Alignment starts with trust. Building trust is a key ingredient to the success of any relationship, and this doesn’t stop when you walk into work. As leaders, we need to stop viewing our relationships with our employees as “just business”. It’s personal. Your employees are making it personal, and you better too before it’s too late. 

It’s time to rebuild the trust that once existed between you and your teams, but you can’t expect it to look the way it did prior to March 2020.  

There’s work that needs to be done, and it won’t be easy. However, we can simplify the process to make it manageable. Here’s how you need to build trust for alignment, engagement, and retention.  

1. To Create Alignment You Must Lay Down Your Defenses 

It’s time to get real.  The ability to craft a peace agreement depends on how genuine and vulnerable you are.  If you aren’t, expect a revolt. 

  • Start with an honest apology. Admit the mistakes you made.  Your ego doesn’t belong here, and this is important.  Defensiveness and justification will kill the ability of your organization to hear or believe anything you say.  Inform instead. 
  • Share your experience, decision process, and what you learned. Tell them what you and your leadership team would do differently if you could turn back the clock, and 
  • ASK how these choices affected them.   
  • Then listen…and listen some more. 
In the end, it isn't about changing the world, but rather, how many worlds you have changed.
“In the end, it isn’t about changing the world, but rather, how many worlds you have changed” -Unknown

Begin with yourself. 

Take the time to reflect on all that happened and what your personal concerns and feelings were at each stage.  Next share with your most intimate colleagues and direct reports.  Getting their perspective will help you prepare to then share with the greater organization. 

Schedule a Town Hall Forum

where you share your apology and reflections, but the majority of the time should be open for others to comment.  It is up to you to make it safe by encouraging your employees to speak out.  You may want to consider soliciting questions and personal stories of employee experiences ahead of time in addition to an open mic for spontaneous participation. 

Gear up.

These meetings must be regular events, not once-and-done.  This is leadership boot camp and your integrity will get a workout.  Use these meetings as a health check on how well you and your leadership team are bridging the gap and including your organization in the company you’re recreating together. Assign someone the responsibility and honor to breathe life into this process, cull the learning, and make sure employees know they’re heard.   

Warning: if your team has been holding meetings that look like this but not listening to what your employees have been saying, be ready for militant signs of distrust (sarcasm, direct challenges, “ganging up” with others who feel the same and DID listen, or just not participating at all. 

2. Meet with the Troops to Encourage Alignment

People share differently in small groups with familiar people than they do in large ones.  Take some of the intimidation out of the conversation in a Town Hall event by meeting with departments to listen to their specific concerns and issues.  Ask about the personal impact of recent decisions on their work and their families.  Encourage their feedback on the thoughts you shared in the Town Hall meetings – and take notes.   

Solicit ideas about what they need and what they want.  Let them share and brainstorm without comment or judgment.  Promise to take this back to your team and return to follow-up with a response.  Then do it.  Set a date for your follow-up meeting before you leave. As you do, alignment will begin to take form.

“The right culture is an important precondition for organizational alignment. Once attitudes, beliefs, values, and behavior are consistent with the main thing of the business, rapid realignment is possible. ~ George Labovit and Victor Rosansky

Remember, you are building faith in that what you say and do match, so make your commitments unmovable on your calendar. 

It is vital that you coach each group’s manager to do a follow-up meeting with their team.  They too need to rebuild trust and, since their relationship is stronger, they will get even more honest feedback.  Even more important it emphasizes that management at all levels values their people and is committed to creating an environment where they can flourish. When your people see that management is aligned, alignment takes place within the other levels of the organization.

3. Create Your Battleplan

A great battle plan starts with a risk assessment.  You’ve heard from the troops. Their participation is not merely mercenary, it’s an investment of their lives.   

With the essential needs identified and confirmed through your conversations, evaluate the risk of addressing them as well as maintaining the status quo.  What is negotiable?  Determining this requires an analysis of the responses received and the level of stress or distress a particular issue caused.  Be careful not to dismiss emotion.  Until the emotion is addressed, logical responses are dismissed, and inaction validates their distrust of your intentions.  

If a non-negotiable is also high risk, determine if a phased approach is reasonable.  Be very specific about your commitments and build accountability. This includes regular updates on progress from leadership and feedback from your organization through regular Town Hall meetings and smaller group venues. 

A word of caution: The temptation to rely on representatives to be the voice for departments or business units is strong but avoid this at all costs.  A representative structure sets up an individual in a position of power that undermines the basic objective of building trust.  While this may be efficient, the representative becomes too far removed from the front line.  That structure is what created elite task forces which devised a one-size-fits-all solution which was instrumental to the breakdown that got us here in the first place.  There is no shortcut.  You and leadership at every level must be visible, all-ears, and faithful in follow-through and follow-up. 

One very powerful way to do this is to take note of the personal stories you hear in your meetings and conversations.  Check-in with the brave individual that courageously shared about their financial struggles because their parents no longer felt safe to provide daycare services for their grandchildren. Ask about how the new flexible hours and workplace options have helped them manage better. If you want to build alignment, do it in person.  The impact is profound. 

A battle plan is a strategy for achieving a singular objective and conquering the obstacles to win against the opposing (outside) forces.   

Don’t know where to start with your organization?  Let’s discuss how we can help you and your leadership team develop your battle plan and prepare your managers to execute it successfully.

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