Tangible things you can do as a leader to increase trust and engagement

You Can Change the plan reminder on a notice boardThe link between employee engagement and making more money

It’s been something that has puzzled me for years.

Why -if we know that employee engagement leads to increased productivity, better quality and MORE PROFITABILITY, do organisations not do more to improve it?

I have come to the conclusion it’s because organisations just want to know what to do. They want tangible actions they can easily implement.

Maybe, as a leader, you do too.

There are many organisations that take the first step, which is to measure engagement. But these same organisations either don’t act on the information or they create meaningless “action plans” that never really go anywhere.

The Neuroscience of Trust – Paul Zak

So, leaders and organisations everywhere will be pleased to know that there are tangible things you can do. The good news? They’re relatively easy to implement and you probably know about most of them already.

Paul J Zak wrote in a recent edition of Harvard Business Review on the Neuroscience of Trust.  Zak measured the chemical produced in the brain by trust and linked that to organisational performance. The article details Zak’s research into the correlation between culture and performance.

This is what he found.

Some tangible actions to implement to increase trust and engagement

Zak states that there are eight behaviours that foster trust.

These behaviours can be measured and can be managed to increase and improve performance.

Recognise excellence

  • Immediately after a goal has been met.
  • Effective when it is from peers, and when it is tangible, unexpected, personal and public.

Induce challenge stress

  • Assign difficult but achievable jobs with a concrete end point – particularly where team members need to work together to reach a goal.

Give employees discretion on how they do their job

  • Being trusted to figure things out is a big motivator.
  • Employers can use risk management procedures/oversight/debriefs to manage the risk whilst allowing employees the space to safely experiment.

Enable job crafting

  • Where employers allow employees to choose what projects they want to work on.
  • Note – clear expectations and evaluations are still an important part of this.

Share information broadly

  • “Openness is the antidote to uncertainty about the company’s direction”.
  • Ongoing communication is the key. Both about the “flight plans” (where an organisation is heading and why) and more day to day communication.
  • Engagement goes up when managers have some form of daily interaction with their employees.

Intentionally build relationships

  • Build social connections and ties.

Facilitate growth of all the employee (not just the professional part)

  • High trust companies adopt a growth mindset when developing talent.

Show vulnerability

  • Leaders in high trust workplaces ask for help from colleagues instead of just telling them to do things.


I am guessing there is nothing in the list above that is particularly surprising. It is certainly stuff that I write about every week for you.

The research from every angle tells us that these things work. And that they have a direct impact on performance of the organisation.

If that all seems too daunting, Zak says that if you just focus on the recognising excellence and sharing information (the two areas that ranked lowest in his research), you could enhance trust – even if you don’t do the other six.

So, start small. Start with something you can commit to.

Where to from here?

If you want to discuss how I could help you build trust with your team, get in touch.

And if you’re still  hungry for more, you can read more posts on trust here or find my leadership book here.

Until next week, happy leading.

Tammy Tansley
I am a coffee loving, energetic human who loves words, bright colours and spots, silly t'shirts and good champagne. Mum to two beautiful mischiefs. Long time wanderer around the world. Author. Blogger. Speaker.

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