Trust

By: Jim Bruce
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trust     ˈtrəst  
noun, assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something

As a follow-on to last week’s Tuesday Reading, Resilience, it seems appropriate to write this week on Trust.  After all, it’s quite often that a broken trust is what requires you to call upon your resilience skills.  Margie Warrell, author of Stop Playing It Safe:  Rethink Risk, Unlock the Power of Courage, Achieve Outstanding Success and a women’s leadership coach, makes this point even more strongly from a positive point of view:  “Trust lies at the core of all or our relationships and is the currency of influence in every workplace and organization.”
 
How then might we think about trust.  Warrell suggests that we begin by understanding what she calls the “three core domains of trust”:
 
Competence – Here your trust depends on assessing someone to be trustworthy in a specific area of skill or expertise.  To do this you ask “Does this person have the skills, knowledge, and resources to perform this very specific task?”  If for example you are hiring a web developer, you would want to see examples of her work, information about the tools she uses, and perhaps have her develop a simple website as part of the interview process.
 
Reliability – Here the issue is whether the individual can be counted on to manage and honor his commitments.  Whether it’s the promise of a phone call tomorrow at 10 or developing the agenda discussed for a staff meeting next week, you want to be confident that the individual will do what they said they would do, by the dead line and at the quality agreed upon.  Here the question you are asking is  “Can I count on this person to keep their promises and get the task done properly and in the agreed upon time frame?”
 
Sincerity – Sincerity is a character trait relating to the person’s integrity.  Warrell says that of trust’s three fundamental elements, “sincerity is the hardest to build, and the most pivotal in our decision whether or not to place your trust in someone and it’s what we want, need, and expect from those who are in positions of leadership.”  The question she suggests asking here is “Can I trust this person’s integrity;  are they someone who’ll do what’s right even if it costs them?”
 
Warrell’s framework helps us understand trust relationships between individuals.  And, that’s helpful.  Most of us would like to take this a step further and be able to work to create a high-trust organization.  We would want to do this because if trust in the organization were universally high, people would be much more inclined to do the right thing, to deliver their work on time, and to be more open about their capabilities.  And, that would be very good. 
 
Research studies led by Paul J. Zak have demonstrated that “Employees in high-trust organizations 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.”  Zak is founding director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies and professor of economics, psychology, and management at the Clarmont Graduate University and author of Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High-Performance Companies.
 
His work in neuroscience has focused on what goes on in the brain when two individuals trust each other.  The bottom-line of his some two decades of research is that when two individuals have a sense that their work is driven by a higher purpose, both their brains experience an extended release of oxytocin, a neurochemical which makes the brain more prepared to feel trust towards another.  And, his work has verified that the converse is also true.  If the level of oxytocin in a person’s brain increases, he or she is substantially likely to be more trusting ad trustworthy.   
 
To this end, Zak’s continued experiments have identified eight management behaviors that increase oxytocin levels in the brain.  If leaders consistently exhibit these behaviors the level of trust in their organizations can be increased:
 
Recognize excellence – Neuroscience has demonstrated that “recognition has the largest impact 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.”  So, leaders and peers should be on the lookout for opportunities to recognize meaningful contributions.
 
Induce a “challenge stress” – Look for and assign tasks that stretch the individual or team.  Yes, the task is difficult, yet it is achievable.  Zak notes that the moderate stress of the task increases the release of neurochemicals that intensify focus and strengthen social connections. 
 
Give people discretion in how they do their work – Being trusted to figure things out is a significant motivator.
 
Enable staff to choose what they will work on – Zak’s research demonstrated that when you trust staff to choose which project they will work on, staff increase the focus of their efforts.
 
Share information broadly – Uncertainty breeds chronic stress.  Sharing “flight plans” with staff will significantly reduce uncertainty about the future, both, the what and the why.
 
Intentionally build relationships – “Relationships are the coin of the realm.”  A Google study found that managers who “express interest in and concern for team members’ success and personal wellbeing” outperform others in the quality and quantity of their work.  “When people care about one another, they perform better because they don’t want to let their teammates down.”
 
Facilitate whole-person growth – High-trust workplaces adopt a growth mindset when developing talent.  They help people develop personally as well as professionally.
 
Show vulnerability – In high-trust workplaces, leaders ask for help from their colleagues.  This in turn, increases trust and collaboration.  Jim Whitehurst, CEO of Red Hat, has said:  “I found that being very open about the things I did not know actually had the opposite effect that I would have thought.  It helped me build credibility.”
 
So, there you have it.  Having a high-trust workplace is important and here are some tools that you as a leader can employ to increase the level of trust across your organization.  You may want to take some of your strategic thinking time and ask what you might personally do in to increase trust within your team.
 
Make it a great week.  .  .  .     jim
 
 
Jim Bruce is a Senior Fellow and Executive Coach at MOR Associates, and Professor of Electrical Engineering, Emeritus, and CIO, Emeritus, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.
 
 
References:
Margie Warrell, How to Build High Trust Relationships, Forbes.com. August 2015.
Paul J. Zak, Tne Neuroscience of Trust, Harvard Business Review, January-February 2017.

 

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