No, it’s not a modern office space with high-end furniture and a fancy coffee machine and that’s located in the coolest part of town.
No, it’s not the high compensation and good benefits (though those certainly doesn’t hurt, either.)
And no, it’s not the specific type of work or job itself.
Yet employers wrongly focus on changing these things to attract and retain the top talent. Or, worse yet, many leaders of organizations still believe they can produce the best results from their employees through command and control methods.
But, in truth, what really makes for the happiest and most creative work environments is actually the opposite of these things. It’s not more control and more money spent in an attempt to force these qualities in employees.
What actually makes work environments happier and more productive is simple: It’s a culture of trust.
Trust in the people you work with and the people you work for, that’s it.
In fact, research shows that,
Compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report: 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives, 40% less burnout.
Simon Sinek, author and organizational consultant, writes about this in his book Leaders Eat Last. In it, he shares the secrets and best practices of the best leaders and how they foster a culture of trust.
The reason why trust is key is because it’s wired in our human DNA. As animals, we’re all genetically programmed to seek safety and security in numbers. We want to be part of a tribe that will protect us and provide for us — a “circle of safety”, as Sinek calls it.
Because of these animal instincts, we seek this same circle of safety within our work tribe.
When people who work together trust one another, they not only feel safe and happy, but they also feel comfortable taking risks and doing whatever it takes to help each other succeed.
Therefore, trust is what gets organizations through the toughest of times and propels organizations to the best of times.
“To a social animal, trust is like lubrication. It reduces friction and creates conditions much more conducive to performance, just like putting the snowmobile back in the snow.” — Simon Sinek
So, how can organizations develop trust among their people?
Here are four key takeaways to remember:
1. It starts at the top. Leaders must model trust for their employees.
In order for employees to be engaged and motivated to produce the highest quality work, they need to know that their leader trusts and supports them.
An organization cannot succeed without a leader who fosters and models a culture of trust. Period.
“What produces loyalty, that irrational willingness to commit to the organization even when offered more money elsewhere, is the feeling that the leaders of the company would be willing, when it matters, to sacrifice their time and energy to help us.”
Three things leaders should do to foster a culture of trust:
- Emphasize what you have in common — it helps employees believe that their goals are aligned with yours
- Share whatever information you can — when people feel trusted, they’ll trust you back
- Admit mistakes and accept responsibility
2. It’s created from day one.
The culture created in a company starts with the new hires. It’s imperative for organizations to on board employees by assimilating them into a culture of trust and accountability. Otherwise, new employees will establish a culture of their own and threaten the existing circle of safety.
3. It’s best achieved in smaller groups.
Have you ever heard of Dunbar’s Number? Anthropologist Robin Dunbar found in his research that humans have a cognitive limit for how many relationships they can effectively maintain. He described it as, “the number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar.” That number? 150.
“The larger the group of people we work with, the less likely we are to develop any kind of trusting relationships with them.”
But we work today in virtually-connected and infinitely-expanding organizations. So, it’s important for leaders to structure groups and teams within the larger organization to create smaller circles of safety that will enable everyone’s success.
4. It’s a never-ending process.
There will always be factors that try to undermine an organization’s trust. They can come from outside of the organization. They can also come from inside the organization. It’s the job of leaders to recognize these threats and take actions to protect their people from them.
When the pressure from changing business environments, new technologies and tools, and economic ups and downs threaten to upend an organization’s safety, a good leader knows that trusting employees is the only way to be successful.
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