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The Neuroscience of Trust

On page 8 in the January - February issue of HBR, don't go past Paul J. Zak's research on the neuroscience of trust. This article is worthy reading for anyone investing in reputation, culture, or performance.

Paul J. Zak, Claremont Graduate University Professor, is an expert on the neuroscience of human connection and effective teamwork. His recent research focused on the brain chemical oxytocin, a chemical known to facilitate collaboration and teamwork. By measuring people's oxytocin levels in response to various situations, first in the lab and later in industry, Zak has developed a framework for creating a culture of trust and building a happier, more loyal, and more productive workforce.

His research identified eight key management behaviours that stimulate oxytocin production and generate trust:

  1. Recognize excellence
  2. Induce 'challenge stress
  3. Give people discretion in how they do their work
  4. Enable job crafting
  5. Share information broadly
  6. Intentionally build relationships
  7. Facilitate whole-person growth
  8. Show vulnerability

Key findings: Managers can cultivate trust by setting a clear direction, giving people what they need to see it through, and then getting out of their way.

Bottom line: To boost engagement, treat people like responsible adults.

In the recent case of VW not only did the CRO fail to calculate "outrage" in their reputation risk assessment formula, they also failed to assess the impact of the risk on stakeholder trust.

Published in 2009, Garry Honey's method for reputation risk classification offers a tool based on an analysis of trust recovery. Had VW's CRO consistently applied this simple formula in their reputational risk assessment process, the risk weighting for the issue would have been different.

Source: Honey, G. 2009. A short Guide to Reputation Risk, Gower.

Paul J. Zak, is a professor at Claremont Graduate University, an expert on the neuroscience of human connection and effective teamwork, and author of Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High-Performance Companies.

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