Workplace Issues

A Breach of Trust Can Move You Forward

What can you do when people aren’t aligned and speaking the same language?
Michelle Reina and Dennis ReinaSeptember 26, 2016
A Breach of Trust Can Move You Forward

It is a strategic planning time of year. Your senior leadership team needs your analytical skills tuned in to improving not just capital growth, but the systems underpinning that growth.

What happens when the system in need of improvement is behavioral?

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In June’s issue of CFO, Raj Agrawal, finance chief of Western Union, says one of your core responsibilities, as finance chief is to make sure people “are aligned and speaking the same language.”

Which begs the question: what can you do when people aren’t aligned and speaking the same language? When communication and relationships have broken down, and along with them trust?

There is a pivotal role can you play in reversing a systemic breakdown in trust in your company. In fact, you can even use that breakdown to propel your company forward.
To illustrate, look for yourself in this story of another CFO. He’d been hired to turn around a troubled financial division, and discovered the core issue was breached trust. Pinpoint specific actions this CFO took that you can take in your own team, in your own company.

The CFO’s Problem

A $30 million financial systems initiative designed to create operational efficiencies companywide was on the brink of collapse. Not only was the $30 million at risk, but so were tens of million in potential long-term benefits.


Dennis and Michelle Reina

The core issue? Relationships within the division had deteriorated. Engagement scores had dropped three years in a row. This decline corresponded to information hoarding, jockeying-for-position, passive-aggressive posturing, finger pointing, and gossiping.

Troubles like those would be bad enough during ordinary times, but the division was supposed to be spearheading the system rollout. Missed delivery dates put the initiative over budget and behind schedule. The health of the division was at risk.

The Solution: Systemic Trust Building

Step 1: Learned where trust stood. What do finance people thrive on? Data. The CFO and his team took a bold step to measure the level of trust inside the division. They pinpointed relational dynamics that were making trust vulnerable; behaviors and paradoxes that were causing employees to disengage and miss project delivery dates.

An example of one such paradox: While leadership respected employees, the employees themselves felt micro-managed. Therefore, rather than initiating action, they waited for leadership to tell them what to do. The CFO and his team discovered where trust was vulnerable, and needed attention — and where trust was strong, and could be leveraged.

Step 2: Encouraged self-awareness. Ninety percent of the time trust gets compromised in a workplace; it’s through small, subtle, unintentional behaviors. Yet, the impact of those behaviors adds up.

The CFO and his team lead the way in gaining awareness of how they – unwittingly – were breaking trust down through their daily behaviors. Instead of positioning themselves as behavioral experts, they exhibited a collegial approach: “We’re in this together, and learning along with you.”

The finance chief and his leadership team learned to serve as role models – practicing specific trust building behaviors. Through courageous transparency, they encouraged their people to deepen their own awareness around how their own behaviors impacted trust.

Step 3: Extended compassion. It sounds trite but trust work is a journey. When people made mistakes or fell back into trust-breaking patterns of behavior, the CFO lead the way in extending compassion. Over time, leaders and employees throughout the division developed a habit of forgiveness. Instead of pointing fingers or laying blame when things veered off course, they pitched in to give each other a second chance and to co-create solutions.

Step 4: Through conviction, kept trust front and center. Paying attention to relationships and trust when $30 million is on the line can be challenging. When business pressures closed in, the CFO and his people had to tap their conviction to trust; their conviction to one another, their relationships, and to rebuilding a healthy, high trust culture that would produce results.

Did it pay off?

Within six months, there was a profound shift. At the sixth-month checkpoint, employees had reduced their trust-breaking behaviors by 80%, and increased their trust-building behaviors by 63%.

What did this transformation mean pragmatically? Instead of doing things like hoarding information and criticizing others unfairly, people shared information and gave feedback that was constructive and actionable. They knew what was expected of one another, and acted upon this knowledge with speed and in good faith. They cared.

Within one year, engagement scores rose by 25%.

Within 18 months, the $30M initiative – along with its tens of millions of dollars in potential long-term benefits — was back on schedule. Deliverables were produced. Deadlines were met.

More importantly, people discovered a renewed commitment to one another and team work. A genuine sense of collaboration emerged.

The firm went through its major restructuring, and people were able to embrace the necessary changes in a way that would have been difficult without having committed to the trust work. “If we had not had this [trust building process] in place,” said the CFO, “our restructuring would not have been as positive as it was. We learned a new way of being as a group.”

Michelle Reina, PhD, and Dennis Reina, PhD, are co-founders of Reina, A Trust Building® Consultancy.

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