Company-wide culture of trust: Why trust boosts employee engagement and drives up profits, with 7 strategies to create more trust in your company
How do you build trust in your company? When we think of external trust – between customers, suppliers and your company – it’s something we really focus on: Deliver on time, always keep your word, treat them with respect etc. But what happens inside your company?
There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that the level of internal trust in your company – between employees, teams, leaders and the company itself – is just as important (if not more so) than external trust.
PROOF: HIGH-TRUST COMPANIES PERFORM BETTER
According to decades-long research by Paul J Zak and his neuroscience teams, high-trust companies have over 74% less stressed employees who are 76% more engaged and brought 106% more energy to work while taking 13% fewer sick days, and that helps boost profits by 50%.
This shouldn’t be new information. In 1999 already, the same conclusion about trust in companies was reached by Amy Edmundson. And it was reiterated again in 2015 by Sarah Brown et al’s studies – to name but a few.
WHY IS TRUST IN YOUR COMPANY SO IMPORTANT?
Apart from all the evidence that high levels of trust inside your company boost employee motivation, engagement and therefore productivity and profits, a lack of trust is also the number one cause for low productivity, an unmotivated workforce, a lack of creativity, incivility at work – basically all the negative things you don’t want in your company is caused by a lack of trust.
“We find lack of trust at the root of nearly all the problems companies face,” says Dr Cobus Oosthuizen (PhD in Human Behaviour), founder of LifeXchange Solutions. “At literally 90% of the companies that call us in to help, we find that people feel they can’t trust their managers and leadership, they can’t trust the company, and they often can’t trust each other. And that’s when things go wrong.”
Why? It’s simple, trust is the foundation for all human behaviour when people need to get together to cooperate. Every major psychosocial, developmental and behaviour theory puts trust at the core of human development. Trust is the first basic step that unlocks all the other behaviours you want: Hard work, taking initiative, creativity, drive, self-management etc. See trust as the first step in Erikson’s Theory, and its place in Belonging in the Circle of Courage and as part of Connection in LifeXchange’s own Human Development Cycle.
HIGH-TRUST COMPANIES THAT THRIVE
As if to prove the point, some of the best-performing companies in the world are high-trust companies (and rated as some of the best places to work). You know, the likes of Google – whose projects division had no actual managers or any kind of traditional “company structure” for years. People were just entrusted to “play” and discover new things. And they did, that’s how Google went so quickly from being a mere search engine to becoming a huge force in the world of apps, mobile phones, space travel, self-driving cars and more.
And, did you know that Netflix doesn’t keep track of their people’s leave days? You can take as much leave as you want. It also doesn’t ask employees to fill in expense reports – it simply asks people to act in everyone’s best interest, and trusts them to do so. And, does it work? You tell us – it’s Netflix after all!
“Netflix leaders believe that responsible people – the people every company wants to hire – are not only worthy of freedom, they thrive on it,” author Kevin Kruse writes in his book Great Leaders Have No Rules. “Creating an environment where these individuals are not inhibited by myriad rules allows them to become the best version of themselves.”
So, how do you build a company-wide trust culture?
7 WAYS TO CREATE A CULTURE OF TRUST IN YOUR COMPANY
1. GIVE RECOGNITION PUBLICLY
One of the most common comments you’ll hear from unhappy employees is that they don’t feel valued or appreciated at work. Now, this could very well be as a result of the person’s own scotomas, their core beliefs and RAS – see our #HowYourMindWorks series. But there’s truth to it: Would you give your all if you didn’t feel valued?
Remember, science says that money doesn’t really motivate people to perform better – see employee motivation. But feeling like you’re valued does.
In his research, Pal Zak found that simply giving recognition for excellence is one of the most effective ways to build trust. And it works best: “…immediately after a goal has been met, when it comes from peers, and when it’s tangible, unexpected, personal, and public.” Some companies have even started to invite employees’ families and close friends to work, to see them awarded and praised by their team – to deepen the feeling of recognition.
“The trick here is not to assign a person or a system to look after your recognition efforts in the company,” says Dr Oosthuizen. “For it to really work, you want to instil a culture of appreciation and recognition in your company. Meaning that the act of recognition is not something you actively have to think about, but something that happens automatically in your company – it’s inside your company’s DNA. It’s how you operate.”
2. FOCUS ON INTEGRITY
Trust is all about integrity. Or, rather, whether someone believes you have integrity or not. Remember Erikson’s theory? Its first element, Trust, basically says the first thing we evaluate is something’s integrity. A baby, for example, will test the integrity of its new world – if I cry, will my parents come and soothe me? And the answer to that question determines whether we’ll trust our world or a person or not.
An issue with integrity in business is often easy to spot – if we claim to be a green company, but employees know we’re secretly dumping toxic waste into the ocean. But it can also be incredibly complex, where the mistrust is actually woven into the fabric of the business.
For example, if our company values say we trust in people, but we keep track of leave days and sick days (as normal that sounds), the underlying message is that we actually don’t trust our people. And that actually brings your company’s integrity into question on a subconscious level.
3. FOCUS ON BUILDING TRUST BETWEEN COLLEAGUES
There’s so much research indicating that it’s not any one specific, or even a handful of “star” employee’s individual capabilities, that drives real success in a company – in fact, science says the opposite is true. What really breeds success for a company is the social connections that form between people.
Take it from CEO and entrepreneur Margaret Heffernan:
And, again, trust between people is the key to unlocking your team’s real potential. Have a look at these 5 ways to build trust in a team.
4. FOCUS ON FREEDOM
Ah, here’s the big one most CEOs and managers seem to fear: Autonomy and independence at work. Paul Zak found that autonomy promotes innovation, and surveys found that half of all employees would actually give up a 20% raise in favour of having more control over how they work.
It turns out that, if you allow employees to work on whatever projects they want to work on (instead of telling them what to do and how to do it), they pick the things they’re really passionate about and are willing to put in so much more effort. Some of the companies in the world don’t stick too closely to positions anymore, they let people choose how, when and what to work on.
Why? Being able to be yourself is a powerful motivator. It’s so ingrained in us that our brains physically fight back against anything that forces us to be something we’re not – see mental pushback.
But here’s the important thing: When most management hears the words autonomy at work, we imagine chaos and catastrophe. We imagine people setting their own working hours, no one at their desks on a Monday, key employees on 3-month holidays, everyone goofing off and production grinding to a halt. But autonomy actually goes along with accountability.
You want inherent systems that ensure people take responsibility, because, when people say they want “autonomy” or “independence” at work, what they really want is the responsibility. That’s an important distinction to make, and it can unlock huge growth for your organisation. Have a look at LIfeXchange’s own theory again, and you’ll see we don’t use the word autonomy, we call it responsibility: see the Human Development Cycle.
5. SHARE INFORMATION FREELY
Another old-hat idea we just can’t seem to shake: Why do we insist on this level of secrecy in our organisations? We know that secrets erode trust. And it has a strange knock-on effect. “You’ll be surprised how many people in top management in the companies we talk to don’t know their own company’s vision and mission?” says Dr Oosthuizen. “And all that means is that the employees have even less of a clue where the company is supposed to be going.”
Paul Zak says only 40% of employees really know their company’s goals and strategies. And not knowing is what leads to chronic stress and undermined teamwork. And in 2015, a Gallup study of 27 million employees across 195 countries showed that workforce engagement boomed as soon as people’s supervisors made a point of sharing vital info daily with their teams.
Some companies even go as far as making everyone’s salaries public. Now that’s a huge leap of trust. And guess what, turns out those guys who are always shouting for a raise change their tune if you actually let them see the balance books and do the math themselves.
6. BUILD TRUST IN LEADERSHIP
As obvious as it seems, the adage that “people don’t leave jobs, they leave bosses” does ring true. So how do you build bridges between employees and their managers or the company exco? Again, the key is trust.
Have a look at these 6 key ways to really build trust in leadership.
7. REAL ORGANISATIONAL CHANGE
LifeXchange Solutions has spent a decade and a half evaluating all of the phenomena in companies we’ve spoken about here. See our post on workplace trust.
And you know what? There are some ideas in here that at first seem way out or unfeasible, simply because we’ve been taught to do business a certain way.
Some of these points – proven by science as they are – require a drastic worldview change. We don’t realise it, but most of the traditional ways of doing business were built on what’s called the Calvinistic or Newtonian worldviews, which essentially views all people as inherently “evil” and asks us to put systems and policies in place to “control” them. This approach worked well during the industrial revolution when everyone did mechanical jobs. But now that we need people to be more creative, think outside the box and work with abstracts, the cracks are starting to show.
Alternative ways of thinking, like the Westonian worldview, which flips this on its head and instead says, “hang on, let’s rather see everyone as good and honest and treat them accordingly” are proving hugely successful in companies around the world – often among the top-performing companies, too. But it requires a whole new way of thinking and doing things. And, often, that’s scary.
But it’s exactly what LifeXchange Solutions wants to help your company do: Navigate all the science and the change necessary to become a truly progressive company. Have a look at our organisational development solutions, and, if you’re unsure but you really just want to get a taste for what we do, give yourself and your team the gift of an inspired neuromanagement workshop and see for yourself how amazing work can be.
BONUS: HOW TO SUPERCHARGE ENGAGEMENT
We mentioned a Gallup study earlier – you know, the company behind the #Strengths movement. Basically, we’ve found that if we focus on developing people’s strengths in our teams, it boosts trust, employee engagement and productivity.
“Thanks to Strengths by LifeXchange, I feel my colleagues and I can work much more effectively together. It’s amazing, says Nico Smuts, development manager at Goede Hoop Citrus.
Discover it for yourself and your team: See our unique brand of strengths-based development.
Get awesome leadership insights from this top SA entrepreneur from the Cape Union Mart Agile Excellence sessions.
And see these 8 SA businesspeople’s top highlights from our recent Neuro HR Workshop.
Get the full #HowYourMindWorks picture with the super-simple explanation of complex behaviour that took 10 years to create at our post on How Your Brain Works.
Also learn about the most fundamental part of your brain, the neuron and how thoughts affect business behaviour with our look at neural pathways and the root of most of the behavioural problems we see, automatic memory recall.