Why You Need Trust to Make Big Change: 5 Lessons for Education Leaders

August 1, 2014

Pivot hosted the first in a series of Change Design webinars, Building Trust with Your Community, to review key lessons for leaders working to engage their communities in big change. In this webinar, you can hear from two school districts that are building strong relationships through the design and implementation of strategic work. We also explored specific resources and tools that can guide change design projects towards success. You can download the webinar here – or contact for more information.

In the face of significant need and big goals, we are making major (and essential) changes in public education. However, research and experience show us that change efforts are not often successful – like 70% of the time.[1] When is the last time that you have seen a project fail in design or implementation?

In the news recently, we have seen big change efforts struggle because of an overemphasis on technical solutions at the expense of the change process. In reflecting on our own work with districts, we think that there are a few key lessons for leaders working to bring about big change.

1. Focus on What Matters: Early on, leaders need to really listen to the community – to best understand and focus on those root problems that matter to the district, its students, and the broader community. This is important because it helps us decide both what to do and what not to do. This motivates and builds trust by limiting the focus of the district’s work on real challenges.

2. Tap into the Rich Experience of Your People: Build a diverse team to drive the work. This will not only generate better ideas, but this shared experience of collaboratively reaching meaningful outcomes will build trust among team members who span the organization.

3. Trust Your Team: While leaders certainly need to clearly articulate the parameters of a change, including what success looks like, they should be careful to not define the solution. Providing autonomy to those close to the work to best address the challenge will build trust.

4. Immerse Yourself in the Community: To produce the best outcomes and build trust, the team must step into the shoes of your stakeholders – learn and practice empathy! In particular, be sure to actively engage stakeholders who often don’t have a voice or a seat at the table. Also important, meet all stakeholders where they are and in a way that encourages meaningful dialogue.

5. Do Something with What You Hear: This may sound obvious, but based on what you hear, make modifications! Then, share revised drafts with your community through multiple cycles. It’s important to be transparent about revisions – especially when changes aren’t possible. This builds trust by showing the community that they are part of the solution.

Of course, none of this is easy. But, we believe that using these strategies can not only lead to innovative change but can also help build the relationships and trust needed to make these changes stick.

1. “The Inconvenient Truth About Change Management — Why it isn’t working and what to do about it” by Scott Keller and Carolyn Aiken (2008)