Conventional wisdom about change management puts a great deal of emphasis on strategy. While those big decisions are important, even the best strategy is meaningless unless it’s implemented on the ground. Successful execution, in turn, depends on the people involved—and how much they trust their leadership.
If employees believe in the larger vision and can see how pursuing that vision makes sense for them and for the business, that buy-in will translate to better work and more effective strategy execution. Gallup finds that high-trust organizations can implement change more quickly and retain workers even when through the occasional organizational misstep. That’s because when people trust their leaders, they extend the benefit of the doubt in trying times. However, only about one-third of workers strongly trust their company’s leadership.
To build trust in times of change, consider these three steps:
1. Overcommunicate the outcome.
There’s no such thing as communicating too much in times of change. For communication that builds trust, paint a picture of the outcome. Instead of endlessly tweaking the messaging, focus on providing clear and succinct communication about what is being done, why it’s being done that way and what the results should look like.
If your communication is effective, any employee will be able to articulate what the change is and why it’s happening. Of course, what you say isn’t always what people hear. So vary your methods—all hands meetings, one-on-one check-ins, formal meetings—in order to identify gaps in understanding and fix them.
2. Focus on the work and build small wins.
The point of overcommunicating is to ensure that employees know what is happening and why, even if they haven’t fully bought into the change itself. But there has to be a balance between communication and actually doing the work. People will put real trust in the plan when they see the wins coming from putting the change into action.
Your read on the situation will determine the timeline. Once you gain some initial buy-in, focus on what people need to do right now to see those small wins start to build up. Employees seeing the benefits for themselves will translate into increased trust in the process—and in the executive team.
3. Seek feedback from frontline employees.
Change strategies are built with input from a lot of people: executives, the board, outside consultants. But often, you have to put the plan into action to find the gaps in it. At this point, the people closest to the work will be able to provide the most actionable insights. Listening to their feedback and adapting the process will further build trust in your leadership and buy-in to the change.
It’s nice to imagine that giving one good speech will motivate the team and earn their trust, but that happens only in the movies. Even a tedious process of meetings and emails will only go so far. Balancing ample communication with a focus on the work and the agility to adapt to feedback will let your employees understand the what and the why of the change. Once they see the wins of their work, they’ll get to feel good about it and see that their trust was well-placed.