What Are You Doing to Help Rebuild the Organizational Bond of Trust?

“Yup, not even a year and they eliminated my job. Can you believe that?”

I noticed on Facebook a post from a good friend who just lost her job. About nine months ago, we had met in New York to have a celebratory lunch. She had just found her dream job and was beyond excited.

Now, not even a year later, she is out. She was a passive candidate — accomplished, not actively looking for a new job, but the role was a perfect fit. Or at least she thought it was.

When I reached out to her, she confirmed it.

That is about the third story I have heard that fits that profile. Someone gets recruited and hired with all the fanfare, and before they could warm their seat, a corporate initiative comes through and pulls that seat out from under them.

Where was the plan?

There is so much talk today about strategic planning, succession planning, etc. Just plan, plan and plan some more. Budgets are completed and approved, new positions secured, and the process begins. A little later, however, it is decided there are adjustments to be made, and just like that, the most important asset in your organization is jettisoned.

As I read my friend’s Facebook message, I thought of not only her but about all the people that wished her well. I also thought about the possibility that this could be me.

As organizations, we do not instill trust, which is the strongest connecter that we should have with our workforce. Since 2008, there have been massive layoffs, and each one of us knows of someone very close to us who were let go for whatever reason.

Yes, some of these were probably low performers, but a lot were let go because of higher salary and ageism. It was rationalized, in a lot of cases I am sure, that this was the organization’s excellent opportunity to effectively “thin the herd” and let go of the weakest performers.

With every layoff, we lose a little more trust

During layoffs, an organization loses a trifecta of talent: some of its worst performers, some of its best performers, plus, a whole lot of solid people who know their business in between. But the main thing that is lost is the bond between employer and employee.

And the more I hear these stories, the more I know that we in our profession have our work cut out for us. How do we go about rebuilding trust and partnership within our organization? How do we re-convince our most important asset that we have a bond together in trying to get back on track and our decisions are based on what is best for the employee and the organization.

Once trust has been destroyed, it is difficult to regain. That trust is fundamental to success at work for both the individual and the organization. It is the cornerstone of the work culture of all successful companies. It is paramount because without it, all the underlying structure of empowerment and engagement won’t occur. It will forever be a pipe dream.

As leaders within organizations, if you or your business do not exude trust, your vision statements and objectives are meaningless. So, how can we move forward in rebuilding what we lost, providing we had it in the first place?

Getting the mojo back

Do not carry on as if nothing happened; you must acknowledge it. Observe how your employees are responding to those layoffs. Listen, and more importantly, demonstrate that their views matter within the organization.

Article Continues Below

Don’t stay hidden, and manage by walking around. To them, you ARE the company. Leadership in a lot of cases demands leading from in front and not from behind.

Organizations should work hard to create an environment that will allow employees to express their feelings and work through them. Focus groups, team meetings, town halls should be held regularly to create safe forums ensuring that emotions do not go unacknowledged.

In order to get support, you must give support. If you had unintended layoffs, share the information about what caused it. Why did you make the decisions that you made? You can’t stay hidden when you are trying to rebuild trust.

What is the big picture going forward? Is it another flavor of the month? You must help your workforce see that picture. You must describe what it means to them.

In the end everyone is looking for how they fit into this vision. What are the benefits, what are the pitfalls, and why should they believe you or your management team?

Take a little responsibility

If you made the layoff decision, take responsibility for it. Now looking back, what was learned and how can we as a team move in a direction so that we do not have to do this again. Remember you and your team are in charge and you have to own your decision.

Develop a sense of shared responsibility in getting the train back on track. It takes everyone in the organization pulling full throttle to get it going. At a certain point, everyone must be convinced that it is time to make a move and get their mojo back.

It may take a while to repair the trust bond in your organization, but in the end, you have NO choice. It may take just a Band-Aid, or it could require major surgery. Only you and the leadership team can make that honest determination as to the level of severity.

So whether it takes a visit to the emergency room or the surgery wing, we all have to work to get our organizational act together.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.

Topics