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Trust in Change Management

All good change managers have methods, tools and techniques. But how often have you seen 'trust building'a method? Not often. There is perhaps a throwaway line to do with trust, but little of substance. Where does trust logically fit into the change management process?

Trust is the firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something. Having trust means you have set of confident expectations.

Trust is a fundamental foundation required in order to embark on change. Arguably, it is ‘bad business’ to introduce disturbance and risk into a business without a level of trust.

There are two main opportunities for building and testing trust:


For trust to exist, leaders need to be seen as credible in terms of their espoused values and behaviours. Like Grandpa's pants, the elastic (i.e.: trust) only works if it is at the top (i.e.: in your leaders). No amount of elastic at the bottom will compensate for lack of elastic at the top. Yet extra, embedded elastic throughout will certainly improve things markedly!

Leaders will do well to remember that trust empowers speed of change. Stephen Covey refers to 'speed of trust' - the more trust you have, the more speed you see as a result. Covey's equation is (strategy x execution) TRUST = Results.

So, when preparing to drive change initiatives into the business, there needs to be strong trust between leaders and staff - and between peers - in order for change to be adopted. Leaders need to demonstrate that it is safe to learn, make mistakes and grow - only then will teams trust the process of vulnerability through change.


The essence of trust is congruence. Congruence is a very important aspect of being human. In our psychology, we work hard to keep ourselves congruent in terms of thought and behaviour. Similarly, we seek it in others. A perceived incongruent leader can spell the death of change before it has barely started.

I am not talking about 'trustiness' as Seth Godin refers to the appearance of trust in simple good will and pleasantries. Rather, true fundamental trust based on:


 Track record

 Shared empowerment


You must be authentic. A team can spot disingenuous actions/talk at ten paces. Remember to be consistent all of the time. Just one slip up with these, can relegate you to the "trust veneer" category forever:

 Talk straight/ be straight-up

 Use honesty/transparency

 Model accountability

 Listen to and respect others

 Give priority to commitments


Finally, before unleashing change initiatives into an organisation, check first that employee trust is strong enough to allow for speed of adoption and, ultimately, successful change. Trust can be measured in a variety of ways.


Using data from a recent Australian Workplace Industrial Relations Survey, covering over 2,000 workplaces and over 19,000 employees, researchers (Morgan & Zeffane, 2003) conducted statistical analysis to reveal a significant negative effect of change on trust. In particular they found the type of change also had bearing on trust.

Trust had a stronger role to play in workplace structural change. In looking at the impact of the change process itself on trust, they found that the more direct the consultation with the immediate supervisor and higher-level managers, the greater the reported level of trust.

This article is authored by workplace performance and resilience expert Lyndal Hughes, Director at Third Horizon.


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