Why is trust so important in today’s professional environment?

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By Susanne Jacobs, author of Drivers, £14.99, Panoma Press

Today I boarded the train with certainty that I would get to my destination in one piece.

I paid little attention to those around me, unconsciously trusting that every stranger in the carriage meant me no harm. I walked to my office with little heed of the passers-by as I thought about the myriad of tasks for the day ahead.

And yet, as we arrive at work, many of us enter a place where, unlike the world outside, we may know many people but do not really, at a unconscious level, trust anyone. Our brains already on hyperalert in readiness to deal with the over-stretching targets, politics we may have to circumvent or the change projects underway or yet to come.  

We use trust every day to make our way in the world. Anatomy deep within our mid-brain continually scans our environment to match what it finds with past experiences, lodged deep in our memory, to determine whether we are safe or facing threat. When our brains perceive we are safe it rewards us with feel-good, health promoting neurochemicals that deliver emotions such as joy, happiness and enthusiasm, each designed to intrinsically motivate us to do more of what is protective. On the other hand, when threat is detected the neurochemicals released do not feel so good. We may feel emotions such as anger, sadness, fear, anxiety – all signals to prepare us to quickly to deal with the psychological or physical risk facing us. Trust is neurological safety. Whether we trust or not is determined by our brain’s perception of the present environment or imagined future. We perceive the world as we are, not as it is.

So what does this have to do with business? Trust is a regular term used in the workplace but remains an elusive concept for most. Understanding the what and the how of trust is business critical. Trust is the foundation of intrinsic motivation, engagement and directly supports our health and wellbeing.

Think for a moment about someone you trust completely. Think about how you can be yourself, how quickly you can reach solutions or openly talk about disagreements. Now think about this in terms of your workplace relationships. Do you experience the same efficiency in communication? Trust speeds everything up. It is the basis for mutual respect and allows for honesty and clarity without the fear of recrimination. It provides the foundation for learning, innovation and experimentation.

Distrust plays out through behaviours such as gossiping, micro-management, refused flexible working requests, bias, politics and battles for maintaining individual power. The damage is to our emotional engagement and depletes performance, relationships and wellbeing. Many studies have been undertaken to show the correlation between trust, performance and profitability including Watson Wyatt, Gallup, Towers Watson and FranklinCovey to name but a few. One Watson Wyatt study showed that the total return to shareholders in high-trust organisations is almost three times higher than the return in low-trust organisations. These studies and others also show trust as a key driver of engagement and wellbeing. And yet, Gallup’s research year after year reveals that over 2/3rds of employees are not engaged, suggesting that the majority of businesses are running on unintended cultures of threat, mainly psychosocial, with significant economic and social impact. Put simply – the way we are working, isn’t working.

We have the business case for trust and we know that trust is a brain-safe state, but how do we create workplaces that support and leverage our natural biological reward mechanism and mitigate psychological threat. What do our brains equate as trust?

The answer is the DRIVERS – a trust check-list drawn from various fields of science and academic study. The research shows that if each are supported in the workplace, intrinsic motivation, engagement, improved wellbeing, and sustainable performance are the results.

Trust in a professional environment

The DRIVERS pull together a recipe for translation and application to the workplace, by leaders at all levels, to inform strategy and establish environments of trust that deliver sustainable performance, engagement and enhanced wellbeing.

Trust after all is the true performance currency.

About Susanne Jacobs

Susanne is a specialist in change, employee engagement, leadership, and the science of optimal performance and is author of Drivers (£14.99 Panoma Press). Her work and research draws on over 25 years of strategic business change experience and commercial knowledge working across industry sectors, leading many major successful people and business change and restructuring programmes both nationally and internationally.

Susanne combines her in depth senior leadership and business experience alongside the latest approaches from neuroscience and her own research to deliver practical, sustainable learning, tools and advice for leaders to improve performance, motivation and trust. Susanne’s work has seen her named as one of the top thought leaders for trust.

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