A Bridge of Trust

March 25, 2015
  • Bob Chapman
  • Bob Chapman
    CEO & Chairman of Barry-Wehmiller
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Here are a few staggering statistics from a recent report on trust in the workplace:

• Less than half of people in the workplace trust their leaders.
• 82% of those people say they need to trust their leadership to be effective at their job.
• But only 34% feel safe communicating their ideas with leadership.

How do we as leaders bridge this “trust gap” in our organizations?

When Bart Hardy was promoted to Vice President of Manufacturing at Barry-Wehmiller’s Paper Converting Machine Company in Green Bay, WI, it was a time where trust between associates and company leaders was low.

“There was a lot of tension,” Bart said. “I walked into an environment where leaders and workers were not on the same page. In any work environment, there’s often that natural tension, but this was much worse.”

On advice of one of the labor leaders, Bart scheduled one-on-one meetings with all 300 of his team members, spread out over seven months. Union reps were in the room to observe, but the conversation would be between Bart and his teammate.

For his part, Bart asked two questions, “What are your expectations of leadership?” and “What prevents you from being more successful in your job than you currently are?”

“I had some very brutal conversations,” he said. “I didn’t try to be defensive about anything. I wanted them to be as open and honest as possible and, even if they could just vent, we’d see where it goes.”

Bart did something in those meetings that is essential in building trust and essential in leadership – he sat back and listened. He used active listening techniques learned in Barry-Wehmiller’s Communications Skills Training.

The team’s response to a safe space in which to express themselves to a fully engaged listener was amazing. They took full advantage of the opportunity to express their feelings. The open dialogue slowly began to establish a new trust.

“I figured that after five or six people, I’d have a good idea of what the issues were and what I’d need to do,” Hardy said. “But what I saw was the impact it was having on them; that a leader would actually take the time to listen. It was just so refreshing. You could see what kind of difference it was making.”

A year later at negotiation time, BW approached the Union and asked if their contract could be extended by three months due to an issue that was occurring outside of PCMC. The Union felt that if an extension was necessary, why not extend for three years and only negotiate the wage scale for the term of the contract.

“It’s hard to quantify trust,” Bart said, “But that kind of blanket extension rarely happens with a labor agreement.

“There were many things that helped rebuild the bridge of trust. I was just a small part, but it shows that listening goes a long way.”

As a leader, one of the most effective ways to gain the trust of those you lead is to listen to them. Bart’s one-on-one meetings not only helped his team by giving them a voice to make a difference in their workplace, they broadened his perspective as a leader to help affect change.

“It was good for them, they got to bend my ear,” Bart said. “But at the end of the day I got to interact with so many people and had so much information to work with. It was fantastic.”

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