ATD Blog

The Role of Trust in Change

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Studies over the past few years have emphasized the important role trust plays in organizational success. The best-laid change management plans struggle if trust is not present. Models like “Great Places to Work” identify credibility, respect, and fairness as the building blocks of trust. Most often, trust comes from the top down. In other words, if executives are trustworthy and trusting, then the organization has a higher level of trust.

In my recent issue of TD at Work, “Breaking the Cycle of Failed Change Management,” I mention that it is important for change leaders to be a part of establishing trust within the organization. Building relationships outside the change window fosters an environment of trust and increases employees’ readiness for change.

As change managers, we can build trust by sharing good information without expecting anything in return. Consider, for example, playing a consultant role in which you find a good article, blog, or study and share it with key stakeholders in your change world. This builds credibility and mentorship, both of which are important for trust to thrive. In addition, communicating about change in a way that demonstrates we are genuinely curious and committed to helping the person with whom we are speaking is a great way to build trust. That is why trust calls for such emphasis on how we communicate. Rather than waiting for people to prove themselves, which makes us a bit less trusting, we must trust first.


It is important for change leaders to make building trust a core component of interactions and culture from the beginning. This makes it easier to flush out and solve issues before they become roadblocks. Creating trust ultimately results in four conditions that truly define an organization changing at maximum potential:

  • Condition 1. Trust is evident everywhere. Employees demonstrate a belief in leadership and have high-trust relationships that reduce the perception of risk in daily activities. There’s significant delegation and clear accountability, as well as the practice of servant leadership.
  • Condition 2. Alignment is actualized. Employees are aligned with the organization’s vision and strategy, with the organization using a cascading goals process to ensure alignment at every level. Individuals and teams understand each person’s part in vision attainment.
  • Condition 3. Processes support people. The organization operates like a well-oiled machine; processes and systems are smart, effective, and nonbureaucratic. There are many opportunities to learn and grow, and the organization has defined career tracks. Finally, the organization has a conscious and careful onboarding process and invests in the development of leaders.
  • Condition 4. Clarity creates cohesion. The organization knows what success looks like, and performance objectives are clear. The rewards and recognition are meted out fairly, and there is a transparent understanding of what it takes for both the individual and the team to get to the next level. Leaders coach and uplift.

To learn more about how senior leaders can ensure successful change management, read the November 2016 issue of TD at Work, “Breaking the Cycle of Failed Change Management.” And be sure to check out ATD’s Change Management Certificate to learn a comprehensive change model that you can immediately apply to your current initiatives.

About the Author

As an organizational development, leadership, human capital and project management expert with 20 years of experience in high end consulting, Jennifer loves to work with organizations that want more, are willing to take risks and even step on the ledge a bit in order to push change and innovation that align strategy with  performance to produce positive business results.  As CEO of Emergent Performance Solutions, she brings her entrepreneurial spirit balanced with years of practical experience; in order to provide opportunities that are fun, exciting and highly productive.  She coaches, teaches and consults with government and industry leaders to create high performance environments that directly impact the mission of the change culture and the bottom line.  She shares in the thought leadership community through speaking at conferences, publishing works and engaging the community.  She has a notable reputation for innovation, creativity and reliability as well as her dynamic ability to fully engage her audiences through competence and humor.

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