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3 Ways to Build Employee Trust When You Need to Communicate Change

Posted by Sandy Yu on 10.18.2018

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Nearly one in three employees don’t trust their employer.

Let that sink in for a second.

This shocking statistic is from the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report on Employee Advocacy. Another study by Tolero Solutions goes even farther, saying as many as 45 percent of employees don't trust those in charge.

As you might imagine, employees who don't trust their leaders tend to perform at lower than optimal levels.

And all of this is on an average day. What about when the company needs to announce a change that impacts employees directly? It's not hard to envision the conversation starting with leaders at a severe disadvantage.

So, we asked three experts what leaders can do to effectively communicate change and simultaneously build upon trust:

Put culture first

Solidifying a successful corporate culture before a disruption—whether planned or unplanned—is critical to an organization’s ability to remain resilient in the face of change. When culture is designed to engage, motivate, and align employees to work with a shared purpose, identity, and intent, people can withstand most any turmoil or change.

Marketers strategize and build successful brands that appeal to target audiences, creating messages designed to resonate. Endeavor to think like a marketer when it comes to your organization’s story to ensure remarkable, measurable results from culture-building initiatives.

As an initial step, give your culture a unique, appealing voice by way of a central theme. This is best achieved by starting with a distinct internal brand and unifying every communication to align with the brand message so employees can rally behind it.

Christina-ZurekWith today’s varied workforce, a mixed print and digital approach to communications is essential to ensuring the message resonates with all styles of learners. Visually-engaging print communications featuring smart messaging have lasting impact, while corresponding digital messages stimulate ongoing engagement.

Christina Zurek, Solution Manager at ITA Group

Quell fears straight from the top

People vary greatly in their ability to handle ambiguity. They fear the unknown because it is unknown but also because they don't know whether they will be able to cope with a drastically altered future.

Ideally, those at the top of the organization, the decision-makers, have at least a modest understanding of the vision they have for the company and a sense of how that will affect employees. These senior people should ease the fears of those in the company because to do otherwise invites problems.

Distracted employees aren't productive employees, and frustrated employees, especially the top-performing ones, don't remain employees very long if they don't trust the leadership of the company to tell them the truth and to articulate the vision.

The time to grow trust is way before anything important changes. We trust people when they are consistent and predictable. We trust them when we see patterns of trustworthy behavior. In the throes of a crisis or chaos, trust will be hard to establish if the leader didn't build it ahead of time.

Linda-HenmanDuring times of change, don't change behavior. Tell people what you can tell them, and don't offer bromides like, "Everything will be okay." Better to reassure with, "We have always figured things out, and we will this time, too."

Acknowledge fear -- yours and everyone else's -- but also offer assurance that you will work through the adversity.

Linda Henman, Ph.D., Owner of Henman Performance Group

Invite employees to envision the future 

Recognize that resistance to change is a completely natural human reaction, so expect the news -- however good it may be for the company -- to be met with some initial skepticism.

Focus on the long-term benefits that are hoping to be realized through the change, and communicate the vision of where the organization is headed in a way that invites each individual to get behind it. If employees understand how the restructuring, for example, will translate into a more prosperous future for them and the company as a whole, changes are more likely to be met with excitement and cooperation.

If done correctly, the very act of sharing that changes are afoot can build an enormous amount of trust. Make it clear to all members of your team that their individual perspectives have been considered, and explicitly invite them to extend their trust in the company’s new direction.  

Christy-WhitmanRemember that trust is not like a college degree, which, once earned, will remain in place forevermore. It’s more like a savings account -- to continue to grow, regular deposits must be made. Direct communication -- while perhaps initially uncomfortable -- is the most effective way to maintain and expand your team’s trust in the organization’s expanding vision.

Christy Whitman, Author of The Art of Having It All

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Topics: employee communication, internal communications

Human Resources Today