In ?? We Trust

I stumbled across this article in Harvard Business Review this morning

FINALLY! I thought, someone (other than Patrick Lencioni) is talking about trust as a precursor to just about every element of business success.

And then I read on, and I pulled a face a bit like this...

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I mean, I applaud the research (even though it falls everso slightly into the category of “socio/psychological research into the stuff most of us know deep down to be true anyway”). It basically says that organisations with a high level of trust in their culture perform better.

Simple right? Logical, non? After all Mr Lencioni has been telling us this for decades. Now the scientists agree. Excellent.


What the scientists basically measured was Ocytocin levels. And Ocytocin is the neurochemical of trust, true. But it’s also the neurochemical of connection, love, attachment and (whisper it) the stuff that courses through your veins after really good sex.

We need more oxytocin in our lives people. And I 100% agree that organisations need to be focused on generating more Oxytocin amongst their people. Organisations are, generally speaking Cortisol factories - pressure, fear, stress, anger, shame, competition for scarce resources all combine to fire that stuff through our veins instead. Oxytocin is the antidote.

But to reduce that sense of safe-happy-buzzy-creative-compassionate-thriving-supportive-courageous-collaborative good stuff down to only “Trust”, sells the concept short. That’s my first problem.

My second is that trust (like all human emotions) is a highly subjective and personal experience. Different cultures build and measure trust in hugely different ways. Research has shown (read Erin Meyer’s ‘The Culture Map for some fascinating work on this) that in the US, for example, trust is about knowing someone will do what they say they will. In a relatively new country made up of immigrants there’s no lengthy shared history to base trust on - it’s built from someone delivering on their promises. Yet in large parts of Europe, trust is about knowing someone deeply and more roundly at a human level. Trust, in essence means “I feel safe with you, I know you don’t mean me harm”. And what makes people feel this varies hugely. 

So I take issue with this Harvard Business Review fella’s rather linear approach, and his (frankly disappointing) recommendations. I don’t think reciprocal trust (and that’s what we’re shooting for folks) is generated by goal setting, driving a fancy pool car for a week, or any other of the suggestions offered here. Trust in organisations is about courage, transparency, community, genuinely believing that the business or your colleagues will not screw you over to save themselves. It’s about honesty, adult interactions, tough decisions and mature conversations. Lencioni was right; it is the foundation of everything. And HBR are right, it’s critical to business success. But it’s not straightforward & it’s not as easy as A, B, C.