Back

CultureMar 18, 2020

Focus on Trust: Successful Leadership in Times of Crisis

Andrew Warden, and Justin Bell

In times of crisis, trust is more valuable than ever. It promotes resilience in the face of uncertainty. It provides solid ground for action. And it even leads to better financial performance. As we all experience the impact of the recent coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, people are asking themselves who to trust. This is the time for us as business leaders to build trust during this crisis.

The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer revealed a lack of trust in our nation, stating, “none of the four societal institutions that the study measures—government, business, NGOs and media—is trusted.” The Trust Barometer also shared that business has 9% more trust from the public than the government.

There is an opportunity for us as business leaders to leverage the trust we’ve developed with our teams and thus offer guidance to best take care of our employees and hopefully by extension, the nation.

A 2019 Harvard Business Review survey based on a 360 person study illuminated three elements that build trust: good judgement/expertise, positive relationships, and consistency. As business leaders, we’ve applied these principles to how we are weathering the storm of the COVID-19 outbreak. We share these with the hope that they will be helpful as we all work together to provide great leadership through uncertain times.

Good Judgement/Expertise: Share the “Why”

In the face of a crisis, there will be a lot of decisions to make. Sharing the “why” behind a business decision gives your employees the opportunity to see your good judgement. Tell the real story as to why your organization is working from home or still requiring time sheets to be accurate. At Credera we always say, “in the absence of information, people make stuff up.” Don’t give people the opportunity to make stuff up. Start with transparency about the thought process behind the decision. Combine transparency with sound reasoning to build the trust that gives employees enough information to feel confident in your decision as a leader.

One of the specific ways the HBR article shares to build trust with good judgement is to “anticipate and respond quickly to problems.” There’s never been a better time to show this ability to your employees than now. At Credera, we created a small, guiding group that was empowered to move quickly and communicate often with employees to respond to the ever evolving crisis at hand. Show that your leadership is moving rapidly and thinking about problems before they happened to reinforce confidence and ultimately trust in the long term.

Positive Relationships: Prioritize Communication & Community

Overcommunicate. And overcommunicate with authenticity. Although leaders might get caught up with the logistics around specifics of the situation, don’t forget to express concern for your employees. Developing community through the executive team means being honest about the level of anxiety that your employees may be feeling. Sticking with an “everything is going to be okay” falls flat when there is reason for anxiety. Acknowledge your personal feelings and those of your employees. It’ll go a long way.

We’ve shared out practical tips for how to work from home with employees and also encouraged teammates to share pictures from their new setups at home. Some teams have even started organizing virtual lunches and happy hours to further connectedness. The result is an increased sense of belonging even though we’re separated from our usual physical space. And one last thing on this – make sure you have your priorities right. Follow the advice from one of the chapter titles in Ben Horowitz’s book The Hard Thing About Hard Things, “take care of the people, the products, and the profits,” in that order.

Consistency: Stick to Your Core Values

Warren Buffett says that the most important character trait for new employees is integrity. Integrity can oftentimes be defined as “being whole or undivided” or otherwise stated, “consistent.” Joel Peterson, Chairman of JetBlue, describes a person with integrity as having a small gap between what the person says and what they do or a small “say-do gap.” Maintaining this consistency, especially when the market is down and you’re looking at an uncertain future, builds trust and shows your people that the company doesn’t change when the going gets tough.

For us at Credera, consistency means sticking to our core values of integrity, professionalism, excellence, and humility. We strive to filter every decision, customer conversation, and employee communication through the lens of our core values. It means being professional and having integrity in how we talk about the crisis with clients and employees.

Many of our teams are taking this opportunity to put ourselves in our client’s shoes and asking, “If we were on this organization’s executive team, what ideas would we generate to drive continued engagement with customers and create business continuity?” Our teams are quickly identifying ideas to share with clients. This is one of many ways we focus on excellence and our client’s best interest during this time. Sticking to your core values during a crisis will help to reinforce your culture and even improve it as you move through the crisis.

moving forward through a crisis

The crisis we’re facing is ever evolving, and with it, the decisions that leaders are having to make. Taking a step back to define a clear purpose during a crisis will increase your chances of strengthening your culture and coming out on the other side with a deeper connection to one another and the organization. Focus on building trust and not avoiding fear. We hope that a little insight into how we’re thinking about strengthening trust can be useful to you during this time.

Find the rest of our COVID-19 insights here: