Organisation Trust (or Lack of) Will Make or Break Success in Navigating Through and Beyond COVID-19
Setting the Context for Change
The global COVID-19 crisis thrusted businesses around the world into an uncertain and volatile environment. Almost overnight, many were caught off-guard as they started wandering into uncharted territory, with sudden work-from-home policies and travel bans. Organisations which depended heavily on on-site operations or were not equipped for the situation, stopped work; many moved towards remote working by making adjustments and waited to tide over the crisis; and yet others took the opportunity to fundamentally relook and adapt the way they do business.
Same Crisis, Different Response. Why?
Evidently, businesses were not tackling the crisis on equal footing. Some were hit harder than others and everything that went wrong appeared to be beyond one’s control.
In truth, we chose how we reacted to the situation. What became apparent was that businesses reacted and responded differently to the crisis. While some businesses hoped to “wait out” the crisis, others immediately employed new strategies to adapt and transform their business. Why might the response differ from organisation to organisation? What determines the way organisations react and respond?
If an organisation is a living matter, its corporate culture is akin to its DNA; it is a set of principles that guides decision-making and “The Way We Work” in response to any situation. Research has continuously shown that organisations with healthy and strong cultures are more resilient and achieve better outcomes, such as engaged employees, loyal customers, and improved financial performance. Senior partner at McKinsey, Tanguy Catlin, has even dubbed culture to be an “amplifier” (MIT CIO Symposium 2018), amplifying the effects of 3 key pillars supporting the growth and returns of businesses – Excellent Strategy, Enabling Structure and Systems, and Competent Workforce. Without the “amplifier”, it does not matter how excellent your 3 pillars are; it all leads to sub-optimal performance.
“Bad companies are destroyed by crisis, good companies survive them, great companies are improved by them”
- Intel’s former CEO Andy Grove
In times of uncertainty, culture is crucial in determining how your organisation navigates the business environment during and post-crisis. What lies here is an opportunity in crisis. With the right culture, it can bring an organisation from “bad to good”, and “good to great”.
What opportunity has COVID-19 presented?
In late April 2020, Barrett Values Centre conducted a global survey to understand the impact of COVID-19 on organisation culture and what employees desired moving forward. Approximately 1,400 employees responded to the survey. Based on survey findings, organisations experienced significant cultural “shift” due to COVID, moving from performance, control, and hierarchy to one that is focused on people, adaptability and working together.
The findings demonstrated that the global pandemic had exponentially accelerated cultural change in organisations – transformation that used to take a few years to happen now takes place within mere weeks and months.
Moving ahead to post-COVID recovery, the findings also revealed what people experience in their organisations during Covid-19 period is what they want moving forward. Employees valued the need to adapt, maintain home/work balance, collaborate, be agile and leverage digital technologies to effectively navigate the changing work environment.
Building Organisation Trust as a Foundation to Navigating the Future
Given the positive developments in terms of what people desire, what can go wrong? The challenge often comes when what is espoused is different from what is done in practice.
“No trust with team members. Nearly 4 in 5 people report that their team members are typically not willing to acknowledge their weaknesses to one another, which highlights the pervasive lack of vulnerability-based trust throughout the workplace”
Source: Wiley, State of Team 2020 Report
It has been well established that the foundation of any high performing culture is Organisation Trust. In navigating a post-crisis environment, trust has become more important than ever. Without organisation trust, there is lack of “psychological safety”, often resulting in observable limiting behaviours such as:
Avoid taking risks (cannot rely on others to watch their backs)
Focus only on things they know and are in control of (draw “lines”)
Fail to hold others accountable, even when it is the right thing to do (avoid conflict)
Start to blame others when things go wrong
Say yes, but mean no (or very slow to act)
Lack of drive and discipline to make things happen (problems hold them back)
Look to someone else to lead and make the decision (no ownership)
“Trust is like the air we breathe, nobody really notices, but when it’s absent, everybody notices.”
- Warren Buffet
Without organisation trust, all desired values of Adaptability, Agility, Teamwork, Collaboration will be compromised. In other words, these values remain merely aspirations and organisations continue to struggle with sub-optimal outcomes.
Where do we Begin?
Start with “Getting the Senior Leadership Team Right”. If Senior Leadership Team members cannot trust one another, people across the organisation will likely adopt the same worldview.
Is there trust within the leadership team?
Do they engage in productive conflict / tough conversations?
Is there commitment towards decisions made?
Do they hold each other accountable for their commitment towards organisation outcomes?
Is there focus in achieving collective results?
For more insights on how leadership teams might begin and sustain the journey on trust building, do look up our recent contribution at https://www.businesstimes.com.sg/leadership-management/a-better-normal-through-leadership-team-coaching.
Seek alignment with all Leaders within the organisation. At the end of the day, trust does not happen immediately and must be brought about by actions. As leaders (at every level) of the organisation, below are tips to begin with:
Enable ownership – Be clear in desired outcomes (why) and enable individuals to make their own commitments (what and how). People feel more motivated when they are actively engaged and in control of their deliverables and timeline. Empower employees or colleagues to make decisions and work with them to achieve results.
Honour your word – To build trust, others need to believe what you say you will do. Establish personal connections and make promises that you can keep.
Communicate openly and honestly – Communicate and be clear about your expectations of others. At the same time, it is wise to acknowledge that you do not have all the answers and admit your mistakes.
Promote accountability and avoid blame – Establish ownership and encourage risk-taking by allowing people to make mistakes. When the results are not as intended, instead of assigning blame, focus on understanding the situation and support others to do better.
Be consistent – Trust is a daily commitment that should not be taken for granted. Regularly be there for others and show appreciation when others are there for you.
From our experience, most organisations need it, but avoid it and struggle to achieve sustainable results.
How willing are you in investing in Organisation Trust?
Author: Vincent Ho, Director, aAdvantage Consulting
Vincent Ho is the Co-owner & Director of aAdvantage Consulting Group, a boutique firm partnering clients in achieving impactful transformations.
He has 25 years of business advisory and coaching experience and focuses on organisation transformation, customer experience, leadership team and culture development, senior leadership team coaching and change management.
His motivations are driven by his core values of Respect, Agility and Collaboration.
Author: Rachel Lim, Consultant, aAdvantage Consulting
Rachel Lim is a Consultant at aAdvantage Consulting Group, a boutique firm partnering clients in achieving impactful transformations.
She has worked closely with various clients in the areas of Research and Insights, Human Resource Transformation, Culture Transformation and Business Excellence.