In a recent Forbes.com article (May 16, 2014), author Deborrah Himsel explored the roots of change initiative failures at Avon, General Motors, and other blue-chip corporations. The common denominator of these major-league disappointments, Himsel revealed, was the surprising tenacity of the organizations’ entrenched corporate cultures, with their potent alchemies of habit, tradition, reticence, and fear. It turns out that change – real, systemic, sustainable change – can’t be manufactured by top-down strategy, strong-armed by aggressive policies or finessed by charismatic leadership. It can only be realized by garnering authentic buy-in from those who will most be affected by it – the employees themselves.
Unfortunately, Himsel lamented, the task of managing buy-in through keeping a pulse on the nuances of employee interaction – the culture of a workplace – is often considered a “soft” skill, and as such is delegated to HR departments or external consultants. Top leadership typically prefers to free itself from this work in order to focus on more tangible issues, like sales, product development, and customer service.
In a strict definition of the term, these delegation-happy leaders have “shown up” for their organizations. They’ve noticed that a need existed, assigned a value to it, and housed the management of it accordingly. We’ve examined this strategic breakdown and offer clarity as to why such a minimalist approach to “showing up” is poised for failure in the long run.
Trust is the Starting Block
Business is conducted through relationships, and trust is the foundation of effective relationships. When trust is present, people collaborate freely, channels of communication open up, the sharing of ideas becomes the norm, and people are not afraid to make mistakes. To take their organizations to the next level, leaders need their employees to trust them.
Trust Can’t be Mandated
Trust is reciprocal: you have to give it to get it. A common mistake leaders make is to assume that their positions, roles, or titles earn them their trustworthiness. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Trust Can’t be Delegated
At the end of the day, employees know that the buck stops with top leadership. The decisions to implement new policies, cut staff, or restructure may originate elsewhere – but they’re all signed off on by the CEO. Employees need their leaders to take personal responsibility for the effects of their actions, and then build the structures to address employee concerns, questions, or fears. Delegating trust building to lower-level staff members is like starting a fight – and then expecting someone else to step in to take the knockout punch. Employees watch their leaders carefully, and immediately pick up on these leadership “cop- outs.”
Trust Isn’t Built in a Day
Time is the greatest determinate of trust. Employees will only learn to trust their leaders when they’ve demonstrated a lengthy track record of taking daily, proactive, personal interest in the impact of their decisions on the lives of the people they lead.
Trust is The Business Driver
When leaders take time and energy to personally build trust in their workplaces, employees work harder at their jobs – giving more of themselves, accepting challenges, stepping into the unknown, and seeing change as an opportunity rather than a threat.
“Showing up is 80% of life,” quipped Woody Allen in the New York Times on August 21, 1977. At first blush, Allen’s words seem to apply to anyone but Fortune 500 level CEOs engaged in turnarounds or change initiatives. Showing up for these leaders is a given. Yet, all too often, they’re still experiencing catastrophic failures. The opportunity is for these leaders – and for all of us – is to pay closer attention to what we’re showing up for.