Rapid adaptability and innovation have set organizations apart during the stresses of 2020. Organizations like Walmart, Target, Best Buy, and Home Depot have capitalized on innovative digital shopping and delivery methods to meet the public’s needs and demands. In addition to operational adaptations, these stores have also reinvested in their employees to generate a better trained, multi-task capable, front-line workforce able to meet the increased consumer demands in 2020.

Looking back on this unprecedented year of challenge and instability, organizations able to adapt and innovate at every level have not only achieved stability but have capitalized on new opportunities. What enables some organizations to adapt, innovate, and grow this quickly while others shutter their windows, recede, and contract? A culture of trust. Some of the greatest organizations succeed not because they have the largest operating budgets or cutting-edge technology; rather, it is because leadership cultivates transparency, information sharing, and trust. Organizations lacking cultural trust focus on compliance, fail to communicate and listen, and often avoid conflict—all characteristics counter-productive to success in any competitive environment.

So, how do you generate cultural trust? This process takes some time to permeate throughout the organization, but it starts with the modeled behavior of listening. Leaders who engage in dialogue by asking questions and listening to members of their organization create transparency and buy-in. This two-way communication enables idea-sharing, encourages creativity, and generates innovative tools for greater organizational effectiveness and change. Employees who feel their leaders listen become more committed and motivated to achieve the organization’s purpose. They realize that they are actually part-owners of organizational successes or failures. Finally, employees who believe their leaders listen to their employees benefit from a sense of respect and dignity, which comes from being heard and recognized as an essential teammate. 

Trust is also only possible when failure is identified as a natural occurrence necessary for learning, adapting, and subsequent growth. When an organization learns, it develops better habits, more efficient systems, and a more skilled workforce.  Learning organizations are more resilient and able to navigate crises as we’ve faced in 2020. We’ve witnessed several companies learn from failures to force adaptation and capitalize on new growth opportunities, leading to full recovery from setbacks during the first quarter of 2020.

It is amazing to watch organizational growth come from failure when

  1. Lessons are captured in full transparency,
  2. Those lessons drive understanding and organizational adaptation, and
  3. Companies accelerate out of a setback to achieve new growth or seize an opportunity. 

Leaders must be willing to take risks and underwrite the inevitable failures to learn, grow, and get better. 

When the 2020 dust settles, we will look back and take note of the organizations that emerged victorious despite the challenges. These organizations will have succeeded because of great leaders who trusted employees to make decisions, take risks, learn from mistakes, and adapt. They have established organizational cultures where transparency, idea-sharing, and trustworthiness have propagated great results in a crisis.