Communication and trust during change

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March 16th, 2020

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In the UK, Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer, and Sir Patrick Vallance, Chief Science Officer, have emerged as the calm, unflappable face of the UK’s response to the Coronavirus. On twitter users have compared Chris Whitty to James Bond, whilst others have suggested he is entrusted with Brexit negotiations.  It’s a significant U-turn for a public reportedly weary of experts since the Brexit referendum.

What is it about these two experts that is engendering them to the British public?

Firstly, it’s the calm and practical demeanour that both present in contrast to the panicked media and embattled politicians.  Simply though, they have demonstrated very clear communication skills with the ability to share scientific information in a way that can be understood by all.  And they’ve done this with a human and compassionate touch.  This was shown eloquently during last week’s press conference when acknowledging the likely number of deaths as a result of the illness, followed immediately by a recognition of the impact that prolonged periods of isolation will have for those who are most vulnerable in society.

In organisations leaders and managers are grappling with the impact of the Coronavirus on their business.  The result is change and uncertainty on an unprecedented scale for their stakeholders, customers and employees who will place great emphasis and act on their levels of trust in the organisation.

Dr Graham Dietz from Durham University explains that an organisation is seen as trustworthy by employees when it operates effectively, shows care and kindness and acts fairly. We know from our research into trust that organisational trustworthiness ebbs and flows through the change process.  Employees perceptions are influenced by their trust in key individuals who are leading the organisation through change.  Line managers have a crucial role as individual experiences of genuine care and support from managers (positive or negative) trump the organisational approach.  Leaders and managers need to be visible as individuals want to know you and to be sure about what you stand for.

Managing organisational change well can strengthen trust but the flipside is doing it badly will erode confidence. Open communication is the most common way in which employees feel helped in coping with change and how communication is made can build trust.

8 C’s for Trustworthy Communication

Based on our research, we’ve developed the 8 C’s for trustworthy communication in change, that might help with your communication strategies over the next few weeks.

Clarity

Is the message and rationale behind it clear?  Is it clear for everyone in your organisation, top to bottom?

Consistent and Congruent

Are you being consistent in your messaging with your stakeholders, customers and employees?  Is your communication Congruent with your values and purpose?

Continuity

How often are you communicating? Plan your messages and choose the right channel for the right message

Content

Does your message communicate the substance of how the change will affect people?

Consultation

Are you staying connected with your employees in addition to formal communication methods?  Make sure your employees feel involved and listened to throughout the change process.

Conversation

Encourage your teams to talk openly and honestly about the change process they are going through.  Give them the space and time to do this and stay connected with what is being said.

Confidence

Utilise your leadership team to help write and deliver your communication as employees will have confidence in the source if they are trusted individuals.

A final ‘C’ to add is Caring.  As leaders and managers, you cannot address everything or provide complete certainty.  But you can listen and support people, and it is in your gift to show you care. This might mean relaxing policy approaches, redeploying staff across the organisation to avoid unpaid leave as well as creating conditions for flexible working.  If you can demonstrate that staff wellbeing comes first during challenging times, this will be highly valued.

 

You can access the following resources to help manage change and maintain trust:

An Employee Perspective on Organisational Trust during Change

The Lived Experience of Trust: People’s Stories of Trust in the Workplace