In their new book, Move Fast and Fix Things, Frances Frei and Anne Morriss outline five strategies to help leaders tackle their hardest problems and quickly make change. Their second strategy is to build — or rebuild — trust with your stakeholders. This means they need to believe three things: that you care about them (empathy), that you’re capable of meeting their needs (logic), and that you can be expected to do what you say you’ll do (authenticity). Most organizations are shaky on at least one of these trust pillars, commonly in one of the below scenarios.
Facebook made “Move fast and break things” an informal company motto. But leadership experts Frances Frei and Anne Morriss argue that this belief is deeply flawed — and that it keeps leaders from building a great company.
The best leaders move fast and fix things — they solve hard problems while making their organizations stronger. In their new book Move Fast and Fix Things (Harvard Business Review Press), Frei and Morriss outline five strategies to help leaders tackle their hardest problems and quickly make change:
- Identify your real problem. (See 10 Signs Your Company Is Resistant to Change)
- Build — or rebuild — trust with your stakeholders.
- Create inclusive conditions that allow your whole team to thrive.
- Tell a compelling story about the change you need to make.
- Execute your plan with a sense of urgency.
This month, we’ll be publishing a series of excerpts that correspond to each strategy. In this excerpt, Frei and Morriss explain that, just as with personal trust, organizational trust relies on the presence of authenticity, empathy, and logic. But most organizations are shaky on at least one of these trust pillars. Which ones are getting in the way of your organization’s progress?
. . .
In order to trust you as an organization, your stakeholders need to believe three things: that you care about them (empathy), that you’re capable of meeting their needs (logic), and that you can be expected to do what you say you’ll do (authenticity). Just like when people lose trust, organizations that are losing trust — or failing to build as much trust as they could — tend to get shaky or wobble on one of these three dimensions. Below is a list of some of the trust problems we see most frequently in our work, along with what they reveal about what’s getting wobbly.
1. Aversion to making choices
This one can present in all kinds of ways, from managing for consensus to trying to be great at everything you do as an organization. A gentle reminder: although it may feel safer to hedge your bets, catering to a constituent that can be best described as “everyone” is often a much riskier path for the company. Your refusal to choose is increasing the likelihood of exhausted mediocrity. Trust wobble: logic.
2. Reliance on heroic employees
Many business models are designed for employees we wish we had, not for the employees we actually have — the ones with imperfections and lives outside of work. If your operations depend on people continuously going above and beyond, then be prepared to work much harder to find these magical creatures and reward them with outsize compensation. Few organizations are truly up for the task. Trust wobble: logic.
3. Shiny object syndrome
The human brain is wired to focus on the new, new thing, even when the old, old thing matters more. A lack of intention (also known, less cheerily, as lack of discipline) in the pursuit of new opportunities puts your business model at risk. Excellent adventures in new products and markets are often justified by hazy ROI equations that inflate the upside and downplay the risk, including the cost of distraction from more urgent priorities. May be accompanied by other types of magical thinking. Trust wobble: logic.
4. Disengaged middle management
Managers in what we call the “murky middle” of an organization are often the only people who know the true distance between a company’s reality and its ambition. They know how much effort it’s going to take to win, understand the true hazards of the journey, and typically have the most to lose (and least to gain) along the way. And yet, instead of being unleashed in moments of big change, middle managers are often overlooked by a leadership team that’s focused on inspiring the front lines and gaining buy-in at the top. Trust wobble: empathy.
5. Casual relationship with other people’s time
Do you treat your people’s time as if it’s your most strategic asset? It’s one of our favorite leadership reflection prompts, and you’ll hear us repeat it again and again. Far too many organizations are far too comfortable wasting their employees’ time on everything from clunky HR software to forcing everyone to come into the office to indulge a nostalgic view of what work used to feel like. The opportunity cost is immeasurable. Trust wobble: empathy.
6. Comfort with collateral damage
This is the “break things” part of “Move fast and break things,” which can get embedded into an organization’s culture. It often presents as desensitization to unintentional harms and justified by a “We tried our best” storyline. Organizations that would never tolerate this attitude when it comes to some parts of the business (“We tried our best to protect our financial data!”) often want participation trophies for trying not to harm their users and employees. Trust wobble: empathy.
7. High incidence of the “Sunday scaries”
If a significant percentage of your colleagues feel an impending sense of dread at the thought of coming to work, then something is strained, if not broken, in the company’s relationship with its employees. Sometimes there’s an unskilled (or worse) manager to blame, but when people are experiencing this kind of anticipatory anxiety at scale, then there’s an org-level problem that needs to be fixed. (Spoiler: You’re getting a small fraction of what your people are capable of contributing.) Trust wobble: empathy.
8. People-pleasing in the boardroom
This pattern is rooted in our human impulse to tell people what we think they want to hear, particularly when said people can materially impact our organizational and/or professional futures. We’re not talking about fraud or misrepresentation here but rather a habit of gently withholding, massaging, and constructing reality. The trust hit for this one is often higher than we think, since boards tend are sensitive to being managed and typically composed of excellent detectors of partial truths. Know that what they really want from you is the information they need to help the company solve problems. Trust wobble: authenticity.
9. Tolerance for misalignment
Is your marketing team writing checks that your product team can’t cash? Lack of alignment anywhere in the business is a problem but pay closest attention to org-level disconnects. One we see frequently is a gap between strategy and culture — for example, a strategy of innovation layered onto a culture defined by coloring within the lines. Trust wobble: authenticity.
10. Delusions of meritocracy
OK, here’s what this looks like: you’ve told yourselves you’re a meritocracy, but you keep hiring, promoting, and retaining the same types of people. If the humans at the top of your organization bear little resemblance to the rest of your employees, the customers you serve, or the demographic distribution of the communities in which you operate, then we promise you, you’re not a meritocracy. Trust wobble: authenticity.
This excerpt has been lightly edited.