Why business transformation must begin and end with trust

Organisational transformation must be underpinned by trust.

Organisational transformation must be underpinned by trust. Image: Pexels/Fauxels

Thierry Delaporte
Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, Wipro
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This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • Trust is a key element in any kind of relationship – professional or personal.
  • Businesses need to think about how to build, strengthen and maintain trust, both with their people and their customers. This is particularly important for organisational transformation.
  • It isn’t easy, but there are clear-cut steps that companies can take to build and protect employee and customer trust.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way people think about work, wellbeing, health and community. It is no coincidence that, since 2020, businesses have seen the rise of quiet quitting and the Great Resignation.

Both trends show a lack of employee trust in an organisation’s willingness or ability to support its people. Indeed, businesses are facing a “trust crisis”, according to some commentators. In line with this, research firms have released frameworks like the Edelman Trust Barometer. These are designed to help companies assess and improve their trust scores with customers and employees.

And it’s about time.

While trust has long been seen as an intangible asset, businesses should measure trust with the same rigour as they do profit margins. After all, research shows trusted companies can outperform their peers by 400%.

organisational transformation low- versus high-trust companies.
Percentage changes for employees in low- versus high-trust companies. Image: The Neuroscience of Trust by Paul Zak. Harvard Business Review, January 2017.

On the other hand, employee disengagement – which can stem from distrust – costs the world economy $8.8 trillion in lost productivity every year. For companies undergoing an organisational transformation, the cost could be even higher


How to build employee trust

While acknowledging the importance of building trust, many companies find it difficult to measure an abstract concept. It’s possible to treat trust as currency, however. By turning it into a strategic priority, we can work systematically towards increasing trust with both employees and customers.

During an organisational transformation, employees must trust that the new vision for their company will benefit them personally, and feel motivated to work towards it.

1) Bring people along

In 2015, Dow Chemical named Environmental, Health and Safety (EH&S) as a top priority. CEO Andrew Liveris followed this with a top-down communication plan that included discussing EH&S in every internal meeting, quarterly progress updates and a news broadcast, as well as themed discussions on his own blog.

EH&S soon became a primary focus for every employee, leading to an 84% drop in chemical emissions. The company also generated savings of $950 million. The initiative set a standard across the industry and funded future EH&S efforts at Dow.

This shows that employees can participate in an organisational transformation journey if they understand it. When setting a new strategy, every employee, at all levels, needs to understand the need for transformation. And, more importantly, how this organisational transformation will help land them, as individuals, at a better place.

2) Build a culture that reflects reality

When Levi Strauss & Company began an extensive transformation under CEO Chip Bergh in 2011, they also rolled out initiatives for building skills, DEI goals, equalising pay gaps and improving the percentage of Black employees in leadership positions. The company has since been recognised by Bloomberg’s Gender Equality Index (GEI) twice in a row.

People want to work for a brand that understands and values them. Especially after a major organisational transformation, leaders must prioritise employee growth and wellbeing.

This means following Levi's lead and implementing policies that support employees. It also means creating an environment that encourages and accepts the different elements that every employee brings to their job.

3) Optimise employees' work processes

Wipro set out on one of the largest organisational transformations in the technology services industry in 2020. We wanted all of our 250,000 employees to see improvements in their own work lives.

We began by streamlining our business, empowering leaders to make quick, data-driven decisions, and creating opportunities to collaborate and grow. We set up clear leadership pathways so people could visualise and work towards their goals, and defined daring but attainable wins for every employee.

Our most recent employee engagement surveys show a strong increase from previous years' results, with most of our employees saying Wipro’s processes enabled them to effectively meet their work needs.

How to build customer trust

It's not just about employees though, customers also want assurance that, despite a focus on transformation, they are still a top priority. It’s a privilege to be trusted by your customers and earning that trust is not easy, but it is simple:

1) Show a high say/do ratio

No matter how dynamic and far-reaching an organisational transformation is, customers will trust a company that delivers on its commitments. Business leaders and function heads must be empowered to offer real value and expertise, and most importantly, to deliver on what they have promised. When a company can provide that kind of predictability, a customer will reward them with trust.

2) Create win-win situations

The goal of an organisational transformation is to improve profitability and reinvigorate the business, while providing a better experience for customers. But both the enterprise and the customer must see value in the partnership if it is to prosper. This kind of win-win situation is the ideal sweet spot: a mutually beneficial relationship that is built on trust.

Have you read?

Strengthening trust with customers and employees can have a significant impact on a company’s bottom line. This is even more true for a company that is undergoing an organisational transformation.

While it’s possible to lose the trust built up with employees and customers in one fell swoop, the good news is that it can be rebuilt, reaffirmed, and refreshed.

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