Trust is Now a Proven Organizational Measurement

New research shows trust, not engage-ment, is the best way to measure business effectiveness. 


By Rob Adams


Leaders across the globe have traditionally supported the idea that business success is correlated to increased levels of engagement among stakeholders. Business leaders try a variety of tactics to increase engagement, from creating incentive programs to encourage high performers to rallying the troops in company-wide meetings or creating unique events to excite customers. 

But how does engagement of your internal and external aud-iences relate to business success? Is engagement the right metric of success to utilize in the first place?

Paul J. Zak has invested more than 13 years of research trying to get to the bottom of these questions. As the director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, Calif., Zak’s lab discovered a positive link between high levels of oxytocin and increased feelings of trust. With increased feelings of trust come increased team performance, which ultimately leads to business success. Consider the following from Zak’s 2017 book, Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High-Performance Companies:

  • Employees will ignore leaders who aren’t perceived to be trustworthy.
  • Employees in high-trust organizations have 50 percent higher retention rates and are 50 percent more productive.
  • Employees who work for high-trust organizations show 106 percent more energy and passion for their job, which translates into positive interactions with customers and improved sales.

So, it’s time to stop focusing on measuring engagement and instead focus on measuring trust. 

In 2014, Zak co-founded Ofactor, a company that helps organizations build trust among their audiences by using neuroscience-based measurement, management and training solutions. Ofactor has been able to engineer high-trust, high-performance cultures in some of our country’s top workplaces. They do this by looking at the organization as a whole and developing ways to strengthen its culture and purpose among employees to ultimately increase productivity.

An example of the power of culture and purpose is illustrated in Trust Factor about Zappos, a company well known for its robust culture and performance.

“In our Zappos experiment, we asked one-half of the employees tested in groups of four to discuss Zappos’ Purpose. The other half of Zapponians discussed, also in groups of four, a newspaper article about retail sales in their home city of Las Vegas. We took blood samples before and after these discussions.  We then had participants complete surveys and collected several streams of neurologic data throughout the discussion period and while participants did work-relevant tasks. Our analysis showed that discussing Zappos’ Purpose increased positive mood from 10 percent from baseline (compared to a 3 percent reduction in positive mood for those discussing retail sales). Participants in the Purpose condition also had increased feelings of closeness to work colleagues by 16 percent. … We found that when participants felt closer to their colleagues, their productivity was 15 percent higher in an objectively measurable task.”

Knowing this, business leaders have a unique opportunity to continue using their tried and true methods for reaching stakeholders while also refocusing their measurement to ensure organizational success. It’s no longer good enough to simply plan meetings. Now, organizations need solutions that show a direct impact on the individual and company performance. 

For example, incentive programs or national sales meetings offer an avenue for creating a distinctive experience that can inspire and motivate stakeholders. Attendees should walk away feeling celebrated, cared about, included and part of an authentic relationship. These are all attributes of trust. 

Measuring organizational trust levels before and after key meetings and events and identifying specific behaviors by leaders and managers that produce higher job satisfaction and less stress among stakeholders is now absolutely essential to organizational success. 

Organizations now have the oppor-tunity to design meetings and events in a very intentional way and by using this new method of measurement, they can foster trust among their stakeholders, which ultimately leads to increased company performance.