Working with clients who are committed to rebuild relationships with their communities, no matter how broken or difficult the past has been, is inspiring. The commitment, courage, and work of staff behind the scenes is a reminder that amazing things can happen when people are committed to change.
It can feel overwhelming when a community has lost trust and is extremely distressed. The temptation in these circumstances is to ignore the situation, push forward or try managing it quickly to make it go away. These stop-gap measures can at times be effective at pushing the issues away in the short term, but few organisations are here for the short term and the resistance and fear do not just disappear. In fact, resistance and fear that are not adequately addressed will over time fuel resentment and build stronger and more entrenched views against the organisation. These feelings will often re-emerge at the next opportunity and be projected against issues that have very little to do with the original distress. The longer these issues go unaddressed, the more complicated they become and the more difficult they are to transform. However, transformation is possible. Where there has been a difficult past, those leaders that ‘take a leap of faith’ and commit to rebuilding trust see the benefits over time. It takes courage, skill and patience to transform a strained relationship into a constructive one and often involves a willingness to stop what you are doing, to deeply assess what the ‘real’ issues are and then to effectively re-engage the community. The starting point is crucial and starts with:
Caring enough about the community or those impacted to understand the situation from their perspective
Finding ways to re-open communication between the organisation and the community
Being proactive, responsive and creative in demonstrating your commitment to working with the community on issues that are important to them
Having the courage to have difficult conversations, which includes the ability to say ‘no’ without spin, half promises or blame
For those that stay the course, the benefits of investing in re-building a positive relationship with the community are plentiful. Some can be felt immediately, such as leaders feeling like they are ‘doing the right thing’ and staff feeling proud of the organisation they are working for. Over time, the benefits amplify and will be seen in everything from improved staff morale, greater shareholder confidence, improved reputation and more efficient operations (to name a few). Of course, it is not all one-sided. Choosing to turn a strained relationship into a positive one often means that the community also needs a way to overcome their own biases and entrenched views about the organisation. But someone has to go first and it’s the organisation that needs to lead. This can only happen when there is a genuine willingness and commitment to change, and the time and investment in making this happen