Sunday, November 26, 2017

Do You Work in a Trusting Environment?

Trust is one of those words rarely discussed in the work place, yet it has a huge impact on performance, talent retention and sustainable growth, to name just a few elements. All the leaders I’ve respected in my career have been men and women I genuinely trusted, amongst other great attributes; and the high performing teams I’ve been involved with also had trust as a key element in their successful make up.
Paul Zak in a 2017 Harvard Business Review article found that “building a culture of trust is what makes a meaningful difference. 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 in low-trust companies. They also suffer less chronic stress and are happier with their lives, and these factors fuel stronger performance,” (p.86).
Worse still trust is a word customers hardly use anymore where in fact distrust seems to be the rule rather than the exception. I’m still amazed that organizations and leaders feel that trust isn’t an attribute worth focusing on; and don’t care if they and their organizations are distrusted. Yet Zak highlights how “leaders understand the stakes – at least in principle. In its 2016 global CEP survey, PwC reported that 55% of CEO’s think that a lack of trust is a threat to their organization’s growth. But most have done little to increase trust, mainly because they aren’t sure where to start,” (p.86).
Trust is actually very healthy in all aspects of the business equation – it’s not just important for the business-customer relationship, but has a huge impact inside the organization too. Zak highlights how “neuroscience shows that recognition has the greatest effect on trust when it occurs immediately after a goal has been met, when it comes from peers, and when it is 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, (p.88).
The problem with trust is, as we know, that it takes time and a constant effort to develop a trusting environment, probably even more so in the 21st century, and yet that same trust can be eradicated in a split second. It seems that too many leaders either simply don’t want to put in the effort to build trust in their workplace or feel that ‘trust’ limits their leadership style – where the latter is a very scary but real fact in today’s business world.
The thought that some leaders would feel that ‘trust’ limits their ability to lead should be something more academics and subject matter experts are discussing openly. The signs are everywhere, an over-promoted to fearful of showing their weaknesses and too scared to ask for help and development, limp through their leadership role using mostly power, with a pinch of ‘fear’ and find a distrusting environment makes it easier for them to lead; and I’d even suggest in some cases they purposefully create the mistrust.
I mentioned in the first paragraph how the high performing teams I’ve worked with in my career have all had ‘trust’ as a key attribute; and looking back it wasn’t even something the team consciously worked at. It was simply a team of skilled and principled people, who wanted the best for the organization and that was our primary focus. We felt great once the objective was achieved and had leaders who recognized our successes. Zak mentions how “when a manager assigns a team a difficult but achievable job, the moderate stress of the task releases neurochemicals, including oxytocin and adrenocorticotropin, that intensify people’s focus and strengthen social connections. When team members need to work together to reach a goal, brain activity coordinates their behavior efficiently. But this works only if challenges are attainable and have a concrete end point; vague or impossible goals cause people to give up before they even start. Leaders should check in frequently to assess progress and adjust goals that are too easy or out of reach,” (p.88).
Further Zak highlights how “only 40% of employees report that they are well informed about their company’s goal, strategies, and tactics. This uncertainty about the company’s direction leads to chronic stress, which inhibits the release of oxytocin and undermines teamwork. Openness is the antidote. Organizations that share the ‘flight plans’ with employees reduce the uncertainty about where they are headed and why. A 2015 study of 2.5 million manager-led teams in 195 countries found that workforce engagement improved when supervisors had some form of daily communication with direct reports,” (p.89).
It genuinely saddens me that one has to write articles about an attribute like trust – where even without the science, we know ‘trusting’ environments are better than ‘distrusting’ ones. As Zak mentions “the brain network that oxytocin activates is evolutionarily old. This means that trust and sociality that oxytocin enables are deeply embedded in our nature. Yet at work we often get the message that we should focus on completing tasks and not making friends,” (p.89). Why, even when we know something is right, are we prepared to settle for less. We know how long it takes to build a trusting environment – and we know how much harder it is to rebuild trust, if the trust has previously been broken. We also know there comes a point where it’s virtually impossible to rebuild trust without fundamental changes in the makeup of the group.
So let’s draw a line in the sand. Shareholders, corporate boards and executive directors make it your mission for 2018 to build a trusting working environment – the benefits both in the short and long term will be well worth it for all of you.
Zak highlights how “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. High-trust companies adopt a growth mindset when developing talent. Some even find that when managers set clear goals, give employees the autonomy to reach them, and provide consistent feedback, the backward looking annual performance review is no longer necessary. Instead, mangers and direct reports can meet more frequently to focus on professional and personal growth. 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,” (p.90).
Zak, P.J. (2017). The Neuroscience of Trust. Harvard Business Review. Jan-Feb. p.84-90.