How many layers of management do you have at work?
Morning Star Company, the U.S.’s largest producer of tomato products has two. Nucor, a large second generation steel producer, has four. Brazilian manufacturing company Semco has three.
While those aspiring to spend their careers in middle management might mourn these iconoclasts of company culture, these businesses – and many more like them – substantially out-perform their peers.
There is a caveat, however: my research shows flat organizational structures only produce high performance if colleagues trust each other.
This might seem obvious to you. Without a manager dictating what people must do, working cooperatively requires colleagues to follow through on their promises. What is not obvious is how to create organizational trust. I spent eight years measuring brain activity while people worked in order to identify the building-blocks of trust, how to measure them, and to determine why people were so much more productive in high-trust cultures.
The Science Behind Building Cultures of Trust
I didn’t start from scratch though. Advances in social neuroscience had shown humans have an evolutionary desire to cooperate with each other to accomplish group goals.
The brain circuit that motivates cooperation is activated when a neurochemical called oxytocin is made in the brain. My lab showed behaviors that demonstrate trust in another person stimulate oxytocin production and provide the neural nudge to cooperation.
Oxytocin improves teamwork by reducing the physiologic stress we bear from being around others, and by increasing our capacity for empathy so we better understand people’s behavior.
My research revealed that a culture of trust rests on eight factors leaders can control. I even created an acronym OXYTOCIN so they are easy to remember.
- Ovation (Recognize excellence)
- eXpectation (Create challenges)
- Yield (Delegate generously)
- Transfer (Enable job crafting)
- Openness (Share information broadly)
- Caring (Intentionally build relationships)
- Invest (Facilitate whole-person growth)
- Natural (Be authentic and vulnerable)
By measuring and intervening to improve one or more of the OXYTOCIN factors, organizations can increase trust and obtain the resulting benefits.
The science not only shows leaders how to measure trust and its building-blocks, but it helps them optimize the impact of interventions designed to increase trust.
For example, social recognition of high performers (Ovation) has the biggest impact on brain and behavior when it occurs shortly after a goal has been met, comes from peers, and is public, personal and tangible.
When a team member reaches smaller goals, a simple “thank you” at your next meeting is appropriate. But, when larger goals are reached, think about what this person really cares about and bring this into work – a box of fine chocolate, a certificate for a parasailing outing, or a day at a spa. For most of us, work and life are integrated and as long as both develop together, there is no reason for a hard separation between them.
For most of us, work and life are integrated and as long as both develop together, there is no reason for a hard separation between them.
Indeed, the Transfer factor explicitly recognizes work-life integration and gives colleagues the power to decide how and where they are most effective.
Job crafting initiatives include letting colleagues set their own hours, giving them discretion over travel arrangements and even dispensing with accounting for vacation time (as Virgin Group, Netflix, Best Buy, Pinterest, HubSpot, Automattic, Twitter, and Zygna have all done).
There is a war for talent and by enabling self-management of one’s energy, leaders can create a culture of high engagement, high performance, and high retention.
The Business Impact of High-Trust Businesses
Trust provides powerful leverage on performance using multiple business-relevant measures.
My analysis of a nationally-representative sample of U.S. working adults, collected in 2016, showed employees in high-trust businesses:
- have 106 percent more energy at work
- are 76 percent more engaged
- are 50 percent more productive
- face 40 percent less burnout from work
- take 13 percent fewer sick days
In addition, 50 percent more people who work in high trust companies plan to stay with their employer over the next year, and 88 percent would recommend their company to family and friends as a place to work. Overall, employees in high-trust companies feel 56 percent more satisfied with their jobs.
A culture of trust means leadership has to give up the notion of controlling the people around them. But, let’s be honest, how much does one really control others? Do you really want to fight this losing battle – and risk losing your top talent?
A culture of trust means leadership has to give up the notion of controlling the people around them.
Instead, empower those around you, training and trusting them to perform, holding them accountable and celebrating their victories. These aspects of culture will enable you to consistently outperform your competitors.
Happiness at Work: Trust + Purpose = Joy
Science predicts those working in high trust cultures who also understand their organization’s transcendent purpose (how the organization improves lives) will experience joy at work. My analysis of individual companies and national data supports the idea that trust and purpose together produce joy at work. How’s that for a success indicator?
The Next Steps
Find out if your colleagues enjoying working together. Once you measure joy at work, you can begin to intervene to create the high-trust culture colleagues crave.