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Why does trust matter in Business Analysis and what can we do to earn it?

19 April 2024

Business Analysis

Looking back on the projects I have worked on as a business analyst across my career, one fundamental thing in common was that we established a significant level of trust across the whole project and stakeholder landscape.

Trust is not just about facilitating open communication—it goes further than that—more must be considered to mitigate resistance to change and tackle underlying trust issues in organisations.

If you’re reading this article, hopefully, you already believe that trust is essential, but how important is trust, and why should we care so much about creating a trusting relationship in our project or product environment? According to the IIBA®’s Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK®) guide, a relationship with stakeholders that lacks trust can lead to “failure to provide quality information, strong negative reactions to setbacks and obstacles, resistance to change, lack of support for, and participation in business analysis work, and can lead to business analysis information being ignored”, sounds pretty serious!

The Foundation of Trust in Communication

Stephen Covey once said: “Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.” Trust is the thing that empowers our stakeholders to share their real concerns and ideas and ultimately leads to true collaboration on the issues at hand.

What’s better than a story to show the importance of trust? A situation comes to mind: I was joining a project focusing on automation in the financial services area of the business, dealing with processes such as invoice reconciliation or payment remittances. The project could have generated a massive amount of savings for the company and led to operational efficiencies. However, not everything was going well. There was a lot of uncertainty around what this project may mean for some of the stakeholders involved, how this could impact their roles, and how it could ultimately lead to redundancies. When I joined the project I could sense the uncertainty in the team, I needed to understand what had happened to get to this point and why the team was feeling this way. It was understandable that team members felt this way, after all automation can bring anxiety and lead to a feeling of uncertain psychological safety.

I worked alongside the senior leadership team to create a shared understanding of the challenging situation. It became clear that people did not believe everything they were told and trust was lacking in the team. I needed to call out the risk.

How could this threat be turned into an opportunity? Let’s reframe this project. Instead of this project being for employee savings, what about if the team members who did get freed up could instead be trained to do higher-value work for the organisation? The project would eliminate some of their manual, time-consuming work and enable them to progress and do more exciting things.

By getting the senior leadership onboard and reframing the project goals together, collaboration increased, the real issues were tackled, and the team worked together well. Not everyone came onboard, as not everyone was interested in the new ways of working, but overall, we were in a lot better shape.

Some of the techniques used and actions taken to increase trust were:

Open Communication

It’s essential to understand each team member. Often, I find it helpful to have one-on-one conversations, that’s where you can listen openly and honestly. It is  even better if they can be unscheduled, casual conversations over a cup of coffee. A quick Teams call about the weekend typically leads to rapport being built and enables an open conversation. It’s super important to have that “small talk” before getting to the “big talk”, to understand how someone is feeling before they may open up about other issues. Alongside this, remember this applies to everyone you interact with, whether a senior executive or an intern; often, the people who understand the real problems are the most junior team members, so respect at every level is crucial.

Setting Clear Expectations

What are the project goals, deadlines and ultimate objectives? Are there hidden motives? Employees are cleverer than some leaders give them credit for; if there is a hidden motive for a project, it will likely be revealed in time and more explosive than if it was stated at the project’s initiation. It’s better to be upfront about the project objectives and remember why this project is important for each team member. It’s okay for the project objective to be for automation, but why should each team member be involved and want the project to succeed? Be honest about the objective, but relate that for each team member so that they understand what it means for them too.

Leading by Example

As John Maxwell put it: “A leader knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way”. Remember that people are almost always watching.  Demonstrating trustworthiness as a leader by being reliable, transparent and accountable at every opportunity will enhance your reputation as a trustworthy project champion. Also, it is important to lead by example. One thing that I find essential (alongside open communication) is that often you need to be the person to show vulnerability first. Being honest goes a long way. This might involve saying that you are uncertain about what this project means, not in a way to instil fear, but in a way that tells people that any concerns they have are valid and that you can come together as a team to tackle them and succeed.

Acknowledging and Celebrating Success

Building trust in a project team can take time, especially if it has been damaged in the past or if you are new to an organisation, but one great way to increase trust in a team is to genuinely celebrate successes. Celebrate when a hidden issue has been uncovered, celebrate when a unique solution has been found through team collaboration, and celebrate when people are open and honest. Acknowledge project failures or challenges, but focus on how the team’s collaboration can be the instrument that will bring it back on track.

Trust can be built in a project team in many ways. Still, these four actions have been pivotal for me, emphasising honest communication, clear expectations, leadership integrity and celebrating success.

By Daniel Grist, Senior Consultant at CMC Partnership Consultancy Ltd

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