John Baldoni on How Companies Can Earn Back Trust

The following is a guest post by John Baldoni, author of Lead by Example: 50 Ways Great Leaders Inspire Results.

One of the casualties of the economic crisis is a massive loss of trust in senior corporate leadership. Trust erosion began before the meltdown. Surveys by Watson Wyatt done two years ago showed that only half of employees had faith in their bosses. Emerging data is likely to confirm this downward trend. And with good reason, employees have watched their senior leaders evade accountability by receiving large salaries and huge bonuses as their companies were sinking.

As bad as things are, however, most employees still have their jobs. And that includes managers and it is they who must pick up the pieces. So the question is can trust be restored and if so how? The answer to the first is yes, the answer to the second requires explanation. Here are some things to consider:

Assume mistrust. An executive seeking to restore trust in the wake of poor management must assume that the only trust remaining is mistrust. This is not being pessimistic; this is being realistic. When people feel they have been misused and eve abused by previous management, they are resentful and suspicious. For all they know, the next manager is the same as the previous one. All bad!

Bend over backwards. Knowing the odds does not mean acting suspicious. The manager seeking to restore trust must deal openly with individuals. While you may believe that employees in general mistrust management, act as if individual employees can be reached. Be approachable and accessible.

Start small. State clear objectives. Solicit input on those objectives. At first people will be tentative, and may only tell you want you want to hear. Therefore, you must make it clear that feedback, even push-back, is acceptable. Make it clear you will only succeed if people pull together. Also make it safe for people to disagree.

Expect a return. A manager who is investing herself to improve trust deserves a dividend in return – the support of the team. That is, employees must do what is asked of them. When the manager works hard to restore trust and gets nothing in return then it is time for change. If they don’t agree, they may decide to leave, even with the encouragement of the boss.

When trust occurs in the workplace, employees are more likely to commit rather than comply. The latter is okay if you are going through the motions, particularly when times are good. But, now in tough times, commitment is essential. Resources and people are stretched so thinly that everyone must do more than her part; we must exert the extra effort. That can only happen when people trust the men and women run their organization. Trust matters. All you have to do is earn it.

John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership consultant, speaker, and author of six books, including LEAD BY EXAMPLE: 50 Ways Great Leaders Inspire Results. He was named one of the “30 Most Influential Leadership Gurus” for 2007 by www.LeadershipGurus.net. He has been featured or quoted in many publications, including USA Today, Chicago Tribune, and Investor’s Business Daily. He is a frequent keynote and workshop speaker, writes a monthly column entitled “On Leadership” for CIO.com, a weekly blog about leadership for Fast Company, and contributes regular columns for HR.com. He also maintains a popular website at www.johnbaldoni.com.

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