Every company faces setbacks — especially in difficult times like the present. Unavoidable layoffs, disappointing revenue results and failed deals can understandably shake employees’ faith in the company. Leadership will need to regain their trust, and that will take time and effort — but it can be done with the right approach.
To help you rebuild trust with your team after a setback, we turned to the members of Business Journals Leadership Trust. Below they share some important things leadership can say and do to get the team’s morale back on track after a difficult situation.
1. Be humble and honest.
Humility and honesty are the key attributes that leaders must have in relation to their employees. Bad things are bound to happen from time to time, but if your employees understand that you are concerned about them, that you “have their backs” and that you have been transparent with them, then trust is easier to reclaim. – Mark Becker, Florida United Methodist Foundation
2. Build a communal sense of ownership.
I think there are several things, but one of the most powerful ways to rebuild trust is not to feel like you have to be the superhero and save the day. Continue sharing the responsibility with your team(s), lead from within and share in the joy of victory. Building a communal sense of ownership means you all have to take the good with the bad and learn from the setbacks to propel forward again. – Brian Garvey, SFS Architecture
3. Focus on candor.
There are three legs of trust: candor, time and history. If you are spending adequate time communicating with your team and you don’t have a negative history (myths or folklore) in the company, the key to rebuilding is candor. This includes not only telling the truth but also admitting mistakes and giving people all the information they need to be successful — even if it is uncomfortable to do so. – Jean Brittingham, New Legends
4. Foster an environment of transparency.
One of the best things that leadership can do to rebuild trust is to foster an environment of transparency. People want to work for someone who is open and honest. To rebuild trust, leadership has to communicate with the team and be straightforward about the organization’s operations, including internal processes and performance as well as revenue. – Marlita White, Hardeman County Community Health Center
5. Quickly show the path back.
A leader needs to quickly show the path back. No matter what the setback, finding a way to show the team you have a plan and that this moment is a change that is not going to turn into a pattern is key. However, a leader needs to make sure that this isn’t happening too often, or the negative will compound. – Eric Moraczewski, NMBL Strategies
6. Connect with people individually.
Take the time to start on a one-to-one basis. Before going straight to a broader audience, connect with people directly as much as possible to understand how individuals are feeling. By doing so, you can be better informed as to what’s needed at a larger scale. Then, make sure you follow up on new commitments. – Keri Higgins-Bigelow, livingHR, Inc.
7. Share the good and the bad.
Start now. If you don’t already, hold a quarterly all-hands meeting to share the company’s financial health and progress toward goals. Talk about the good stuff as well as where improvement is needed. Then when setbacks happen, there’s a foundation of trust on which to quickly rebuild. Staff members are more likely to trust you based on that openness and a shared sense of corporate situational awareness. – Daniel Serfaty, Aptima, Inc.
8. Always give straight answers.
Be honest and truthful every time, all the time. People can see through contrived answers, and such practices will further the decline or impact of the setback. Give your team straight answers based on what you know at that moment. The truth may not always be the prettiest answer, but it will build confidence among the team. – Russell Harrell, SFB IDEAS – a Strategic Marketing firm
9. Extend generosity to your team.
Extend generosity in your interpretation of the intentions, words and actions of others. This often means “getting out of your own way” and practicing the art of not taking things personally in order to truly hear what your team is showing or telling you — whether explicitly or implicitly. By assuming positive intent, I’ve been able to more openly build trust and avoid defensiveness in all parties. – Liz Wooten-Reschke, Connect For More
10. Focus on the plan of action.
Setbacks are part of the corporate lifecycle. The most important thing is to be transparent about the setback and focus on the plan of action. In such times, employees look up to leaders for clear answers. Set the direction and execution plan while keeping the tone in mind — it is easy for people to pick up tonal cues, so be mindful of language and modes of communication. – Sanjay Jupudi, Qentelli
11. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
Make communication with the team your No. 1 priority. Uncertainty is something that does not sit well, so sharing facts you do know and being upfront will reduce the amount of worry for your team. For example, when Covid-19 began, our leadership team committed to being present during these challenging times to address any questions or concerns that arose. – Scott Scully, Abstrakt Marketing Group
12. Reassess and reinvent your approach.
Don’t be afraid to reassess and reinvent how you tackle objectives after having a major setback. Regardless of the reason behind it, as a leader, it’s on your shoulders to bear the weight. Talk to the team about the setback, take ultimate responsibility for it and discuss ways that you and the team will accomplish it differently next time. Regain trust with your team through positive change. – Jeffrey Bartel, Hamptons Group, LLC
13. Explain the ‘why.’
Business is unpredictable, but you don’t have to lose trust every time the company is going through hard times. It’s all about culture and open communication. Take, for example, layoffs. Clearly, the trust will be gone if you just fire people out of the blue. A better way would be to explain why you have to do it and let those people know in advance so that they can start looking for another job. – Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS
14. Practice open-book management.
I don’t believe in rebuilding trust; I believe in never losing it in the first place. In the case of layoffs, for example, they should never be unexpected if you provide financial transparency to your employees. We practice open-book management at my company, which means the team understands the opportunities and challenges ahead at the same time as management. No surprises mean no loss of trust. – Scott Baradell, Idea Grove
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