Any lean transformation requires a great deal of trust in the organization. The people need to trust the leadership, and leadership needs to trust their people. You need to learn to trust the processes you’ve designed to deliver outcomes. You need to trust the effectiveness of methods and tools.
So, if trust is an important precondition for lean success, how do you establish trust?
Do not ask for people’s trust; instead, take deliberate actions to build it. Sometimes you’ll hear phrases like, “I have asked for their trust” or “I’ve decided to trust him for now.” This can imply trust is a decision or choice. But these phrases are almost always a one-time offer after trust has already been breached, and are also limited in scope.
You can lose trust through a single action or decision, and then must rebuild it over time with a series of actions. If you already have an established culture of trust, that will certainly reduce the friction of making a lean transformation work.
Through my work helping and observing leaders build a trust-based culture, I have developed these 4Cs (Care, Communication, Competence, and Consistency) as critical ingredients for trust.
1. Demonstration of Care. If people do not believe that you care about them, their outcomes, or their circumstances, it is very difficult to build trust. This is usually considered from an ethical perspective, meaning that people’s ethics dictate that individuals and organizations should care about one another. But genuinely demonstrating care can also be functional or operational. To the recipient, the experience is identical, whether your motivation is ethical or functional. Said another way, your actions speak louder than your intentions.
2. Communication provides context. People will draw conclusions based on their experiences, whether you want them to or not. The question is, do they have all the information they need to draw an accurate conclusion? If you do not communicate effectively and thoroughly, those information gaps will be filled in with rumor, doubt, and fear.
Part of building trust through communication includes feedback behind bad news. Whether it is an evaluation or a rejection of an idea, people need to hear the “why” behind those decisions. They may not like the decision, but if you effectively communicate, then they can at least trust that you did not withhold information. It is important to be able to trust someone, even if you don’t agree with them.
3. Competency delivers on the promise. This goes both ways. When a leader promises something, people must believe that the leader is competent enough to deliver on that promise. If it sounds good, but a leader cannot deliver the result, then what will someone expect the next time?
This also works in the other direction. For a leader to empower their team, they must believe that the team has the competence to deliver on what they were empowered to do. If the team lacks the competence, then the leader’s behaviors will reflect that, and trust will deteriorate.
Overall, there are two systematic actions that help. First, the continuous development of people to build competence. Second, making competency transparent. Knowing that there are gaps and that we understand them--and that we are making efforts to close them—builds the trust of competence.
4. Be Consistent. The final factor is that all of the above must be done with consistency. If, for example, you demonstrate care sometimes, and disregard it other times, then all of your good intentions will be for naught. Just like product brands, trust is built through consistency in fulfilling your promise. The best method for developing your consistency is to build these 4Cs into your systems of work, both personally and organizationally.