Afiniti Insights

Building Trust in Times of Corporate Change

During business change, there can be great uncertainty and trust becomes more important than ever before. So how can we reassure and engage employees?

A recent industry benchmarking report (1) found that companies widely agree that there are two main groups that most successfully delivery change communications:

  • Top level leaders, e.g. CEOs or Presidents
  • Frontline supervisors, e.g. managers

From a change management and communications perspective these results are surprising. Both parties are also in control of very different areas. The CEO provides general direction, and the supervisor manages daily activities, and yet they’re both vital in communicating change.

Building trust and showing empathy

When communicating change, delivery through the right spokespeople shows sincerity, support and commitment to change from executives and sponsors. And at the heart of the corporation, both CEOs and supervisors tend to have the required knowledge, respect and influence.

In a recent article (2), Dr Graham Dietz – senior lecturer at Durham Business School – explains that building and restoring corporate trust is not rocket science, “but companies must earn it by finding a blend of ability, kindness and integrity.” CEOs as well as supervisors tend to, or at least should, have these abilities.

CEOs in particular may have additional hurdles to overcome here. The 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer (3) confirms that CEOs “had the biggest drop in their trust level in the barometer’s history”, with only 38% finding these leaders credible.

When it comes to building trust, CEO or senior leaders may well want to consider bridging the large gap between boardroom and reception desk. Establishing a more personal relationship, while remaining completely professional, can help create foster stronger employee relationships. If used well, site visits, social media presence or web-cast communications can be an easy way of building trust.

Telling an interesting story

Every company tells a unique story. Whoever tells it needs to be able to draw in an audience, inform them, and communicate to them. And there lies great opportunity and responsibility in doing it correctly.

Of course, stories can change over time, but there are certain elements, such as themes and facts that must always be accurate and relevant. Great storytelling establishes trust, and can build a workforce that is happy to rely on its leaders. It can give people direction and a shared sense of purpose, even if this direction will change in the future. Today’s employees want to understand the big picture because it gives meaning to change. Importantly, messages within the story should be aligned with the strategic vision behind change.

Only under supervision

Supervisors, on the other hand, who are easily caught up in employees’ daily issues and concerns, may want to consider staying out of political fray, and focus on providing necessary leadership and direction from a distance. Managers deal with more ‘business as usual’ employee issues, but understanding and communicating change is just as essential. Middle managers need to be aware of their role and empowered to fulfil it.

Ultimately, successful change management needs us to identify who needs to play a role in communicating change and to ensure those people have knowledge of the change, communication tools, and a plan to engage people.


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