High Performance Starts with Trust

Article by John Grover on April 16, 2019
John Grover
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When we have a trusting relationship with colleagues, we don’t need to convince others of our intentions. In a trusting organizational culture, we can avoid much of the bureaucracy and politics. In fact, studies show that trust affects economic and social developments. Trust bypasses many unconscious and cultural processes and allows us to get things done faster.

To paraphrase Louis Vuitton CEO Anish Melwani – in North America, trust is the currency of influence. If we want to influence a colleague or team to do something, their trust in you is what makes it happen. Of course, the converse is true as well. When there’s a low level of trust, the opposite happens. We build control mechanisms and increase bureaucracy on individual levels, organizational levels, and throughout society. All of these mechanisms slow interactions and reduce productivity.

On an interpersonal level, the impact of low trust is subtler, but even more detrimental to the speed of getting things done. An extensive study at Google confirmed this fact. For three years, Google studied 180 of its internal teams to find the secret ingredient of high-performing teams. As a company that focuses on hiring the smartest of the smart, the people at Google were confident that the common ingredient of the successful teams would be sheer cognitive horsepower. In other words, they believed the teams with the smartest people would also be the highest performing.

But they were wrong.

The researchers found that who was on the team mattered less than HOW the team members interacted. Presence, trust, and a sense of psychological safety turned out to be the key determinants of team performance. The research found that teams with high levels of trust generated more revenue for the company, were rated by leadership as twice effective, and had a much better retention rate.

As a leader, you have a great impact on the level of trust in your teams. If you have integrity and people know what you stand for, trust increases collectively. You must be authentic.

Equally as important, trust starts with how you show trust in others. John Hansen, a senior vice president at the LEGO Group, has a guiding principle for developing trust with his people, “Whenever I interact with my colleagues, I always trust they have the best intentions. I choose not to even consider that the opposite could be the case.”

John adopted this approach from a leader he once worked for who was always fully trusting of John, “It was truly liberating and motivating. I felt he had my back and that I had the freedom to solve problems and also to fail, without being judged. His approach gave me the space to learn and become what I am today.” Trust starts with your trust in your people, and your ability to be fully present when showing that trust in them.

When It Comes to Trust Presence Matters

Who would you trust most, someone who looks you straight in the eyes and is fully present with you, or someone whose attention is scattered? The answer is obvious. Fundamentally, we are more likely to trust people who are present with us. Presence is a foundation for trust. Trust binds individuals together—it binds employees and leaders together. Trust provides us with a sense of safety, a sense of meaning, and it significantly contributes to our overall sense of happiness.

Paul J. Zak, professor of economics, psychology, and management at Claremont Graduate University and founding director of the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies, has spent ten years studying the role of trust in organizational performance.

He’s found that compared with people at low-trust companies, people employed at high trust companies report:

  • 74% less stress
  • 106% more energy at work
  • 50% higher productivity levels
  • 76% more engagement
  • 60% more job satisfaction
  • 70% more alignment with their company’s purpose
  • 29% more satisfaction with their life
  • 40% less burnout
  • 13% fewer sick days

The importance of trust in today’s workplace should not be underestimated. The organization Great Place to Work and Fortune Magazine produce a yearly list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For, in which trust comprises two-thirds of the criteria. Their survey shows that trust between managers and employees is the primary characteristic of a “best workplace”. This sense of trust shows in each company’s bottom line. These companies beat the average annualized returns of the S&P 500 by a factor of three.

Similarly, the advocacy group Trust Across America tracks the performance of America’s most trustworthy public companies, finding that the most trustworthy companies also outperformed the S&P 500!

Quick Tips and Reflections 

  • Reflect on your experience with your “inner voice”. Consider how often it distracts you from being fully present with others.
  • Consider what leading with mindful presence means for you. Commit to one thing you are going to try in order to bring more presence into your leadership.
  • Make a commitment to find ways to better connect with members of your team and people in your organization. When you have these moments, make them matter.
  • Consider what embodied presence means for you and how enhancing your physical presence (posture, space, positions) could be beneficial for your leadership.
  • Reflect on the level of trust in your immediate work environment and, specifically, people’s trust in you. Commit to one thing to enhance trust and create more psychological safety.


This blog post originally appeared in the Endsight internal SharePoint, posted sometime within the past several months. We are providing this for public consumption to benefit the business community and anyone who has a current or future relationship with Endsight.


Google study (NY Times)

Paul J Zak Study (Harvard Business Review)

America’s Most Trustworthy Companies Crush the S&P 500 (Trust Across America)  

2019 Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For (Great Places To Work)

Tags: Productivity, Leadership

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