The Power of Trustworthiness
Previous blog posts warn about the dangers of assuming that people who are actively pushing back and resisting a change are never constructive and always a problem.
While it is important to listen to sources of resistance for potential shortcomings with a change initiative, and it is even possible to leverage the energy of resisters to improve an initiative, no one believes that all resistance has a potentially useful side. In particular, resistance that grows out of employee’s inability to trust their change leaders is particularly damaging.
One such source of resistance comes from too much experience with change initiatives that are supposed to be important improvements, but end up as nothing more than big announcements followed by slogans on coffee mugs. Overexposure to initiatives that were not fully implemented, despite their potential, is a bridge to cynicism. Employees who have lived through over-hyped changes in the past, naturally begin to associate changes with meaningless hype, regardless of how important or how needed the next change initiative may be. Even worse, changes are sometimes misrepresented, such as claiming benefits for employees that in fact are nonexistent. Hype and misrepresentation sow the seeds of doubt and create an atmosphere of distrust about change. The potential to create cynicism and skepticism underscores the importance of only undertaking organizational changes that are important, presenting them honestly and truthfully, and being prepared to fully sponsor them through to successful implementation.
Resistance rooted in fear is another dangerous trap. Whether it is fear of acquiring new skills or adapting to new processes, or fear of losing one’s job, authority, influence, or bonus, it makes people feel that the future is outside of their control. It is the stuff of rumors and unrest. The reality is that, depending on the initiative, some people may lose their influence or even their job. Candor and honesty is the way to approach this source of resistance. Only the change leader who is a most credible and timely source of information can build trust. If a merger or reengineering effort will result in a lay-off, spell out the reasons and the numbers as clearly as they are known.
Otherwise, you can be sure that the rumor mill will portray them as many times worse. Reliable and accurate information is one way to slow the flow of rumor. Knowing the real picture and believing in its accuracy and credibility gives people a sense of control and has the potential to alleviate some resistance.
Employees are much more likely to get behind a change if they trust that their leaders are sincere about not only the need for change, but also its consequences. This means being able to trust that a change that they put effort into is real and not just hype, and that they have been told both the upside and the downside of a change. Honesty and trustworthiness of the sponsor and leaders of the change are vital to creating trust and avoiding counter-productive resistance.
About the Author
Dr. Andrea Shapiro
Andrea Shapiro, PhD, is founder and principal of Strategy Perspective. She brings a unique perspective to organizational change based on experience in software development, business modeling, management, and organizational learning and development. Andrea designed and developed the Tipping Point computer simulation, which forms the heart of the Change, Dialogue, and Action Workshop. She has delivered the Workshop to major corporations, non-profits, and government agencies in the United States, Canada, and Europe, and has accredited hundreds of change leaders and consultants to deliver the workshop worldwide in their own work in organizational change. Her book Creating Contagious Commitment gives detailed real-life examples, theory, and background, all of which will appeal to any manager faced with implementing a significant organizational change.
After earning master’s degrees in mathematics and psychology and a doctorate in behavioral decision making, Andrea went on to further studies at the Coaches Institute and the MIT Sloan Business School executive education program in system dynamics. She has also served on the Graduate Faculty at UNC Chapel Hill and taught decision making at Pfeiffer University’s graduate program in organizational management. Andrea can be reached through StrategyPerspective.com or you can follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn.