There are lot of skeptics out there, especially in the workplace, and who can blame them?
Over the course of a working life, how many times have we been let down by our leaders – for promises not kept, changes that are never made, money that is never spent, or raises that never come ?
Enough times to keep our guards way up, and our trust level way down, when a new leader enters the room.
I’ve been in that situation a few times in my career, where we had acquired existing operations that were, for the most part, been ignored or marginalized by their previous corporate bosses.
That first meeting with staff was always a difficult one, because there was a wall up, and a palpable attitude of “OK, you’re the new sheriff in town, but we’ve been burned too many times. We’re wary. We’re skeptical”
“Why should we trust YOU?”
For our investment to be successful, we needed to break down that wall, and build a bridge.
We needed believers- in the cause of becoming a great business, with happy customers, and……happy employees.
Fortunately, we were able to turn these skeptics into believers, by taking these 12 steps:
1 ) Acknowledging that the turnaround wasn’t going to happen overnight – we couldn’t walk into the room thinking we could convert everyone simply by saying we’d be different, or by making attractive promises. Knowing we had to earn it was the right first step.
2 ) Showing empathy about the past trust issues – or, “you can’t ignore what happened before” (even though it wasn’t on your watch).
3 ) Recognizing the value of the work that they performed, and its importance to the cause – NOBODY in a business organization should ever be “on the margins”.
4 ) Asking for “open minds” and patience – We could only make a real conversion by our future actions; rather than asking for trust straight out, it was better to ask for the chance to earn it.
5 ) Admitting the change isn’t going to be easy – and it might even get worse before it gets better – Building a great team involves high levels of accountability, and dedication to higher standards. Typically, skeptical groups haven’t been used to that kind of attention. My favorite saying in these situations was – “the good news is, we’re going to be paying closer attention to you, and the bad news is, we’re going to be paying closer attention to you”.
6 ) Showing up more often – Nothing helps skepticism and cynicism thrive like leaders staying in their ivory towers.
7 ) When we do show up, we don’t make speeches – we engage in conversation (including listening) - We’d conduct morning “round tables” over coffee and donuts, and sit WITH our teammates at those tables. That coffee and donuts were one of the best long term investments we ever made.
8 ) Admit that we will make some mistakes along the way, but own up to them - Nobody, or no organization, is perfect. We’re going to mess up. But we’re going to be honest about it.
9 ) Put the “why” into any important change we make – Putting context on policy changes, process improvements, higher standards, or any other major employee affecting action is critical to bridge building. We took the time to answer the “why” question, and it paid off.
10 ) Keep the promises (by being prudent with them) - It’s easy to make promises, especially when we need a quick morale boost. We just need to make ones that we can keep. I know, it sounds so logical, so….easy. But in the heat of business battles, it’s not. Promises are not like candy- use them wisely. And when you put one out there, do everything you can to keep it.
11 ) Walk the walk, THEN ask for trust – It was only after keeping at the first 10 steps that we’d finally take the next step of asking for trust. Saying those words, “trust me”, is a huge thing, and with a good track record, we stand a much better chance of getting it.
12 ) After the dust clears, and the hard work pays off -tie it all together by speaking to the “new believers”, and then reach for greatness- There is a moment when we know it’s “there”; you can feel it in the room. Acknowledge it. Talk about it. Tie it all together. With grace and passion. Then, reach even higher with a team of believers – to greatness.