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Trust and confidence is crashing’ — the headline from an article summarising the feeling of supporters at a previous World Economic Forum at the Swiss retreat of Davos. With the ever-present tensions surrounding the economy, jobs, inequality and migration among other things, it almost feels like it could be applied to pretty much any current affairs bulletin right now.

The question of how to build and develop trust creates a huge challenge for today’s leaders. It’s something that affects us personally, on a day to day basis, and it seems the issue has certainly escalated over the past year, on a global scale.

So how do we go about designing a culture of trust? Particularly in a world where we have increasingly less personal interaction. How can we form relationships, perform and achieve success without it?

A Harvard Business Review article by Paul J.Zak highlights an interesting piece of research around this very subject: how to build trust, the neuroscience around it and the incredible effect it can have on us as individuals and in turn, on company performance.

Carried out by Paul J. Zak, university professor and author of ‘Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High Performance Companies’, some of the individual points highlighted in the results may not be entirely surprising, however the combination of key findings are certainly worth noting. Zak has identified eight (measurable) management behaviours that will foster trust — and can be managed to improve performance:

  • Recognise excellence — using the power of peers to celebrate success
  • Induce challenge — assigning achievable jobs with moderate stress
  • Give people discretion — autonomy promotes motivation and innovation
  • Enable job crafting — providing choice alongside accountability
  • Share information broadly — ongoing communication + openness = engagement
  • Intentionally build relationships — socially connected employees perform better
  • Facilitate whole person growth — are we helping you get your next job?
  • Show vulnerability — secure leaders ask for help

The stats also speak for themselves:

“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.

Food for thought indeed. And there’s a lot more to discover in the full article which you can check out here, particularly if you’re interested in the science behind it all.

According to Zak, the way to cultivate trust is to set a clear direction, give people what they need to see it through, and then get out of their way.

A high-trust culture improves how people treat one another and themselves’. Says it all really. And something I think we could all benefit from these days.

Tania Watson is the founder of Creative Coaching and an executive coach, organisational consultant and leadership specialist. Creative Coaching is a successful company dedicated to the development of senior leaders in organisations through one to one coaching, intact team development and group facilitation. If you or someone from your organisation would like to have a no obligation conversation about how Creative Coaching may be able to help, please email Tania directly at

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