Great companies understand that building trust and respect— not just for external customers but for internal employees, managers and leaders— is a key to profitability and sustainable success. For companies to navigate the waves of change, it’s critical for both management and employees to work together to build trust and competitive skillsets. Consider what could go wrong when alignment is simply a word used in company town halls.

Remember—to Many Customers, the Employee is the Company’s Service, Product and Promise

Many years ago, I was standing in line at the local post office. The customer ahead of me carried a package to the counter and asked the clerk about a new Postal Service offer that he had seen advertised for Priority Mail Service.

“Yep,” the postal clerk answered. “Priority Mail Service. Two pounds. Two days. Two dollars.” (That two-two-two also happened to be the tagline for the Priority Mail ad campaign at the time.)

“Great,” the customer responded. “So my package will get there in two days?”

I, as I’m sure the customer, expected the postal clerk to provide some reassuring comment such as “sure will” or “absolutely” but instead he replied, without hesitation: “supposedly.”

Supposedly? A new service is introduced, hyped by an expensive national advertising campaign and right at the moment of truth when the customer is about to decide whether to use the service or not, the sales person reverses all of the millions spent on marketing and publicity.

But was the postal clerk completely at fault? Not really. The postal employee was simply voicing an honest opinion. It wasn’t a conscious act of sabotage. And it wasn’t that he had not been trained well. He knew all about the service offering, the benefits and the cost. He just didn’t have confidence that what the company advertised could be provided.

Too many companies confuse once or twice per year training sessions—usually when a new product or service is being rolled out—with the need for longer-term employee education and ongoing change management efforts that inspire, motivate and build trust. Before rolling out a new offer, company leadership must ensure that employees closest to the customer believe what they will be saying to customers. If they do, the results can be spectacular. If they don’t—no matter how many millions of dollars are spent on marketing—the effort will fail. 

Know Your Job… and Theirs

One important way to build trust internally is by “doing” not just “saying.” Before he retired as President of Hyatt Hotels, Darryl Hartley-Leonard and his entire headquarters team used to take at least one day a year to do all the jobs in the hotel. No one was spared, not even Hartley-Leonard. They worked as housemaids, receptionists, concierges, operators, maintenance, and doormen—every hotel job in the chain. “It was the damnedest thing,” he recalled. “Employees came up and shook my hand.”

When he was Maryland’s Governor, William Donald Schaefer required his team to exchange jobs for a period of time just to see how their positions impacted each other. The result was a more empathetic and collaborative team, one focused on achieving the administration’s goals for Maryland residents rather than distracted by political infighting and internal inertia.

All businesses could take a page from the Hyatt and State of Maryland handbook by taking a day, a week or even a month to exchange jobs with a peer. If you’re in marketing at corporate headquarters, change jobs with a colleague in field sales. If you’re in operations, exchange with someone at the call center or in finance. Learn how others in the organization deal with problems and opportunities every day. And see what you do and what they do is all part of a much bigger picture. Walk a mile (or spend some time) in somebody else’s shoes. Get to know their job so you can do yours better.

In the end, companies that successfully manage change know that it all comes down to preparing employees to not only succeed but to thrive in critical situations and trusting them to do the right thing.

Perhaps Thomas Edison said it best: “Good fortune often happens when opportunity meets with preparation.”

Change moves on whether we plan for it or not. Contact us and we can help you and your organization understand and succeed in a dynamic and changing environment.

If you’d like to learn more check out Part 1 of this short series.