Why A Focus On Employee Trust Is Essential
In 2017, Harvard Business Review published the results of a decade-long study on the neuroscience of trust. A team of researchers led by Paul J. Zak, director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University, found that trust in the workplace had a positive impact on everything from company performance to employee turnover.
“Trust is like the air we breathe,” Warren Buffett once said. “When it is present, nobody really notices. But when it’s absent, everybody notices.” If you want to create a workplace where employees breathe easy and innovation isn’t stifled, you need to make trust a priority. Here are four reasons why a focus on trust in—and between—your employees is essential to your company’s success.
Trust Increases Productivity
Two of the most insidious productivity killers are lack of direction and micromanagement. When employees don’t know which goals and tasks are most important, they can’t commit to achieving them. And when forced to spend their time ticking a manager’s boxes instead of figuring out how to do what needs to be done, productivity plummets.
In high-trust organizations, employees are given autonomy. Managers set clear expectations and then let their people deliver on them however they think best. Being in control of their own work is a powerful motivator for employees: a Citigroup/LinkedIn survey found that 64% of respondents would turn down a 10% raise in favor of more flexibility in their work.
Like the proverbial chicken-and-egg dilemma, though, building an autonomous team takes trust. Managers need to believe in the competence and commitment of their employees, and employees need to trust that managers won’t suddenly change direction on them. Yet the productivity payoff is clear: Zak’s team found that employees in high-trust organizations reported 50% higher productivity than their counterparts in low-trust ones, a result their own measures confirmed. The distrust conveyed by micromanagement, on the other hand, will cause productivity to crumble.
Trust Enables Collaboration
The modern workplace thrives on collaboration. Research has shown, time and again, that teams of diverse individuals are better at solving problems and creating new solutions than individuals working alone. What business wouldn’t want to encourage that?
Not surprisingly, such collaboration also requires trust along a number of dimensions. First of all, team members need to trust that their colleagues are capable of doing their part of the shared work to a high standard. They also need to trust that their co-workers will be accountable for delivering by agreed-upon deadlines. Collaboration won’t work when—like those dreaded group school projects—one person ends up doing everything because they can’t count on other group members to pull their weight.
When contributing to a team effort, employees also need to trust that their individual contributions will be recognized. There are few things more motivating than being praised for your ideas—and few things more demoralizing (or infuriating) than having someone else steal them. High-trust teams give credit where credit is due, and that keeps collaboration humming.
Trust Fosters Creativity and Innovation
Remember how the autonomy in high-trust organizations fuels productivity? Well, Zak and his research team found that it is also a vital ingredient in innovation. When employees are free to try a variety of problem-solving approaches, innovation results.
Here, too, trust among team members is an essential ingredient for success. Individuals will be reluctant to point out innovation opportunities if identifying areas for improvement is synonymous with being a troublemaker. Managers must prove their trust in employees by being open to suggestions, even uncomfortable ones.
When it comes to proposing solutions, mutual trust is even more important. Team members will be hesitant to share their ideas if they fear their colleagues will dismiss or even ridicule them. Some of the most profitable ideas may look crazy at first glance. When respect for those who come up with them is lacking, your business will be the loser.
Trust Enables Conflict Resolution
Think about someone you really trust. Do you always agree with them? Chances are you don’t. Conflict occurs between even the happiest of married couples and long-time business partners. The reason their relationships endure is that they trust each other. They let that trust move them toward resolution instead of resentment.
As a business leader, the last thing you want to do is babysit your employees. While you certainly care for them, you have plenty of other pressing matters to attend to that don’t include getting in the middle of petty arguments. When a baseline of trust is established between co-workers, they’re more equipped to resolve conflicts on their own.
Of course, when conflicts grow out of control, you’ll need to step in. But more often than not, a high-trust team will be able to autonomously resolve minor conflicts without your involvement. They will grow on their own and strengthen their bonds day by day.
Each of your employees has unique strengths. When you establish an atmosphere of trust with and among your employees, talented individuals can use those strengths to collaborate and innovate to your company’s benefit.