Business leaders have an urgent need to rebuild trust with their constituents, and those companies that stand on the sidelines will soon be outpaced by competitors who are willing to change.
But how should you begin this process? After all, your previous behavior, including some of your most sound business moves, may be the very things that have distanced your company from its people in the first place. Indeed, if your company is typical, your governing model — the way you guide and control activity — could be subtly leading you to break your promises, favor expedience, and undermine your relationships with customers, employees, shareholders, and other stakeholders.
It’s tempting to think that you can do this by taking immediate action: dashing off a memo that espouses the benefits of shared values, deep purpose, and accountability, and then putting in place the necessary incentives. But the most effective way to start is to pause.
With a machine, hitting the pause button stops the action. But if you’re a human being, that’s when you start. You pause to make sense of your situation and to reconnect with your deepest beliefs. For business leaders, you pause to consider the fundamental issues that led your company down its current path and to its present challenges. Building trust is not just a matter of practices and policies. It requires getting in touch with your humanity. And when a business leader takes the necessary steps to do that, such behavior can be broadcast as an example for the entire organization to emulate.
In building a self-governing enterprise, you’re creating a high-trust environment where it is understood that people have the necessary autonomy and support to achieve results in the way they feel makes the most sense. You’ll need to ensure that people clearly understand the link between their day-to-day work and the ideals that lie at the heart of the enterprise. There are many methods for accomplishing this, but they all start in the same place: the pause. To rebuild the trustworthiness and reputation of your business, you must trust people with the truth, engage in candid conversations about critical issues, and recognize the capacity people have for doing the right thing.
The seemingly simple act of building trust is extremely difficult to perform. It can’t be reduced to following a specific set of steps, nor can it be accomplished by giving a single inspiring speech to the staff. And this process is especially hard when neither your employees nor your customers can be sure of your long-term allegiance to them. One thing is certain, though: You cannot begin to build trust without serious reflection. This starts with the pause, but it does not end there. It’s in the pause that you can start to see where the next step on the journey will take you.
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