Build trust in your organization now

“I think I’m going to take some time to process what happened in this first half of the year,” my client told me as we watched each other through a video screen. She’s the CEO of a manufacturing company and has been caught up in all the intense work of scenario planning, adjusting strategy, maintaining the team, and making sure their revenue keeps coming.

Good idea. The first half of 2020 has been quite a race and it’s a good time to reflect on that and think about what you want to build in the second half of the year.

Inasmuch as executive coach who has worked with Fortune 500 companies as well as startups, my observation is that the semester is a good time to take a look at your organizational confidence. This is especially true this year when your employees have gone through a lot of change and even trauma.

For a framework to examine this, I have identified 3 key drivers of organizational trust: communication, collaboration and coaching. If you nail them down, your people move forward with determination. If they are shaky, your collaborators are too and you are wasting time.

First, a note: Organizational trust is different from your own personal trust. Your confidence may be high or low. Hopefully that’s high, but even if it’s not, you can have systems in place to ensure your business runs accurately and quickly no matter how you feel.

Here’s what it takes to build organizational trust:

You have to communicate. People need to understand what is going on in order to move forward themselves. This means that they must understand everything from top to bottom: objective, mission, strategy, operating plan. They need to know how their work fits into the big picture.

The way they can really get this in their bones is through communication. This means having a system inside your company where they hear about the bigger picture from you and others, and can also talk about how their work fits into the bigger picture with their manager. .

You may think you’re communicating enough, but in times of uncertainty, big change, and working remotely, you have to assume that your employees aren’t taking all the information you give.

Here is an example from one of my coaching clients. I work with the CEO of a community startup. After the pandemic hit, he brought his management team together so they could strategize on how they were going to redesign the business. They made very quick changes by canceling their in-person experiences while creating online communities instead. They did a great job and made the change in record time. He then shared the changes they were making in several hands-on meetings.

He thought everything had gone very well, until one of the administrators asked for final approval to buy the software package that would track the company’s live experiments. “Why would he think we were still going to buy this software after everything that’s happened,” the frustrated CEO asked me.

The reason is simple: your employees are coping with the current crisis and changes in the company in their own way. They don’t process everything you say. People can hear what you’re saying, but they’re working on multiple projects and somehow think they’re getting an exception. Some people just need a little more time to adjust.

My client and I debriefed his process. He had done a great job of making quick decisions and communicating them to everyone. What was missing, however, was for the leaders of each group to discuss with their teams individually and as a group what the changes meant for all of their initiatives. Once the CEO instructed his executives to hold these regular meetings, everyone quickly caught up on the changes, how they affected their team, and their top priorities. This is essential for them to perform with confidence.

It requires collaboration. Working together is always complicated. Now that a lot of people only see each other on video and no longer bump into each other in the hallways, it’s even harder.

Collaboration is key because the people doing the work need to talk to each other directly. If they rely on you and other managers to solve problems for them, everything slows down.

Make sure people know you expect them to collaborate. Your employees need to know who they need to work with and which vehicles. Is it better for them to have regular one-on-one time with certain people? Should they have a regular cross-functional team meeting with certain projects? If people aren’t sure who they should be working closely with or aren’t getting answers, help them figure out what the problem is and fix it. Your highest and best use as a leader is to help people discover and then resolve barriers to collaboration.

Collaboration requires excellent communication from peers while building and maintaining good relationships that lead to trust. To support this, make sure you have mechanisms for people to meet informally, even when it’s virtual. Budget for them to have a good lunch with a colleague. Encourage informal cafes or virtual happy hours.

People also need to know that they will be recognized for their work on cross-functional projects. One of the CEOs I work with sends out a weekly slack note that highlights completed projects and names everyone who has played a role. Another CEO I work with has a “Fridays are for the Wins” meeting. Previously it was in person and now it is by video. Each person on the 40-person team names someone else who had a “win” that week. It’s a fun way to build trust by praising others and publicly acknowledging others for their work.

It requires guidance. Coaching is essential to help people see what they are doing well and to help them grow and improve. Both of these are important: positive feedback builds trust, and you’ll still have to manage someone closely if they’re not actively developing new skills.

I’ve noticed that leaders are often uncomfortable with proactive coaching, and that’s especially true now that most meetings are conducted by video or phone.

I attended a management team meeting a few weeks ago. A young director presented the plan of her region. She was trying hard, but it was the first time she had made a plan like this. There were a number of missing pieces and it was clear she hadn’t discussed the plan with the rest of her team to make sure they were doing their part. About a week later, I asked the boss she reported to if he had coached her on her plan and how she was influencing her team. The leader shook his head and sighed. “I don’t have the heart. She tried so hard and spent so much time on it.

And that’s the problem. Leaders aren’t shy about giving praise or constructive feedback to improve someone’s skills. They have other important things they would rather do that would make them more productive. They are afraid to have a conversation that might make one or the other uncomfortable. This is why leaders very often miss the opportunity to coach their employees.

A lack of coaching leads directly to a lack of organizational trust. When leaders don’t proactively coach their employees, they can’t delegate so much to them. They don’t help them learn skills that will benefit them and the business. And employees who aren’t sure what they’re doing well and what they need to improve are simply uncomfortable acting independently.

So create a culture where your leaders coach regularly. You can set aside one leadership team per quarter to review how people coach and how people develop their skills as a result. You can set a good example by proactively coaching and talking about it, and you can just remind people that it’s an important part of their job as managers.

Building organizational trust is key right now. Use this framework to see how you are doing and where you might want to put more effort.

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