Posted by: healingtheworkplace | June 9, 2009

Leadership’s Role In Rebuilding Trust – Lessons From The Harvard Business Review

Hi! What a week! My operating system crashed and I was sans computer for a few days. All is now back to “normal” whatever that means.

So, today I’m going to write about an article that I just read in the Harvard Business Review (HBR). For those of you NOT familiar with the HBR it is a great resource and a very respected journal published by Harvard University’s Business School. 

The HBR is written primarily for people in senior leadership roles but that doesn’t mean that the rest of us can’t benefit as well.

The focus of this month’s HBR is rebuilding trust in the workplace and as the editor of the HBR states,

“The public’s trust in business leaders has never been weaker.”

Of course we all know that trust is not just an issue for large corporations. Trust can be an issue in non profit organizations, all levels of government, and just about anywhere that we have levels of authority and an imbalance of power.

The article I would like to focus on is called, “What’s Needed Next: A Culture of Candor.”  The author’s are James O’Toole and Warren Bennis.

In this article the authors state that,

“We need leaders who can create organizations that are economically, ethically and socially sustainable.”

The first step is to increase transparency in the organization. Years ago I remember listening to a a colleague vent his frustration over what he called the lack of transparency in the organization where we worked.

This was an organization that prided itself (still does) on its mission and core values but struggled to communicate with people at all levels of the organization during non-stop restructuring and change.

Not surprising the level of trust in the senior team was at an all time low.

Transparency can, of course, mean different things to different people. According to O’Toole and Bennis the standard business definition of transparency is,

full disclosure of financial information to investors.”

Other stakeholders in the organization (employees, members of the community etc.) were not deemed important enough to warrent a sharing of information

Now, hopefully, this will begin to change as leaders increasingly realize that they must communicate with all stakeholders and not just those who invest money in the organization.

O’Toole and Bennis provide this more inclusive definition of transparency,

“the degree to which information flows within an organization among managers and employees and outward to stakeholders.”

Linking this back to the purpose of this blog…I believe that transparent organizations are healthy organizations.

When problems occur and organizations become toxic it is a long road back to health.

It takes a lot of time and consistency from those in leadership roles.

Leaders MUST be role models. They must first trust the people who report to them and then this trust will be reciprocated.

Rebuilding trust by becoming more transparent is the way to go according to O’Toole and Bennis. But how to go about doing this?

Here are the 8 suggestions highlighted in the above article:

  • Tell the truth (hmmm seems obvious doesn’t it?)
  • Encourage people to speak truth to power (this was a new one for me…it means encouraging people lower in the hierarchy to tell their “superiors” what they need to know)
  • Reward contrarians (they will help you challenge incorrect assumptions and come up with fresh ideas)
  • Practice having unpleasant conversations
  • Diversify your sources of information (communicate regularly with different groups and REALLY LISTEN to what they are saying)
  • Admit your mistakes
  • Build organizational support for transparency (if your organization has been one that is built on hoarding information and keeping secrets developing a “culture of candor” will not happen overnight)
  • Set information free (e g don’t hoard it)

 OH, and two other things:

  1. Trustworthiness is at the top of the list of things that EVERYONE wants in their leaders, organizations, etc.
  2. Create opportunities in which people are REWARDED for doing GOOD THINGS!!!

There are a couple of other articles on rebuilding trust in the June HBR so you might want to pick up a copy at the bookstore or your local library.

Enjoy your week!







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