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WORKPLACE TRUST: Trust’s Effect On Successful Change Initiatives and 4 Trust Breakers

Recently I conducted a workshop on Building Trust and Credibility for two different groups within the same organization. The training topic was chosen by management, though they did have the option of attending a different seminar. To my surprise, the two groups had polar reactions to the subject. One group was excited about the topic and the learning objectives for the day. The second group had many participants that commented, “Why did they pick this topic? Do they have a problem trusting us? Wait, do they think that trust is our problem?” The first group demonstrated actions that suggest trust of management; the second group, vocal distrust.

The latter group is not alone in their feelings. The 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer confirms that the majority of people they polled currently distrust government, financial institutions, and business leaders. CEOs had the biggest drop in their trust level in the barometer’s history, with only 38% finding these leaders credible.

So, what’s the big deal? According to some experts, trust is the king pin that supports outstanding team and individual performance, employee engagement, and an organization’s ability to launch effective change initiatives. I suggest, as others do, that trust plays a big part in all organizational success. Furthermore, it is a major player in a company or department’s ability to make needed changes to be successful in today’s marketplace. Let’s explore how trust and change initiatives go together.

Early on in the planning phase, management should build a strong “case for the change,” and communicate that case prior to the implementation. This “case for change” should address these key areas:

  1. Why do we need to change from the way we are doing it now?
  2. How will things be different/improved after the change is complete?
  3. What will happen if the change is not implemented effectively?
  4. Help them see that arguing about fairness won’t get them anywhere.
  5. Help them realize that imagining how things should be different (what if…) won’t make the change go away.

It’s all about articulating and communicating the problems or improvements that prompted management discussion and decision making. Doing this will lower resistance to the changes when they are rolled out as we know from the Gleicher model – D X V x F > R which stands for:

Dissatisfaction times Vision times First Steps will overcome Resistance

In other words, you have to articulate clearly the problems that exist that need fixing and their impact on the organization (Dissatisfaction), the Vision of how things will be better with your proposed changes and the First Steps that will be taken in implementing the changes. Spending time as a manager and supervisor to communicate about the change, answer questions and clarify issues will help employees to understand and accept the change and be supportive of it.

So, how does trust play into these models? It’s simple really. If your employees don’t trust you or the organization, they won’t believe what you are saying. In effect, your communication becomes worthless and whether you communicate or not, doesn’t matter. Furthermore, employees will believe their “peers” more than management; if their peers are resistors, they will join the resistance. We already know by Kotter’s research that 70% of change initiatives fail. Without trust, your organization doesn’t stand a chance of being a part of that 30% success club.

If employees come in the door hoping for the best in their new job, excited about the organization, and let’s say, “trusting of their new company and management,” what are organizations or managers doing that breaks or lowers trust in the change process or environment, in general?

  • Poor or inaccurate past communication about change: if an organization or manager failed to communicate about past changes before they occurred or made promises that they didn’t keep, don’t be surprised when “residual” or leftover issues emerge in the new change initiative. One common mistake is when organizations say that the new changes will not affect staffing/resources or create layoffs, and then guess what? They reduce staff or resources.  One broken promise can negatively impact all future acceptance of new, now needed changes, and at times, halt the entire change process.


  • Toxic management practices:these include, but are not limited to, environments where:
    • employees are consistently treated poorly;
    • management philosophy encourages punishment instead of motivation and employee development;
    • intense micro-managing and unethical business practices or behaviors exist;
    • the needs of the employees and customers are ignored or second place to profits; and
    • inferior quality in products or services is accepted.

Strong evidence indicates that employee engagement and job satisfaction is are  determined by the employee’s relationship with his or her immediate supervisor. When that relationship is toxic, trust is non-existent.

  • Lack of transparency and honesty: frequently it indicates a whole organizational culture where there is no authentic and open communication at any level.


  • Disregard for customer, community, environment and delivery of quality in products and services.

These are just a few examples; you get the picture – it’s either like the aftermath of a tornado – destruction everywhere or contaminated food, where the danger exists but nobody is paying any attention to it until someone dies from it.

So, what if you are an organization that botched the last change initiative or perhaps now recognizes that you don’t have a trusting environment, and are trying to launch needed improvements? As management, what can you do?


Have some fun with workplace trust – download our 5 question quiz on trust in the workplace:



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