Without Trust, Change Is Difficult If Not Impossible To Achieve

The need for trust in the workplace and communication therein is understood by many leaders to be the foundational building block of the organization. The degree of trust developed will impact employee performance and retention, the development of teams and implementation of organizational change. Irrespective of size and industry, organizations are comprised of individuals who desire the same thing: the ability to trust those they work with. People cannot trust an organization, but they can trust their superiors, employees and associates.

Issues of broken trust and personal betrayal are far from just the result of restructuring, downsizing or other major organizational events. They are the product of the numerous micro-decisions that leaders and managers make every day. When individuals do not keep agreements or remain true to their word, and do not share information or trust another employee’s judgment or competence, trust is breached. Employees develop feelings of betrayal that lead to a chain of unresolved conflicts. These unresolved conflicts build a strong sense of mistrust and disloyalty that is extremely difficult to counteract.

This is important for leaders because they are personally responsible for developing the trust needed to bind their organization together into a cohesive unit. They have the personal ability to control the series of micro-decisions that contribute to a sense of mistrust and undermine their ability to lead. With their personal words and actions, they have the power to build or destroy their employee’s faith. They are the ones who must know that every statement or decision, no matter how inconsequential it may appear at the time, has an effect on whether or not corporate goals are reached.

Feelings of broken trust and betrayal are not just the byproducts of cataclysmic organizational change. They happen every day, and are in fact so pervasive that studies conducted since the mid-1940s have consistently shown that employees seem to have higher needs for esteem, respect and self-actualization, while most employers feel concerned only for their employees’ salary and safety. This demonstrates a clear disconnect that has implications for the future of organizations.

There is an increased need for trust in organizations as the world and corporate environments continue to change. Both organizational structures and managerial practices are changing and these changes do not appear to be ending in the near term. The policies and traditions that cemented employees to a company, which they relied upon, have disappeared. They have all exacted a high price in the form of diminishing employee loyalty and trust.

Many managers and leaders will quickly attribute the lack of loyalty to employee job-hopping. Yet the 2001 Randstad North American Employee Review reported that 77% of employees polled defined success as “a long-term commitment with one company.”

The lack of trust in many work environments is pervasive. Restructuring, mergers and acquisitions have produced not only opportunity, but also uncertainty and anxiety. Individuals in the current climate feel that they are unable to trust their future, their organization or even themselves.

Leaders need to create open and flexible organizations that are able to readily adapt to rapidly changing conditions. All indications point to organizational environments becoming more complex as changes and global pressures become more intense. While this places tremendous stress on the organization, leaders must also respond to their employees’ needs in a way that honors relationships and builds trust.

Change requires organizations to become agile and flexible. This demands employees who are willing to take risks. Taking risks requires employees that are able to trust themselves, their capabilities, and decisions as well as their leaders, coworkers and organizations.

Leaders must learn to evaluate their employees to determine their capacity for trust. This means establishing a foundation for trust that demands that past unsettled conflicts be resolved before a solid foundation for trust can be built. It also means that leaders must be conscious of their daily practices that either make or break employee trust.

The dynamics of trust are complex. It takes time and effort to develop trust and one small event to lose it. Regaining lost trust, while extremely difficult, is a critical element in any relationship. By first trusting themselves and others, it is possible for leaders to then develop caring, genuine relationships and rebuild trust with their employees.

When trust is ignored, the pain and price is tremendous, as it is the key to all successful change initiatives within the organization. Without trust, change will be difficult if not impossible to achieve.