Build Trust Before a Crisis
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We started our research on trust in and between organizations during the end of 1980s and beginning of the 1990s. This was a time when many U.S. firms in a number of industries were downsizing significantly in response to competition from Japanese firms. One of our biggest insights came from an automotive industry leader whom we greatly admire and worked with now for three decades. He shared with us that the reason he was able to avoid the endless rounds of downsizings and cost-cuttings that his peers were undertaking was that he had built trust with his employees, customers, and suppliers long before the crisis hit. This allowed his organization to collaborate and innovate in ways most others could not. The fact that he was working with a heavily unionized workforce made this all the more remarkable.

A NC colleague from UNC-W wrote this week that the same is true for colleges and universities as they weather the current COVID-19 crisis: leaders and organizations have to have built up reservoirs of trust to survive and even thrive going forward. Along with trust, he writes that university leaders must also act with transparency and humility. We completely agree.

When there is a crisis, people generally want leaders to address four basic areas. They want to 1) know the truth about the problem, 2) believe that you know what to do about it, 3) be convinced that you will follow through on your promises, and 4) agree that they will be better off for your actions. Truth-telling is another way to describe transparency. Humility comes into play when the leader is able to admit that she doesn’t know how to fix the problem, or certainly doesn’t have all the answers, and that she needs others’ help. The leader we’ve been working was humble enough to admit he didn’t have all the answers, and that he needed the help of his employees. Because they trusted him, their thousands of jobs were saved when hundreds of thousands were lost elsewhere.

You can read more about Bob Lintz on our blog, to learn about the many ways he was able to build trust during his long tenure at the General Motors Pressed Metal Plant in Parma, Ohio. We hope that other leaders can learn from his example in order that they, too, can innovated and collaborate in ways that will preserve the livelihoods of millions of Americans.