Key Strategies for Building Trust in Change Programs

In previous articles, I examined the critical role of organisational trust in successful change and how it impacts change strategy. We saw how change managers can play a significant role in helping organisations rebuild trust through strategic change programs. In this article, I will discuss practical strategies that change managers can use to incorporate these concepts into their change management programs to increase the likelihood of success.

Before commencing a change management plan, it’s important to understand the current organisational culture. Is this a high-trust organisation? Are there trust issues? What caused these issues? What if anything is being done to address these issues? Integrate organisational trust analysis into your change readiness or organisation culture assessment. There are a number of readily available, simple, organisational trust assessments you can use. Use follow up interviews to analyse areas of concern and understand the background and causes of any trust related issues.

Active and visible sponsorship is a vital ingredient for success, and change sponsors will play a critical role in change management strategies. When selecting change sponsors, or assessing a sponsor’s change management capability, credibility and trust need to be considered. Ideally, credibility and trust will have been considered when selecting the change sponsor, but this won’t always be possible. Holding open, honest and frank discussions with change sponsors about these issues is important in building trust between the change team and the change sponsor. From the very beginning, change managers need to build trusted advisor relationships with their change sponsors, key stakeholders and the broader organisation.

Use the information gathered about current levels of organisational trust to select appropriate strategies that will either rebuild or strengthen trust. Change managers can’t rebuild organisational trust. Only the organisation’s leaders can do this. What change managers can do, with strong leadership support, is incorporate trust building strategies, such as the following, into their change management plans:

  • Build leadership awareness of both change management and organisational trust using a combination of workshops and one-on-one coaching. Change sponsors may benefit from an executive coach, who can provide one-on-one, confidential, advice on trust issues.
  • Communicate openly and honestly about the reasons for change, the vision of the future and the impact of the changes. In the absence of information, gossip, rumour, and misinformation will flourish, and trust will be eroded. Show trust by sharing information widely and encouraging feedback.
  • Build transparency into decision-making processes. Openly discuss decision-making criteria. Ensure decision-making is fair, equitable and transparent. When people understand the reason for a decision, they are more likely to trust the decision-makers, even if they disagree with the decision.
  • Build credibility by keeping commitments and delivering results early and often. Hold others, including the leadership team, accountable for keeping their commitments.
  • Extend trust to others and encourage considered, appropriate risk-taking. View mistakes as learning opportunities, not as a reason to blame or punish. When people feel supported and trusted, they will take more risks. They will try new ways of working, share information more freely and work more collaboratively.

Always remember that trust builds incrementally. You can’t resolve years of trust issues and rebuild trust in a day, or even a month. You can, however, significantly damage trust in an instant. Consistently demonstrating trust in others, matching actions to speeches, honouring commitments and acting with fairness, honesty and transparency will slowly build organisational trust.

Organisational trust is the “magic” ingredient in successful change. Change managers can no longer afford to ignore the impact of low trust on their change strategies. Leaders can no longer afford to ignore the lack of trust within their culture. Change managers and organisation leaders must come together to focus on building high-trust organisations, if organisational changes are to succeed.

Organisations that focus on building a high-trust, engaged and collaborative culture will benefit from significantly higher returns on investment from their change programs.



Originally published in as Key Strategies for Building Trust in Change Programs.