These case studies are drawn from assignments done by the authors and their company, Reina Trust Building Institute, in the US. They used their own proprietary tools, surveys and processes, but the lessons on what is required to build trust are clear.
Case study – a global IT firm
The aim of this exercise was to rebuild trust after a challenging reorganisation.
As a result of a weak economy, a large global IT firm had to restructure its organisation by consolidating departments, laying off staff and redefining jobs. People were fearful and uncertain regarding their future. Morale was depleted, and trust in leadership and between staff was low.
Company leaders called in the Reina Trust Building Institute to support the organisation in rebuilding trust. To understand the scope of the issue, our coaches used trust surveys, and conducted focus groups and interviews. Through this research, the coaches determined the level of trust within the organisation and gave voice to the impact of the reorganisation on people. These venues created safe forums in which people could talk about their anxiety, fear, frustration, disappointment and feelings of loss regarding the changes. Coaches provided support for people to reframe the experience, see options of possibility, and take responsibility for dealing with the change. Senior leaders were coached in how to lead their teams and supported them as they practised trust-building behaviours. Both employees and leadership were helped to see their role in making improvements so that individuals and the organisation could let go and move on.
As a result of the trust-building process
- 37 per cent of the jobs originally slated for layoff were saved and reworked through job sharing and partnering, shorter workweeks or shift changes
- Morale scores improved 33 per cent on the next annual employee satisfaction survey
- Revenue rose 13 per cent during the first quarter after our intervention
- Leaders began to seek employee input about ways to solve problems and handle the restructuring and layoff situation
- In a major paradigm shift, employees were allowed to participate in decisions that affected their jobs and lives, so they felt ownership in the implementation of those decisions
- Employees embraced the changes.
Case study – a medium-sized industrial supply company
Here, we were asked to help sustain trust during a merger.
Dash Supply was a family business that, over its 50-year history, had grown from a four-person operation to a fairly successful enterprise with 500 employees. The CEO, the founder’s son, had looked at the marketplace and seen that the company was ‘a little fish in a big pond, just waiting to get swallowed up’. Before that happened, he arranged a merger on his terms with a larger company. Due to circumstances beyond his control, the merger was announced in the media before the CEO had told his employees. They felt betrayed, confused and hurt. Trust in the company and in the CEO, in particular, was at an all-time low. The CEO worried about how to address employee concerns, repair the damaged relationships and get the merger back on track.
We began by coaching the CEO to deal with the crisis. After working with him one-on-one so that he understood his role in building and rebuilding trust, our coaches helped him prepare a candid speech to employees in order to begin the healing process. His remarks ended with the announcement that supervisors would lead small group meetings to talk about the merger, how it had been handled, and people’s feelings about the situation. Our coaches trained each supervisor to lead these meetings and provided tools to ensure consistency across the organisation.
Concurrently, Reina Trust associates trained Dash Supply’s HR team to hear and handle employee concerns and give on-going guidance to the supervisors on the front lines. Once Dash Supply professionals were prepared and were visibly present for employees, Reina Trust professionals used survey tools to measure the level of trust within the organisation and give anonymous voice to the pain people felt. Additionally, our professionals conducted interviews and held focus groups to surface feelings and begin to reframe the experience in terms of possibility.
Our coaches worked directly with leaders throughout the process, teaching them ways in which to reach out to and connect effectively with employees who felt betrayed.
As a result of the trust-building process, Dash Supply experienced
- 23 per cent decrease in staff turnover
- 19 per cent decrease in absenteeism
- 11 per cent increase in revenues
- 11 per cent increase in profits
- Staff began to accept the fact that they were part of a new and different company and recognise that the change presented them with significant opportunities
- Anger diminished
- Employees saw that they had additional resources and updated equipment that improved their effectiveness on the job
- Employees regained trust in the CEO and other members of management
- Lines of communication re-opened
- The CEO felt confident that his employees would adapt, that the merger would be successful and that everyone’s career would be solidified
- Greater cross-departmental and cross-functional collaboration occurred
- The new Dash Supply had greater resources to invest in training and developing the capacity of its people.
Case study – renewing trust during change
This case study involved trust-building within a multi-division corporation.
As a result of an economic downturn, a large multi-national energy corporation needed to cut costs by consolidating departments, laying off staff and redefining jobs. Employees were concerned, anxious and even fearful regarding the pending changes. Upset, they resorted to gossip and significant amounts of self-protective activity that diminished productivity. The CEO and other members of the leadership team were feeling the stress of trying to do the ‘right thing’ for their organisation and employees, while also addressing the downturn in business. They knew they needed to re-engage workers to keep them productive and the company solvent.
The CEO called the institute to help the organisation navigate change through rebuilding trust. Our coaches began by helping him understand that people often experience change as a loss not unlike a death, and so need to go through several steps to heal. They advised him to check in with people personally – by walking around and asking employees about their concerns, fears and anxieties. Concurrently, the company administered a formal survey to back up the CEO’s one-on-one conversations with a quantitative assessment of the emotional damage related to the changes.
The CEO commissioned us to create safe forums where people could voice their feelings. In these focus groups, coaches set ground rules so people could speak openly and honestly. Employees shared how the changes were affecting them, while the coaches acknowledged all that needed to be said, but that had been withheld for fear of retaliation. The coaches gave each team the support it needed to work through the change.
Coaches also provided executive coaching for members of the leadership team, so that they would have an outlet for their own stress and help in working through their own feelings about the change. In each coaching situation, professionals listened, acknowledged feelings and helped individuals reframe the experience and take responsibility for owning their part of the cultural breakdown and for solutions going forward. Then, our associates helped management hold a series of town meetings to consolidate views of opportunities, gather solutions and clarify expectations going forward.
- As a result of the nine-month trust-building process
- 27 per cent of the jobs slated for layoff were saved and reworked through job sharing and partnering, shorter workweeks or decreased shifts
- Morale improved 23 per cent on the company’s employee satisfaction survey
- The level of trust rose significantly, as measured on our trust scale
- Sales revenues rose 17 per cent during first quarter after the trust-building process
- The relationship between management and employees was repaired:
- Employees forgave management for how they initially implemented the changes
- The leadership team forgave employees for their initial reaction to the changes and took responsibility for supporting employees going forward
- Members of the management team improved their authenticity and trustworthiness as leaders:
- They became individually more self-aware of their behaviour and more sensitive to employees’ struggles
- They were able to pay attention to major issues as well as pick up on the subtle signs and indicators of broken trust
- They improved their ability to help people express concerns and to address them before they escalated into major ones
- The tone of the boardroom meetings shifted from one of confusion and concern to one of pride and progress
- Employees embraced the change:
- They actively participated in decisions that affected their jobs and lives
- They felt ownership in the implementation of the restructuring decisions
- Harmful gossip was replaced by positive, blame-free talk about the changes.