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Jo Wright

Coaching Culture Ltd.


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Is trust your top priority? If not, it should be.

Jo Wright examines why trust is fundamental for organisational success and why encouraging the right conversations is so crucial.

High-trust cultures enjoy 76% higher employee engagement, 50% lower staff turnover, and stock market returns two-to-three times higher than average

Clearly, prioritising a high-trust culture is a no-brainer. And it has become increasingly important in recent times. COVID-19 has intensified the huge shift that was already happening in the world of work, driving employees to seek out cultures where they feel trusted and empowered to get on with their work. 

As a result, the threat of the great resignation looms large, and the winners will be organisations who have looked after their employees. In particular, places where trust is high. But why is trust so important? And how do we create it? 

For performance and wellbeing, trust is non-negotiable

When we trust others, we release powerful neurochemicals in our brains that make us feel happy. One of these is oxytocin, a chemical linked to feeling more empathetic and more open to collaboration and cooperation with others. Being able to work collaboratively with others is a key element of high-performing teams. And this is impacted if trust isn’t in place.

When we mistrust others, it activates areas of our brain that play a significant role in our ‘fight-or-flight’ reaction. In other words, we appear to see mistrust as a physical threat. And that leads to increases in things like cortisol (the hormone linked to stress). So, it’s no surprise that in these conditions, we empathise less and struggle to think critically or communicate effectively. 

Trust is also crucial for employee wellbeing. Shockingly, employees’ lack of trust in their manager is responsible for over a third (33%) of work-related mental health issues. Whereas employees in high-trust cultures are 29% are more satisfied with life in general, take 13% fewer sick days, and experience 74% less stress. 

In psychologically safe environments, individuals can be more creative, and innovative leading to new discoveries, ideas and insights that could be a deciding factor in the success of the organisation.

To survive, businesses need employees to trust each other

As well as being fundamental for employee collaboration and wellbeing, trust is vital for long-term success – particularly in today’s fast-paced digital economy where the ability for organisations to innovate and problem-solve are so essential. 

For innovation to happen, employees need to know they can speak their minds and voice their ideas without the fear of negative consequences. In other words, they need to trust that their co-workers will respect and value their contributions. This is what organisational psychologist Amy Edmondson defined as ‘psychological safety’. 

In psychologically safe environments, individuals can be more creative, and innovative leading to new discoveries, ideas and insights that could be a deciding factor in the success of the organisation. Without trust and psychological safety, teams don’t collaborate, lucrative ideas don’t get voiced, and teams and businesses fail. 

While it’s tempting to think that performance builds trust, it’s actually a culture of trust that drives the high performance.

A culture of trust drives high performance… not the other way around

Trust and psychological safety are such key components of high-performing teams, that market-leading companies like Netflix credit their success to a high-trust culture that allows them to pivot, innovate, and ultimately succeed in a changing industry. 

And while it’s tempting to think that performance builds trust, it’s actually a culture of trust that drives the high performance. 

For example, I recently interviewed Toby Fowlston, CEO of the international recruitment group, Robert Walters and Walters People, for the Coaching Culture podcast series. He credits their trusting, autonomous culture with their ongoing success.

And the approach they take is to “start with trust and the performance will follow”, because “when people feel trusted, they feel they’re being given autonomy. That tends to get the best out of people.”

Relationships are at the heart of trust

Building trust in organisations can take many forms, but for me, it all boils down to building real, honest relationships and treating people as humans. This was something highlighted by a large-scale study looking at what made leaders trustworthy.

The researchers concluded that, while consistently doing what you say and displaying good judgement and expertise was important, more important was being able to create strong, positive relationships with others. 

The foundation of any relationship is communication. So, this means that what you say, and how you approach conversations, can really determine whether someone trusts you.

For this reason, we advise our community that to build a real high-trust environment, you should focus on building a coaching culture – a place where authentic leaders and managers help people to grow, thrive and perform through effective conversations and honest feedback, underpinned by trust. 

Strong listening skills, alongside high levels of emotional intelligence and empathy, are essential here, while authenticity needs to be a valued quality that is encouraged and role-modelled by leaders. In such environments, honest feedback is used to support development, not to criticise. 

Encourage the right conversations, and trust will follow

Real, authentic relationships are at the heart of building trust. And the right conversations are fundamental to this. So, in the interests of both organisational success and employee wellbeing, you need to consider what you can do to make sure your employees are having honest, open, and supportive conversations. Every single day.

Key take-aways:

  • Trust is critical for employee wellbeing and enabling people to work together collaboratively. 

  • High-trust environments support creativity, innovation, and high performance. 

  • Encouraging honest, open conversations between employees is the key to building a high-trust workplace.

Interested in this topic? Read Employee trust: a valuable commodity in times of crisis

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Jo Wright


Read more from Jo Wright

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