4 Ways Great Leaders Overcome Conflict By Building Trust

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By: Gregg Dedrick, Co-Founder & President of David Novak Leadership

Do you trust those on your team? Does your team trust other teams within your organization? If there is distrust and bad feelings among the people you work with, is it any wonder that business suffers? I’ve often told the story how, when I got the opportunity to become division president of KFC after being promoted from Chief Operating Officer of the Pepsi Cola Company, I quickly found out that I inherited not only a business in decline, but a system that was full of animosity. For a whole host of reasons (not the least of which was a pending contract dispute) the company’s leadership and the franchisees simply didn’t like or trust each other. I may have been new to KFC, but I understood right off that none of us were going to be successful in an environment like that. 

When engaged in conflict, someone has to take the first step to build trust. My gut told me my team and I needed to take that first step because the hatred was deeply seeded on both sides. So, my first official act as president was to get together with my executive team and let them know things had to change. I told them that I understood how hard things had been.  But, I said, I want you to know something.  I love working with franchisees. And from now on we’re going to trust our franchisees. Fighting isn’t doing either side any good. One thing I know for sure is, they don’t like losing any more than we do.  So I don’t want to hear anything bad about them.

Next I had to convince the franchisees that it was a new day, so I went out to all nine regional franchise association meetings and asked what they would do if they were in charge. I broke them into groups, and each group had to come back and present its ideas. Then I just sat back and listened.

After attending all the franchise association meetings, I developed an initial strategy based on a lot of their input. I listened to them and responded by incorporating what they shared into the strategy.  This built trust.

How To Build Trust With Your Team free downloadThat was the beginning of a new relationship. And I truly believe that if I hadn’t started things off this way, what came next would never have happened. Two things largely credited with turning around KFC during my time as president are the introductions of two popular new products: Crispy Strips and Chicken Pot Pie. And both of these products came about only because we had a more open relationship with our franchisees. 

Crispy Strips started because a franchisee down in Arkansas created, on his own, a freshly prepared chicken strip that helped boost his business by 9 percent. When I heard about this, we took the first plane down to have a look.  (This was unheard of because corporate did NOT want franchisees to create new products. In the past, this franchisee would have been hammered for breeching the franchise agreement.) We not only loved his product, but he took us to his supplier, who worked with our R&D team to get enough supply so we could roll the product out across America. Crispy Strips became the most successful product since Original Recipe itself, bringing in over $100,000 of sales to our per unit average. 

Our Chicken Pot Pie also was a result of working closely with franchisees. I created what I called our Chef Council, composed of franchisees who had a passion for making great food. One of the Chef Council members came up with a recipe for a pot pie that started the ball rolling for another big success.

The thing is, this helped make my career. Crispy Strips and our Chicken Pot Pie hugely boosted sales and led to other new products that did the same. KFC started growing again and almost doubled profits in just three years. And I got the credit for turning around a brand that had been losing for a long time. The success earned me a reputation for leadership that put me in a position to eventually run Yum! Brands. If you ask the finance people what ignited the business, they will tell you it was the new products, but my answer would be that it was the triumph of the human spirit. It all started with one simple decision: to trust franchisees. That opened the way for them to trust me and the corporation in return, and together we unleashed the power of our people to succeed.

Building trust and relationships is important for leaders, but it’s not always easy. Here are some tips to help you move from me to we by building relationships based on trust.

  • Know that people want to contribute.  Check your mindset on this.  Do you believe that people come to work with a desire to do good and try hard?  I used this mindset when we went to Arkansas to find out more about Crispy Strips, which then led to the KFC turnaround. Remember, if you don’t trust people, they won’t trust you.
  • The more they know, the more they care.  I learned this from Walmart. One way to show people you trust in their abilities is to share with them what you know. Before asking the franchisees what they would do if they were in charge, I shared all I knew about the current state of the business. How often do you share what you know with your team? As Sam Walton says, The more they know, the more they’ll understand.  The more they understand, the more they’ll care. Once they care, there’s no stopping them.
  • Ask questions that promote insight. One of my favorite questions to ask others is, What would you do if you had my job? This was the question I asked the franchisees, and they shared great insight with me. To really get to know others, you need to get outside of your comfort zone, or those you work with every day. Go two deep: connect with people two levels above and below you.  Have you shown others you care by asking them what they think and by getting to know them better?
  • Take responsive action. Once you’ve found out what people think, you’ve got to show that you take their perspective into account. I did this by incorporating some of the franchisee feedback into my strategy. Even if you don’t follow through with every idea you hear, you can take the time to thank people for their ideas and share the reason you made the decision you did.  

These tips helped me build trust with others as I led at KFC and Yum! Brands. How well do you build trust with others? Download the Free Learning Guide to find out. As Booker T. Washington said, “Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility upon him, and to let him know that you trust him.” Let’s commit to moving from me to we by building trust with others and unleashing their power to make a positive impact in the world.

How to build trust with your team free download

Do you know someone who could use help building trust with others? If your answer is yes, then share this blog and guide today. By paying it forward, you are helping them become a better leader. Go Lead!

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