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How many entrepreneurs are positive about achieving lofty revenue projections over the coming months? According to a 2023 Bank of America survey of mid-sized company owners, 75% said they were headed toward expansion. Their enthusiasm is refreshing amid dire headlines regarding the high rate of current and anticipated bankruptcies. This optimism shows pluck and determination, which is exactly what everyone would expect from startup founders.
Yet moxie isn’t enough to push a business from one level to the next; major growth within organizations happens when there’s a widespread sense of trust between all interconnected parties. Whether this trust is built upon the Lencioni Trust Pyramid or a similar trust triangle concept doesn’t matter. The point is this: You can have great people doing great work, but if there’s a lack of trust throughout the organization at any level, you’ll never scale.
Healthy trust matters. When you have trust, you can “go there” transparently and enter the danger on topics without holding back. You’re able to set your reservations off to the side and have difficult conversations and respectful debates. People are more willing to listen, make commitments and be accountable when they trust each other. Plus, they become more open to following a shared vision.
As savvy leaders know, a solid corporate vision is key to growth because it serves as a North Star. With enough trust in this collective vision, your people are able to see how they can contribute without barriers. They can see the forest for the trees and be assured that their “tree” contributes to the greater whole. When people put their guard down, they can share the excitement of scaling bigger and accomplishing company goals. With trust and shared vision, people feel like more than just a cog in a machine. Instead, they’re adding something special to the mix and experiencing genuine purpose — something around two-thirds of people told McKinsey & Company they wanted from their employment.
When you don’t have trust, you have people moving in different directions and doing different things for different reasons. In that type of mismatched environment, there’s simply not enough traction for significant growth. You can build minimally viable products or set up sprints, but you can’t scale up effectively until you establish a baseline of trust.
So, how do you align all your team members and stakeholders toward a common vision that promotes a high degree of trust?
1. Know who your players are
It’s impossible to engage your stakeholders if you don’t know who they are (and you can be sure that you have a matrix of stakeholders). Your job is to foster trust with all the relevant players, or else you’ll be dealing with a wavering house of cards that isn’t glued together by trust.
At our organization, we’ve spent considerable time listing out our various stakeholders for this reason. Our stakeholders include folks on our leadership team, mid-managers, individual contributors, partners, board members, investors, sponsors and layers of customers buying different branded products from us. Our list ended up with 26 groups of stakeholders we serve, much longer than anticipated. Your list will probably be longer than you expect, too.
When we saw how diverse our list was, we realized how important it was to build trust among and within those groups through intentional actions and communications. Trust wasn’t going to happen by coincidence in a group that large, a fact we might have overlooked without seeing our expansive stakeholder list laid out before us.
2. Engage with your stakeholders frequently
Recent research shows that most of us know when communication feels clunky or unclear. Expert Market dug into the topic and noted that 86% of workers agreed that poor communication was a top reason for business failure. In other words, if your stakeholders aren’t being engaged and enlightened, you’re not likely to fuel the productivity and performance necessary to meet your growth goals.
The solution to this problem is to stay in touch with all stakeholders early and often. Whether it’s asking them for thoughts on a project or sharing important information and news, you must keep them in the loop. We hold quarterly State of the Company updates for some of our stakeholders to teach them about where we’ve been, where we are and where we’re going. Keeping the lines of communication open and reiterating everything from your core values to your anticipated product development is essential to building up valuable “trust credit.”
3. Collect and use feedback from stakeholders
Are your stakeholders walking the same path you are? Do they agree you’re on the right track? You can’t be sure until you validate those answers with feedback. Begin to ask deeper questions like, “Where have we not been as clear as we should?” or open-ended invitations such as “Help me understand your concerns.”
It’s critical to remember your customer and user stakeholder groups during this process. Listening to and learning from users about what they need allows you to build and expand your product or service while eliminating gaps in your relationship with them. For instance, you might ask about how you’re performing from their point of view; doing so will give you a valuable reality check. It’s hard to hear when stakeholders are disappointed or want to go in another direction, but if you’re not having conversations with them, you’ll never truly gain their insight and trust.
Coca-Cola, for example, uses a social listening strategy that collects data to improve its products, services and marketing campaigns. This constant feedback loop allows the company to understand its customers’ wants and how to provide for them. At EOS, we like to have conversations with users using a tool we call “DOS” — the dangers, opportunities and strengths of our products. Getting clear on a potential danger, like an economic impact, makes us think deeper about how to serve that stakeholder group while still moving toward a bigger vision. While not everything unearthed during DOS requires immediate action (discernment is essential), it is all valuable to understand and envision solutions for our customers.
Moving forward — no matter what the market’s doing — it takes effort, positivity and practical thinking to grow and scale a business. It takes trust, too. In all your growth planning, stay focused on solidifying the trust between everyone who’s integral to your success. Don’t wait to start building the relationships that’ll build your company. You’ll soon see a positive shift in everything from your brand reputation to your bottom line.