Trust is a very important factor when hiring someone and delivering change of any kind. As an aside, I don’t expect a trusted person to be perfect and completely incapable of failure – if I trust someone it means I have tangible evidence that they are capable, honest and loyal.
That’s not to say you should only work on trust, and forget the due diligence, governance structure, planning & reporting methodology, risk analysis, and so on when running a change programme – perish the thought. However at some point the organisation, specifically the sponsoring or accountable senior manager, has to be able to trust the people doing this good work and that they are doing it right. (You could of course have three teams doing the same work in parallel instead and compare results, however, except perhaps for projects such as space or ocean exploration, this method is probably overkill!)
The best trust in a person is achieved by the personal connection – ideally someone you already trust from working together before, or they introduce someone to you who they trust (I call this secondary trust). LinkedIn works (supposedly) on this model, and the better agencies can provide this. Nothing beats people you have worked with before, however they are not always available so the secondary trust model is important.
So where does failure come in? It is a well-established view that the most successful entrepreneurs are those with a failure or two under their belts – think Richard Branson. Failure can teach someone a lot if they are prepared to embrace it, and it toughens them up - in a good way. Either that or they stop being an entrepreneur altogether, because it was the wrong choice for them. I suggest that this applies equally to the field of change management.
Having been introduced to someone by an intermediary, you need to assess this secondary trust. Naturally the person, and the intermediary, are going to focus on their successes. My contention however is that you should put more trust in the person who openly and honestly discusses a failure or two, compared to the person who has apparently only ever been a brilliant success. (The person who admits to a majority of failures should be gently shown the door, with the number of the nearest career-change office.) A discussion of what a person has learnt from their failures, or partial successes, can be illuminating – it’s not necessarily the nature of the failure, but how they dealt with it and how they talk about their approach to avoiding similar problems in future that can generate the trust you need.
Nic Vine is a change strategist who has worked as an interim in many industries for 18 years.