business

Get Personal. Start by getting to know the people beyond names, titles, roles and responsibilities. Who are they as a person? Learn about their families, pets, hobbies, passions, and aspirations. Find ways to get to know all levels and show them you care. Aside from results, many cultures prioritize character in building trust. Take the time to learn about their environment inside and outside of work. Chances are, they will lead you to what is broken, where the dysfunction happens, and where the opportunity exists to fix things. Start with your senior leaders.  If they don’t trust one another, this behavior often cascades and can create organizational misalignment, poor communication, siloed behavior, and teams may be put in the middle.

Own Your Mistakes. If you or your leadership team make a mistake, admit it, apologize for it, and publicly praise whomever pointed it out to you. If you don’t acknowledge the pain from the past, why would they trust that your approach would be different?  Ask someone on your team to teach you what you are missing or where you may have failed. What could be more humbling? It takes courage. If you listen to them, apologize as necessary, and ask them what you should have done differently, then together you can determine how to build trust and make progress. No one is perfect and we are all on a journey to improve and grow. Remember, the path may be bumpy, but that does not mean it is the wrong path.  Embrace the discomfort and grow past it.

Do As I Do. Depending on the purpose and what is important to the organization, model the behavior that you expect of your leaders. Easier said than done if senior leaders are not engaged with the company’s purpose or if they’re not living up to the values and guiding principles of the organization. It can all break down quickly. Think about the best leaders you have ever managed or been exposed to. Leaders who build trust and drive behavior understand why they do what they do. What leadership traits or characteristics make great leaders stand out? How do those leaders inspire you? Now think about whether your senior leadership team has embodied those characteristics lately. If not, how can you lead by example, inspire action, and showcase what is expected?

Patience and Consistency. Not everyone grew up in environments of trust. People will earn and show trust at different paces and in different ways. You may never know if certain leaders or employees trust you, but that should not change your actions or behaviors. Consistency is one of the top three elements of trust. Treat every situation as you would want your leader to treat you or how you‘d want those around you to treat others. Consistency of behavior. Consistency of messages. Consistency of values. Consistency of expectations. Model the way and you will earn trust.

Establishing Trust in the Business Transformation Process

In order to gain trust, one must put themselves in a vulnerable position to establish a rapport of openness and honesty. Whether things need to change due to internal or external pressures, either way, a leader’s job is to navigate the vision for building a team to navigate change. A team is not a team without trust. Under the added pressure of change, trust is even more critical. This is true in personal and professional relationships.

  • Think about how successful your leadership team has been lately. What role has trust played in that success?  Have you seen tangible examples where trust was a clear differentiator or had a significant impact?
  • Think about how deeply rooted trust is within your organization. How do you measure your employees’ trust in senior leadership?  Regardless of the input, how do you leverage that information to drive business decisions?
  • What motivates teams to go above and beyond? Does trust play a role?
  • Whose responsibility is it to build trust across the organization / team?
  • What steps can you take to build or rebuild trust?

Growth without change is impossible. Trust is essential in leading organizations through change, but especially through the business transformation process. At Clarkston, we’ve worked with life sciences, consumer products, and retail clients to effectively navigate the change and disruption that’s systemic to their industries. Regardless of industry, we’ve found that teams built on a foundation of mutual trust are more successful in their business transformation journey.

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Tags: Strategic Advisory, Strategy
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