Reading Time: 3 minutes

We’re big on trust here.  We believe it is one of the fundamental ways for an organisation to bridge the gap between its Purpose, as articulated by the board, and everyday reality for its people.  You can read more about our experience of how fast growth businesses use trust to help bridge that gap , about how entrepreneurial organisations harness trust and about the crisis of trust between big and small businesses.

[pullquote]55% of CEOs think that a lack of trust is a threat to their organisation’s growth[/pullquote]There is a lot of data that validates the importance of trust in an organisation. Employees in high-trust organisations are more productive, have more energy at work, collaborate better with their colleagues, and stay with their employers longer than people working at low-trust companies. They also suffer less chronic stress and are happier with their lives, and these factors fuel stronger performance.

Yet organisations frequently approach the development of their culture in an ad hoc way, and do not focus on the behaviours that help to build a high trust culture.

[pullquote]Ultimately, you cultivate trust by setting a clear direction, giving people what they need to see it through, and getting out of their way.[/pullquote]Paul J Zak has been researching the relationship between trust and economic performance since 2001, both mathematically and behaviourally, and his latest article for HBR summarises the last ten years of neurological research as well as identifying eight management behaviours that build trust.  The full article is well worth a read and there is a summary of the behaviours below.

Recognise excellence.

The neuroscience shows that recognition has the largest effect on trust when it occurs immediately after a goal has been met, when it comes from peers, and when it’s tangible, unexpected, personal, and public. Public recognition not only uses the power of the crowd to celebrate successes, but also inspires others to aim for excellence. And it gives top performers a forum for sharing best practices, so others can learn from them.

Induce “challenge stress.”

When a manager assigns a team a difficult but achievable job, the moderate stress of the task releases neurochemicals that intensify people’s focus and strengthen social connections. When team members need to work together to reach a goal, brain activity coordinates their behaviors efficiently. Conversely, vague or impossible goals cause people to give up before they even start.

Give people discretion in how they do their work.

Once employees have been trained, allow them, whenever possible, to manage people and execute projects in their own way. Being trusted to figure things out is a big motivator. Autonomy also promotes innovation, because different people try different approaches.  (Read our article on how a sense of ownership, which has nothing to do with stocks and shares, drives performance)

Enable job crafting.

When companies trust employees to choose which projects they’ll work on, people focus their energies on what they care about most and take accountability for the outcomes.

Share information broadly.

Uncertainty about the company’s direction leads to chronic stress, which inhibits the release of oxytocin and undermines teamwork. Openness is the antidote. Organisations that share their “flight plans” with employees reduce uncertainty about where they are headed and why.

Intentionally build relationships.

The brain network that oxytocin activates is evolutionarily old and when people intentionally build social ties at work, their performance improves , not least because they don’t want to let people down.

Facilitate whole-person growth.

High-trust workplaces help people develop personally as well as professionally. Numerous studies show that acquiring new work skills isn’t enough; if you’re not growing as a human being, your performance will suffer.  Assessing personal growth includes discussions about work-life integration, family, and time for recreation and reflection. Investing in the whole person has a powerful effect on engagement and retention.

Show vulnerability.

Leaders in high-trust workplaces ask for help from colleagues instead of just telling them to do things. Asking for help is a sign of a secure leader—one who engages everyone to reach goals.  Asking for help is effective because it taps into the natural human impulse to cooperate with others.