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Thought Leadership

The Key to Building Strategic Alignment? Trust

Business coach holding briefing, training employees

Strategic alignment toward a shared goal is a vital component of organizational success, and it is particularly important as organizations grow and evolve to meet new challenges. Without the buy-in and trust of employees, organizations will struggle to execute their chosen strategy. Whether it is a new industry, departmental structure, or product launch, employee trust in their organizations is crucial to creating alignment.

Why Employee Trust is Critical to Success

Despite the importance of strategic alignment, many organizations struggle to achieve it. In a recent UNC Executive Development program, attendees were polled on their company’s strengths and weaknesses. Strikingly, a clear majority of respondents identified “alignment” as their organization’s greatest weakness, and not a single person identified it as their greatest strength. This finding illustrates an ongoing problem faced by many organizations: a persistent gap between the actions of leadership and the traits employees need to see in their leaders in order to place trust in them.

Organizations that successfully display trustworthiness to their employees perform better. This is demonstrated by a 2022 study which found that employees who place deeper levels of trust in their supervisors are more receptive to feedback and engage more fully in learning opportunities. Similarly, these employees devote more emotional and cognitive resources to performing their core job duties. A study from Harvard Business Review echoes these findings: high-trust organizations have 74% less stress, 50% higher productivity, 75% more engagement, and 40% less burnout.


Group of businesspeople having a meeting in a boardroom at work

How to Build Alignment Through Trust

Building trust is an ongoing process and exists on a continuum. Although an organization might initially deliver an impression that inspires confidence in its employees, this positive sentiment must be reinforced over time. To create a high-trust organization, two key steps that leaders can take are practicing self-awareness and learning from failure.

1. Create Self-Awareness

Understanding your leadership style and personal shortcomings is no easy task, but it is vital for identifying how you can become a more effective — and trustworthy — manager. Behavioral research supports the theory that displaying compassion towards oneself and others does not weaken a leader’s authority, but instead allows leaders to respond more flexibly toward their teams. This openness fosters an environment where teams can eschew rigid viewpoints, which is particularly valuable during times of organizational change. When leaders create trust through the empathy and self-awareness needed to adapt to new situations, their teams will respond by finding creative solutions and expressing a willingness to try new things.

2. Learn From Failure

One of the key attributes of high-trust organizations is the ability to learn from failure. In a study on relational leadership, researchers found that learning from failure leads to a ripple effect of positive outcomes in the workplace. Rather than punish mistakes, effective leaders pivot and grow from setbacks. Leaders who can exemplify this behavior and lead by example support learning, encourage logical reasoning, and promote authenticity. Employees, in turn, make better strategic decisions.

Businessman in a team of creative coworkers in a startup brainstorming strategies

High Trust Creates High Success

Trust is key to organizational success. Without it, companies are unable to achieve the strategic alignment needed to remain competitive in their industries. To build alignment through trust, organizations must learn to foster self-awareness among leaders and promote a culture of learning from failure. By embracing these principles, organizations can empower teams to adapt to change, find creative solutions, and make more strategic decisions to accomplish business objectives.