How to build trust in your organization


Trust is a rule of thumb – a way to deal with situations where we are asked to give or do something when we don’t have enough information or control to be certain of the outcome.

There are many definitions and approaches to trust – so what are the things that create trust or destroy it – and what actually happens in our brains when we trust someone?

The neuroeconomist Paul Zak carried out a number of experiments that helped explain how brain activity is affected by trust and what organizations should do to increase trust.

He found that there was a chemical in the brain called oxytocin. The amount of oxytocin is related to trust – the more it is produced, the less fear and more trust you have towards a stranger.

Creating an environment that promotes oxytocin production can lead to higher trust in people and build trust in your organisation.

Zak found that managers could improve trust by doing eight things – all of which might seem obvious in retrospect, but which are now supported by the science. Doing these things better should improve oxytocin levels across your organization.

Start by praising people more when they have done a good job – and do it soon after they have done it. People like it when their work is noticed and appreciated.

Make sure that everyone can do what they are asked to do – that it’s not too hard or too easy. People work best when they are challenged and stretched, but not when they are stressed or bored. Performance is all about setting achievable goals that need you to push yourself.

People like to be in control. Many people would give up pay for more freedom and control over how they do things. They also work better when they feel like they have created something rather than when it is imposed on them.

You also work more on things you care about. Clearly what you are interested in needs to be aligned with what the company needs to get done – but the more you can get people contributing in areas that they are interested in and care about, the better your chances of getting good work out of them.

It’s important to keep people informed. Secrets, closed groups and rumours can all act as a drag on performance. Open and frequent communication, regular discussions, updates and feedback can all help keep people feel like they know what is going on and can get on with their job.

Working in silos or mostly alone isn’t very helpful. It’s important to create opportunities for people to connect and work with others, through working groups or project teams, for example. There is a link between the social ties at work and job performance.

There is a difference between a job and a career. People do jobs, but they invest in a career. The latter takes time and effort and is a journey of personal and professional growth. Managers who can see that and help their people to grow will increase trust.

Finally, people like to help others. Asking for help lets people cooperate and work together – and once again has an impact on trust.

Lenin once said Trust is good, but control is better, and that didn’t end out that well.

Keld Johnson has a better approach, saying Control is good, but trust is cheaper.

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