Cultivating and Maintaining Trust In Times of Crisis

Trust is a critical ingredient in any relationship in the workplace. It impacts employee satisfaction, retention and productivity. In a YPO survey of global leaders, 96% of CEOs believe that trust is a vital priority to their success.

Trust is about “making and keeping meaningful promises to each other and giving transparent feedback through the inevitable disappointments along the journey,” says YPO member Scott Zimmerman, founder of Adaptive Edge. It involves personal change and taking risks.

Here are a few insights Zimmerman recently shared with YPO on how leaders can build more trust in the workplace:

Create a foundation for trust. “You need to build an organization that has a strong moral foundation for trust,” says Zimmerman. “Do we tell the truth, do we keep our promises, do we treat each other with respect and do we treat each other with fairness.” Getting clear on the permission-to-play, aspirational and core values of the organization can help to establish some credibility with employees and customers alike.

Be transparent. Trust is built over time through every interaction. Employees want to believe their leaders have their best interests at heart. “People are having trouble making sense of all the information that is available to them,” says Zimmerman. “Leaders can really do themselves a favor by helping employees make sense of what’s real, the objective truth, and being transparent about the good news and the bad news.”

Emphasize connection. This crisis is an opportunity for companies to signal their sincerity and deep care for all of their stakeholders. Zimmerman suggests “setting aside time for one-on-ones or small group conversations with customers and being intentional about deep connection.” Ask about their situations and challenges; see how you can help. These interactions are also opportunities to find out how the company can improve and to create a space for stakeholders to share input. “When customers and employees realize they have the power to influence you and you care about their concerns, then we are really building trust,” says Zimmerman.

“When people are collectively informed and involved in decision-making, there’s a greater collective coordination and commitment across the groups in an organization, making it successful.” Scott Zimmerman, Founder Adaptive Edge 

Shrink the differential. To shift the one up, one down power dynamic that exists between a CEO and the employees, leaders can practice more self-disclosure by talking about their needs, concerns and problem areas. “When leaders act like they have it all together and they have all the answers, then they keep that differential intact,” says Zimmerman. “But when they show they have concerns, they shrink that differential and employees lean into that disclosure.”

Foster open communication. One of the best things any leader can do is to improve feedback and facilitate transparency. If they don’t, they miss out on not only what employees have to say but also viable solutions to problems. Leaders can move “from certainty that we know what’s right about what we should do to being curious about what’s really happened,” says Zimmerman. “It’s about moving from judgment or blame to being open to things not going right as an opportunity to deepen the relationships and learn together as a team and be more successful moving forward.”

Start small. Take the time to reflect on places where you are experiencing distrust within your organization. Identify the relationships where there’s an opportunity for honest feedback in order to understand what’s getting in the way of a more successful, trusting relationship. Then explore how to move forward productively together.

“When the relationships in business improve, then people share more of what they think and feel,” says Zimmerman. “When people share more of what they think and feel, more perspectives, more creativity, more innovation emerges. When leaders have more information and more choices, they are likely to make wiser decisions. When people are collectively informed and involved in that decision-making, there’s a greater collective coordination and commitment across the groups in the organization in making it successful. When that coordination improves, people are more committed individually to taking the risks and fulfilling their promises.”

To learn more about cultivating and maintaining trust in times of crisis, check out YPO Presents Ask the Expert – Trust Edition with Scott Zimmerman.

For more crisis leadership stories like these, check out the COVID-19: Leading Through Crisis page on YPO.org. All YPO members can find breaking news, offer insights and view current discussions happening about COVID-19 impact within the YPO community on the YPO member-only platform.

A journalist-turned-content-marketer, Karen cannot get enough of words. Writing, editing, reading them – it’s a passion, not just a vocation. Karen is the senior editor of content for YPO.