The change that has been discussed, philosophized, talked about (talked to death even) for years, is suddenly here. And with a force and speed that has surprised many. In a good way, but not only. The realization that from one moment to the next nothing will be the same as before has unsettled many people. Even if they were covertly aware that the world was undergoing a fundamental change, they didn’t fully understand how this change would affect them until now. It’s too late to dodge the bullet.
We all have to say goodbye to routines, to a feeling of security, and to the idea that the others will know what to do – the boss, the colleague, the expert, the board. Regardless of which organizational level you look at: everywhere people are forced to do new things, to try things out, to throw the familiar overboard, and to go new routes without knowing whether they will bring the desired result.
Those who have longed for a more flexible, open, and digital working environment are currently experiencing a new spirit of optimism. For others, feelings of disorientation and fear about how things will develop, prevail. What should they trust if everything can change within a few days or weeks? Who and what can they rely on? Will their work still be needed tomorrow?
Building and creating trust is growing, now more than ever, into an important management task. It is not about predicting the future and planning everything in detail, nor about repeating the mantra that everything will be fine. Or pretending to have the solution for every question readily available. Trust is created primarily by a new organizational culture with all its various facets: new behaviors and customs, new rituals and tools, a new way of communicating with each other – even a new language.
How do we create trust in the crisis? – We have compiled 10 cultural techniques for companies.
1. Have a 20-year goal but only plan for the next week.
In a rapidly changing world, long-term strategies no longer work. Organizations should know their overall goal, their purpose, i.e. what they are working towards, what they want to achieve, why they do what they do. Where do we want to be in 20 years? The path to that goal should be open. Allow yourselves to listen to the signals around you, to perceive changes, and to realign your path again and again. It’s okay to reject ideas that felt right a month ago but are no longer effective under the new circumstances. Work in bi-weekly sprints, reflecting and readjusting, and thus remaining highly flexible.
2. Focus on collaboration instead of competition.
In light of constantly new arising challenges, collaboration and mutual support are more important than ever. No one can grasp the complexity of our environment on their own, let alone handle it. Many heads and hands are needed. Reward cooperation and employees who specifically promote it. Create space to network (digitally), ask colleagues for advice, and learn from each other. This not only creates an awareness of one’s own abilities but also of the colleagues’ – thus building trust in the collective problem-solving competence
3. “Learn on the job” – like in the “old days”.
Do you remember when you came from university, technical college, vocational school and, for the first time, you had to apply what you had been learning (in theory) for years in an actual job? – Honestly, how much did you have to learn anew in spite of a sound education? From context? In cooperation with colleagues? Probably around 80 percent.
What you were able to do back then – orient yourself, fully immerse in something, learn the ropes – you can still do today. Only now you don’t do it just once, but again and again. Bring the excitement and first-day jitters into your everyday life! Be open to new experiences and learnings. And be ready to “train” your colleagues over and over again and take them with you into areas you have already explored. You are all on this journey together.
4. Be authentic.
We are also doing this for the first time. And we will certainly make mistakes. – Two simple sentences that can make a huge difference if uttered by people who are considered infallible and whose abilities nobody would have dared to question. In times of crisis strong leadership is important. However, strong leadership does not mean having to know everything (de facto impossible!), but to give direction based on different perspectives and opinions from competent people. This requires there to be room for these perspectives and opinions, that managers ask questions, double-check themselves and learn from employees, with the understanding that they are not omniscient. This is the core of “Vulnerable Leadership”, a leadership style that draws strength from the fact that we are all just people.
5. Diversify your boards!
Supervisory and advisory boards are still first and foremost one thing: very homogeneous. Most of them are made up of people who not only have a very similar set of values, but also a similar understanding of technology and a similar awareness of trends. And let’s not fool ourselves: often they have the same gender and roughly the same age. Not exactly the group you would expect to come up with innovative concepts. Companies that rely on the expertise of their advisory boards when it comes to planning for the future should staff them as diversely as possible: with people from different backgrounds, different ages, but above all with people who are enthusiastic and knowledgeable about digital topics. People that think in a completely new and different way and have the courage to go off the beaten track.
6. Create a safe work environment.
Even digital spaces must be safe spaces. This makes it all the more important to create an awareness of the ethical handling of data. Use tools that guarantee that data is treated confidentially and processed responsibly. Better yet, use tools that allow employees to decide for themselves what information they want to share and what not. Nothing creates more trust than the feeling that you are in control!
Self-efficacy is more important than ever – also with regard to other areas, such as a healthy use of one’s own resources. The shift to working from home often tempts you to work more than is good for you. Not everyone can cope with the spatial overlap of work and living space. Talk to your employees about what they need to work in a healthy and productive way. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Ideally, organizations have a portfolio of work environments from which employees can choose according to their needs and team constellations – whether it be home office, office headquarters, coworking space or satellite office.
7. Act sustainably.
Covid-19 and climate change are the two big issues of our time. It’s all about our health, our future and the future of our children. Organizations that actively address these issues in a solution-oriented way create trust. Acting sustainably, assessing one’s own contribution to climate change and taking targeted countermeasures is absolutely essential, not only from a global perspective. It also gives the people who work for these companies some confidence that it’s in our hands to shape the future of the world for the better. In recent years many newly founded companies, which focus on sustainable products, make responsible use of resources and keep a close eye on the well-being of their employees, show that sustainability and profitability go hand-in-hand wonderfully.
8. Involve everyone who is willing.
Everyone likes to be heard and seen. This also applies in the professional context. Not only those who yell the loudest have something to say. Create opportunities for ALL employees to share and contribute their thoughts, ideas and wishes. Try to give and receive feedback more often than usual. Moderate (virtual) meetings so that everyone has their say. Hold regular check-ins and be accessible on various channels. An “open door” culture must also apply in the digital space.
9. Be even more aware of your own patterns of action.
Particularly with hybrid work models, where employees are free to choose between remote work and office presence, managers need to reflect more consciously: Who do they tend to give more responsibility to? Who and what do they reward (unconsciously)? The colleagues they see in the office every day? The ones that are more “present”? Probably. The tendency to favor those who are always visible and tangible can develop quickly. To avoid this, managers need new criteria to assess competence and suitability for certain tasks. Make a conscious effort to include the invisible ones!
10. Generate “work pride”.
The more we operate in the digital space, the less tangible our daily work results become. At the end of a long day, we close our laptops and see: nothing. It is high time to make the impact that each individual has visible. Consciously create space to reflect on what we have achieved, to celebrate solutions and successes we have worked out together and to highlight special achievements of individual colleagues. Work with tactile objects – dummies, prototypes, pictures to give everyone the sense: We have achieved all of this because YOU have done a great job.
What creates trust in a crisis? – Above all, the awareness that we are all part of the change process and that there are no cure-all remedies for how things should be in the future. We can just forge ahead and try things out, because otherwise we will not know what works and what doesn’t.
Verena Pausder sums it up in her new book “Das neue Land”:
“This is the core of the New Land: You dare something before you judge. You try something out before you speak ill of it.”
Dare to trust!