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Lisa Kimmel is general manager of Edelman Toronto
Lisa Kimmel is general manager of Edelman Toronto

LEADERSHIP LAB

Don’t mandate change, ask your staff for input Add to ...

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab

Change management is inherent in my job. I don’t fear change – I embrace it. My father, a born entrepreneur, instilled in me that, in business, “if you don’t constantly evolve, you die.” I’ve taken that advice to heart, and I’d venture to guess that most successful leaders feel similarly.

But something else that I embrace when it comes to implementing change – that not all leaders necessarily consider – is the idea of inclusive management. In other words, involving employees in important decisions and ensuring that their opinions are heard.

Inclusive management has been a cornerstone of my leadership style – and it’s a style that’s backed by many studies, including Edelman’s own Trust Barometer – the most comprehensive, annual global study of trust. In fact, this year’s results show that more than ever before, business leaders must focus on engagement and integrity to build trust. Inclusive management is part of this, and by embracing it, I’ve been able to build a strong foundation of trust within the company. As a result, our firm has successfully navigated through important business changes – such as the loss of our biggest client – and we’ve been able to effectively organize ourselves internally for continued commercial success.

Case in point: we’re currently revisiting the way that our teams operate in order to provide the best client service. While this is an evolutionary, rather than a revolutionary, approach for our firm, it’s still a big change.

Early on, I made sure to engage employees in the process, hosting several meetings to hear everyone’s thoughts and questions. Throughout, I’ve been completely transparent about why we’re doing this and how we’re going about it – and I’ve admitted that I don’t have all the answers yet. We’ve developed transition documents for all employees, so that they clearly understand the rationale for implementing these changes.

It’s been a comprehensive process, but an important one. By engaging employees early, they’ve been able to see the process develop, we’ve avoided any surprises, and in the end, we’ve curated some great ideas that have helped shape our rollout plan for the better. That’s not to say that employees haven’t had any concerns as we embark on this journey of change. But because we have a foundation of trust, they’re willing to give it a chance – and overall, they’re cautiously optimistic about the changes ahead.

A couple of weeks ago, one of the members of my senior leadership team, who is fairly new to the firm, remarked on how surprised she was that we were engaging employees to such an extent. “Honestly,” she said, “at my old company, they would have said, ‘things are changing, this is what you’re doing – like it, or leave.”

But the “like it or leave it” approach is virtually guaranteed to erode trust among your employees – and that trust is imperative to your business success. Your employees hold a hugely influential position in shaping your company’s reputation.

In fact, over the 14-year history of the Edelman Trust Barometer, we’ve found that employee trust relies on empowerment, integrity, ethical standards, culture, transparency and support with strong leadership. And given that in Canada, 50 per cent of people trust regular employees when forming an opinion about a company – while only 43 per cent trust CEOs – you simply can’t afford to lose your most effective ambassadors.

While it may seem like extra work to open yourself up to employee input, you’ll gain far more in the long run. Here are some key tips for applying inclusive management to your organization:

Create a culture of transparency. When change comes, you’ll already have a foundation of trust. If you don’t have a good foundation yet, it’s never too soon to start.

Don’t feel like you need to have every answer. Being transparent about things that aren’t finalized can help build trust. Be willing to say, “I don’t know” and, “What do you think?”

Repeat yourself. Consistent messages will help employees understand and believe what you’re telling them. Edelman’s Trust Barometer found that people need to hear messages three to five times before they believe them.

Equip your team to be advocates outside the organization. Develop a toolkit for employees to help them understand the changes, including key messages for external audiences that can help employees tell your story effectively and accurately.

As Ed Clark, president and chief executive officer of TD Bank said in a recent speech to the Economic Club of Canada: “Being inclusive must be more than a corporate policy – it must be a guiding principle.” Make inclusive management your guiding principle, and you’ll reap the rewards.

Lisa Kimmel (@lisakimmel) is general manager of Edelman Toronto (@EdelmanTO). Edelman (@EdelmanPR) is the world’s largest public relations firm.

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