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The true value of cultivating trust

“Trust” is the term de jour because of its increasing prominence and significance – not only in the legal profession but business in general. And there’s increasing evidence to support the notion that the value of trust is not an esoteric mission statement but has true commercial advantage, writes John Arneil.

user iconJohn Arneil 23 March 2020 Big Law
The true value of cultivating trust
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The Harvard Business Review paper, The Neuroscience of Trust, identified that professional environments that foster secure connections, where people feel like real contributors, correlate with higher productivity, better-quality products, and increased profitability.

Compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report 106 per cent more energy at work, 76 per cent more engagement, 74 per cent less stress, 50 per cent higher productivity, 40 per cent less burnout, 29 per cent more satisfaction with their lives, and 13 per cent fewer sick days.

Similarly, The Global Workplace Survey, conducted by Six Seconds, explores the alignment between organisational climate, engagement and performance whereby trust, motivation and teamwork are associated with increased retention, greater productivity and future success. These attributes are directly aligned with the firm’s commitment to emotional intelligence.


The survey disclosed that the six most frequent feelings in an organisation that prioritises emotional intelligence are, in order, being excited, frustrated, happy, caring, anxious and committed.

Conversely, the six most frequent feelings in an organisation that does not prioritise emotional intelligence are, in order, being frustrated, anxious, stressed, happy, angry and afraid. Furthermore, the survey revealed that the biggest barriers affecting productivity and performance were:

  • Poor leadership, characterised by a lack of communication and little change. Accordingly, over 70 per cent of survey respondents state that their key issues related to emotional/relational aspects (rather than financial/technical), are managers and leaders lacking sufficient communication skills;
  • Inadequate resources to complete the task at hand (not enough time or not enough team members). This also limits business growth without subsidising client service levels; and
  • A short-term focus in the absence of a compelling vision, direction and goals.
These matters collectively contribute to a low-trust environment with a culture of “negative emotional valence” (otherwise often referred to commonly as a “toxic” atmosphere). Companies in this state are 16 times likely to have poor retention and not surprisingly, employees are much more likely to leave when the prevailing mood is negative. In contrast, trust is accelerated (26 times) when the mood is positive.

Consider these measures to help increase trust, drive positive change and contribute to greater productivity as identified by the Forbes paper, “Ten Ways to Build Trust in Your Team”:

1. Do a litmus test on your organisation’s culture

To gauge the fear-versus-trust level on your team, talk about culture at your next meeting. Invite your employees to share their thoughts. If it’s not a safe environment for people to contribute, then they won’t.

2. Reframe responses to mistakes

Don’t “blame and shame” team members for mistakes. Tracking mistakes but ignoring triumphs encourages the best people to leave.

3. Review policies

The typical employee handbook includes a plethora of picky rules and punishments which are disempowering. Review policies and procedures if that’s the case.

4. Be involved

Management should actively engage with the team as often as possible.

5. Show appreciation

Demonstrate that you value your team as people, not just “production units”. People notice when human” decisions are made versus mechanical ones based only on billings.

6. Leadership

Show leadership and vision, and intently focus on supporting each team member.

7. Take ownership

Foster a culture of openness. Admit when you, or the company, makes mistakes.

8. Be human

Be aware of tone, and be conscious to use a “human voice” with your team versus terse, governmental jargon.

9. Ask questions (in person)

Ask your team how they’re doing, what they think and what they’d like to see at work – all the time. This should be done in person, not through an anonymous survey.

“When you have to promise anonymity to get honest answers from your employees, you’ve already lost the war between fear and trust.”

Be prepared to listen, and act as appropriate.

10. Be visible

The more the team becomes involved with the firm’s plans, priorities, challenges and opportunities, the more in sync they will be with the leadership team.

Accordingly, the more managers uphold their promises and commitments, the more trust employees will have.

By John Arneil, Unisearch