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Building trust and modelling behaviour

Absolutely essential to any successful change are positive, productive relationships among the leadership team and staff. A key role of the change leader is to help foster these positive relationships. For that the change leader needs to gain credibility and trust by modelling appropriate behaviour (“walking the talk”, or sending “signals” congruent with the change), and encouraging the leadership team to do so as well.

It cannot be stressed enough: the success of our entire change effort rests on credibility, trust, and the development and maintenance of positive relationships.

How can leaders build trust?

People pay attention to behaviour more than words. Modelling new types of behaviour helps to build trust in the leadership team, across the organization, in the change process, and in the vision for the future. If we want to break with past behaviours, leaders will need to model the new types of behaviours.

Modelling these new behaviours is unlikely to be perfect right away. And that’s okay. There is value in seeing leaders do their best (even when they are struggling with the learning process). It sends the signal that it’s okay not to be perfect right away, but that it’s important to get started. These could be great opportunities for learning discussions with employees affected by the change.

Trust is an important part of change and should be a major consideration when developing and rolling out our strategy. Actions that are authentic, honest and transparent resonate better with staff. People pick up on this type of positive behaviour, just as they do with negative behaviours such as secrets, surprises, hype and empty promises.

Change processes are inherently uncertain. We can focus on what we know and be transparent about what we do not. When we do not have an answer it’s completely acceptable to be clear about that, and follow-up as soon as possible once we do.

It is important that we are honest if there are setbacks. This is actually one of the key features of a creative, innovative culture! If there is a milestone we are not going to reach on time or an aspect of the change that will not be possible to implement, we should communicate that and explain why. This will help create a safe space, which is the basis for creating an environment for experimentation, adapting as we go, and demonstrating an agile mindset.

Being transparent about changes to the strategy and/or plan will help to reduce surprises, frustration and resistance. Building trust will allow us to take actions we otherwise would not be able to, especially when it comes to breaking with old mindsets and behaviours. Without trust, our chances of success are much lower.

Next steps

By applying what we know about modelling behaviours, we can continue to build trust throughout the change process. This alignment between words and behaviours will build credibility and help to foster an honest, productive dialogue around the change. This is what we will work on next.

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