Maintaining Trust in Challenging Times

By Chris Chittenden

"When a gifted team dedicates itself to unselfish trust and combines instinct with boldness and effort, its ready to climb."

… Pat Riley (1945 - ) US, basketball coach

In these more challenging economic times, all organisational leaders find themselves looking at how they can successfully steer their organisation through this uncertainty. Some merely seek to survive, others see these times as an opportunity to adapt and thrive. For people who work for these two types of leaders, there is a clear contrast in their experience of belonging to that organisation.

Organisations in survival mode tend to go into a process of coping and tend to narrow their perspective to purely financial ones. Although there is no disputing the importance of the financial well being of an organisation, the capacity of that organisation to grow rapidly once the crisis has passed is dramatically diminished. A key reason for this lies in the impact on the people who stay in the organisation as their relationship with the organisational leaders is often severely diminished. Trust is damaged.

You may recall from previous newsletters that we speak of trust as a set of four assessments: sincerity – you tell me the truth as you know it; competence – you are capable of doing what you say you will do; reliability – you keep or effectively manage your promises; and involvement – you genuinely care about my concerns. When we explore the nature of these assessments more deeply, we find that to build and nurture a healthy relationship we must maintain a strong sense of involvement. We are far more likely to forgive the occasional lack of sincerity, a lack of competence or not keeping all of our promises, but our relationships will founder quickly if we don’t believe the other person cares about us.

This creates a breakdown when organisations start to retrench staff. What was most likely promoted by the organisational leaders as a social contract or relationship – we care about you and you should care about us; we are in this together – is suddenly a market (or business) contract – we only care about you when we need you. Once the story takes hold that involvement is diminished and the social contract is no longer valid then it is hard to recover from that position. Given that cooperation, team work, motivation etc are built on the common ground that we are all in this together and sharing a common purpose and vision, this can be very detrimental to maintaining a highly effective organisation into the future.

Leaders of organisations who hope to do better than just survive the current situation might well look to how can they maintain trust and most particularly a sense of care for those who work for them.

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© 2009 Chris Chittenden