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How to measure the impact of distrust on your project

Trust is the ‘oil’ that helps people to accept change in an organisation. It empowers them to remove the barriers that block change, with a minimum of friction. (That’s why having a highly visible senior manager at change project meetings is so important – they don’t even have to say anything!)

An absence of trust between managers and staff and between parts of an organisation will slow down and even stop a project. The higher the levels of distrust, the more time and effort the project will require and the higher the cost. So if you could measure trust in the group that is to be affected by a change project, you could develop a useful predictor of the additional time and cost involved in implementing that change project.

I looked for in vain for an approach that would allow me to measure trust. Stephen Covey Jr wrote a useful book about “The Speed of Trust – The One Thing that Changes Everything” but one thing he failed to do in that book was to suggest ways to measure trust – and other authorities on the subject shed no more light.

So I dreamt up my own approach. How does one measure trust? By asking a few key questions…

There are essentially 3 key relationships anyone has in an organisation:

1. Relationship with my manager

2. Relationship with my staff

3. Relationship with my peers

That gives a 3-dimensional model. For each dimension, I used a four-point scale to score the relationship, where 0 is the lowest and 3 is the highest:

3 =  excellent relationship – high levels of trust and respect

2 =  quite good relationship, reasonable levels of trust and respect

1 =  poor relationship, low levels of trust and respect

0 = non-existent relationship, no trust or respect.

Then using a simple questionnaire, I solicited the responses from a sample of the people involved in the change project. Adding up the scores gives me a figure with a maximum score of 9. I turned this into a percentage and inverted it  (deduct from 100%) to obtain the % of distrust – because it is the shortfall in trust that acts as an drag on the time and cost of change. And I found that applying the distrust % directly yo the planned time and cost of a project gave me a pretty good idea of the potential impact of distrust on the ROI of the project.

So, if the trust score is low, say 3, that gives me a trust % of 33%. Deducting that from 100 gives a measure of distrust factor of 67%. Applying this measure to a project with a planned roll-out of 1 year and an implementation cost of £40,000 would add 8 months and around £27,000 to the cost.

In my experience, this seems to correlate well with what happens in practice – the lower the level of trust, the longer it takes to implement the projects and gain the benefits.

Let me know if you find this useful.

A fuller account of this approach is contained in my book: The Change Equation.

April 28, 2011 Posted by | business change management, project and programme management, trust | , , , , , , | Leave a comment