Building Your Circle of Trust
Preparing for transition requires transparency. You have to be willing to share processes, financials, relationships with professionals, and in some cases, even the “secret sauce”. Often concern regarding confidentiality can cause a transition plan to stall or in some cases, fail. Ensuring that your team is prepared to handle sensitive information in the correct way is critical to a succession plan’s success. Preparing for transition requires transparency. You have to be willing to share processes, financials, relationships with professionals, and in some cases, even the “secret sauce”. Often concern regarding confidentiality can cause a transition plan to stall or in some cases, fail. Ensuring that your team is prepared to handle sensitive information in the correct way is critical to a succession plan’s success.
Start by identifying who needs to have information. Your successors, certainly. But what about key managers or family members? Succession plans should be created with continuity in mind as well as the transition of ownership. If you have key managers or family who would be crucial in keeping your operation running should an unplanned event occur, consider including them in the Circle.
To build a strong Circle of Trust, begin with these critical steps:
1. Create Clarity: Make sure everyone is on the same page and agrees to your terms. We often take for granted that people will understand what to do with information. This is not the case. Your Circle needs to understand your expectations for confidentiality. Take the time to share with them why this is important and don’t be afraid to make confidentiality a condition for being included in the Circle. You may wish to consider naming the Circle (aka the Leadership Team) so that the members know that when they are meeting, there is an expectation of confidentiality.
2. Mentor and Coach: Help leaders make the break from established relationship dynamics. Young leaders or managers have been working as a peer with your employees. They may also have very strong family relationships built on sharing information without restriction. It can be difficult to shift these dynamics, especially if people in their Circle rely on them for information. Ensure you acknowledge how difficult this can be and coach them on how to respond to inquiries about confidential topics. Again, do not assume that they will know how to handle this appropriately.
3. Communicate: Tackle a breach immediately. Members of the Circle who are not experienced at handling confidential information may make an error. It is a good idea to have a plan for this in advance. What is the penalty? Once your team knows your expectations, they should also know what the penalty is for a breach. Be clear and consistent. Do not put off tough conversations. Once a behavior can occur without consequence, your team may assume that it was acceptable.
4. Build Trust: Start with less critical information. When you begin to build your Circle, start with information that is less confidential in nature. As you see that your team can treat the information that you share as confidential, you can include them in conversations about more sensitive topics.
By following these steps, your operation will benefit from having a strong circle of leaders actively engaged in discussion and decisions involving sensitive or confidential information.