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Three Crucial Cultural Elements Required to Enhance Employee Engagement

leadership leading change neuroscience sme business development

Companies today are twisting themselves in knots trying to figure out how to engage their employees more.

The fundamental flaw in this endeavour is that it’s not about trying to engage them, its about energising them so they ‘choose’ to be more engaged.

In today's competitive business environment, nurturing a positive workplace culture is more crucial than ever to energise your people and cultivate the genuine discretionary effort and engagement leaders are searching for.

Two key elements—trust and psychological safety—are essential for creating such an environment. Understanding the neuroscience of trust and the behavioural aspects of psychological safety can empower leaders to enhance collaboration, innovation, and employee satisfaction. Moreover, aligning these elements with a collective purpose further enriches the workplace atmosphere, providing a powerful platform for a truly cohesive organisational culture.

Start With Trust

Trust within any organisation or team is significantly influenced by neurochemical activities, especially those involving oxytocin, known as the "trust hormone." This hormone enhances social bonding and loyalty, which are crucial in professional settings. Neuroscience reveals that regions like the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex play vital roles in evaluating trustworthiness and making decisions related to trust. For instance, when employees engage in trust-building activities—such as cooperative projects or open feedback sessions—there is an increase in oxytocin, promoting a sense of belonging and cooperation.

According to one study published by HBR, people at high-trust companies report 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives, and 40% less burnout than people at low-trust companies


The Three Key Questions You Must Ask Yourself:

  1. Am I presenting and are my team members consistently experiencing the real me? (Authenticity)
  2. Am I consistently showing my team members that I genuinely care about them and their success? (Empathy)
  3. Am I truly empowering my team members by consistently reinforcing truth and rational reasoning through my decisions?" (Truth)

FACT: Leadership is not about getting others to trust you, that's simply a natural consequence of your words, actions and behaviours:

"Leadership truly begins when you trust yourself enough to trust others"

Derek Mair

Practical leadership application of this knowledge includes:

  • Recognition of Excellence: Immediate and peer-driven recognition significantly impacts trust levels.
  • Challenging People to Achieve: Purposefully assigning manageable challenges helps release neurochemicals that enhance focus and team coordination.
  • Autonomy and Empowerment: Allowing employees to manage their workflow and make decisions increases motivation and promotes innovation.
  • Transparent Communication: Keeping everyone informed reduces uncertainty and builds a unified direction for all team members…
    • At the very least communicate and celebrate every team win, no matter how small!
  • Building Relationships and Social Bonds: You need to 'connect' with your people... Plus, encouraging social interactions at work can improve teamwork and performance.
  • Demonstrate Decision-Making Rationality: By openly seeking counsel and others' ideas, and by clearly explaining the reasoning behind decisions, a leader demonstrates good judgment.
  • Leadership Vulnerability: Demonstrating vulnerability, such as admitting mistakes or uncertainties, humanises leaders, creating a more open and relatable communication environment.
  • Facilitate Whole-Person Growth: High-trust workplaces promote both personal and professional development; if you’re not growing as a human being, your performance will suffer.
  • Consistency: Do what you said you were going to do, in the way you said you were going to do it, when you said you were going to do it. 

Developing Psychological Safety

Psychological safety is the bedrock of a trusting organisational culture. It creates a space where team members feel safe to express their thoughts and ideas without fear of ridicule or reprisal. This concept is critical for trust because it assures employees that their input is valued and that they are respected members of the team.

Leaders can promote psychological safety by encouraging team members to speak the unspoken, actively soliciting input, and demonstrating genuine concern for team members' well-being. Such practices not only reduce the fear of negative consequences but also empower employees to take moderate risks, which can lead to significant innovation and growth. By prioritising psychological safety, leaders can cultivate an environment where trust is a natural outcome, leading to greater team cohesion and productivity.

Driving Collective Purpose

A collective purpose is essential in binding the elements of trust and psychological safety into a coherent whole. When a division, sub team or project team clearly articulates its purpose, cascading from the organisations core purpose, and these are embraced by its members, a powerful sense of community emerges. This shared purpose acts as a catalyst for trust and safety, as employees feel part of a larger goal that values their individual contributions while aiming towards common objectives.

The presence of a collective purpose ensures that efforts to build trust and promote psychological safety are not just isolated management tactics, but part of a broader strategic framework. This integration helps employees see their work and their interactions with colleagues as directly contributing to the organisation's goals, enhancing their engagement and commitment.

The Combined Impact

When trust and psychological safety are present in the workplace, and aligned with a collective purpose, my experience informs me that the benefits are truly extensive. Employees in such environments are more engaged, less likely to leave, and more productive. They also report higher job satisfaction and a greater alignment with the organisation's goals.

For organisations looking to thrive, investing in the mechanisms that foster trust, psychological safety, and a shared purpose is not just beneficial; it's essential. These efforts lead to a more harmonious workplace where employees are motivated to practice discretionary effort and contribute their best work secure in the knowledge that their company supports and values them.

PS. Do not get caught up in old ways of thinking, that this is a softly, softly approach. Your Leadership ability to 'Assertively' hold people accountable will underpin all the points above... That said, I commit to you now, if you work on the points above your people will start holding themselves accountable!

Derek Mair

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