In times of change, employees move through stages that range from denial and frustration to creativity and acceptance. To build trust with employees, leaders can take practical steps to help them on their change journey — and to help them thrive on the other side.
Psychologist Viktor Frankl once said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation — we are challenged to change ourselves.” In the past couple of years, we have experienced situations we cannot control or change. We’ve learned to expect that navigating new circumstances and ways of operating is part of doing business.
As companies scramble to adapt and operate amidst ever-changing scenarios, leaders face situations they can’t control or influence. They must adapt to support and foster remote environments that enable employees to feel empowered and engaged, which is even harder as employees hit a wall. According to Gartner, only 38 percent of employees are willing to support enterprise change.
Trust is the foundation of any relationship, and the manager-employee relationship is no exception. As employees transition through the current climate’s journey of uncertainty, they experience the normal stages and emotions of change. The leader’s role is to engage and support employees on their change journey. For employees to work through change, they need to trust their leaders will guide them to the other side.
To help you on your journey, in this blog post, we will share five actions for building trust as a leader through times of uncertainty. But first, let’s take a moment to understand and appreciate the journey of change.
Mapping the Change Journey
When a major change hits, it causes significant disruption to the status quo, and people begin to experience feelings of denial and shock. During these times, they feel out of control and look to their leaders for stability and direction.
Next, they begin to experience feelings of fear, anger and perhaps frustration as they mourn the ways of the past. This mourning needs to happen so they can embrace the future. Build trust as a leader by showing compassion and patience during disruption to help employees move constructively through the necessary stages. Only then can employees begin to accept and explore new ways of working and operating.
The more ways leaders find to empower and engage employees through collaboration and support, the more quickly employees find hope through creative and new ways of working. As hope builds, enthusiasm mounts, and employees eventually come through the change with new perspectives and a renewed commitment to success. Leaders must be ready for this time because it is the optimal moment to cultivate and develop the talent to help your teams achieve new heights of success.
Five Actions for Building Trust as a Leader
Each employee will complete their change journey in their own time, and no exact recipe exists to help them move through it more quickly. But, we have seen many leaders take simple, practical actions that build trust with employees and ultimately accelerate the pace from denial to commitment.
- Commit to providing employees with what they need and how they need it. Without question, employees need direction, especially during disruptive times. How leaders provide that direction is crucial. Employees do not appreciate micromanagement, especially when dealing with uncertainty. Abandon the command-and-control approach in favor of a more collaborative touch that leaves little room for ambiguity about what each other needs.
- Take time to connect. This step may seem basic, but as more companies take a hybrid approach to the workplace, we have fewer chances for casual, in-person conversations. At the beginning of each meeting – in-person or virtual – ask questions about their families and lives. This time may be the most valuable 10 minutes you can spend building trust as a leader. These crucial conversations can indicate when people need space, time to adjust, or a little additional support.
- Share your vision of the future. In times of uncertainty or change, people need answers. While leaders may not have all the answers, they have an idea of things they want to maintain, preserve and continue. Share your thoughts and ideas centered on what you hope to accomplish in the future. The most effective leaders aren’t always certain how they will win the battle — but to win the hearts and minds of their troops, they provide a vision of what those battles will mean and why they are fighting them.
- Communicate strategically and with purpose. Many well-intended leaders clamor for news to communicate to employees. They want to engage and motivate employees, but often, they find the exact opposite happening. You can over-communicate. When you continuously pepper employees with sporadic messages, texts, chats, and phone calls on various topics or random thoughts, it dilutes your purpose and vision and erodes trust. Employees appreciate clear, concise, consistent and aligned messages.
- Measure outcomes, not activity. Too often, leaders need assurance of successful outcomes and must resort to measuring those outcomes and not activity. Trust is imperative. While it is normal to want assurance of success, resist the urge to focus on outcomes and impacts rather than the activities themselves. This mindset not only empowers employees to tap into their creativity to find new ways of working, but it also secures their commitment to success in the new world.
Building Trust as a Leader During Change
The future is never clear, but leaders can help shape it by finding new ways to engage and empower employees. How they interact and support employees through the journey of change directly impacts how quickly employees reach a place of accepting and leaning into whatever comes next.