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Optimizing Organizational Performance

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I've spent much of the last 20 years developing the science of interpersonal trust and showing how powerfully trust drives outcomes. Mary Slaughter, a Managing Director of People Advisory Services at EY, kindly asked me to contribute to an article she wrote at the digital magazine Reworked on optimizing organizational performance by building a culture of trust. Connecting trust to culture was not fast or easy.

My lab was the first to develop a laboratory protocol to measure the brain's acute production of oxytocin and to relate this neurochemical to trusting behaviors. This highly cited research has led to new treatments for neurologic and psychiatric patients and a deeper understanding of human sociality.  

Then companies started knocking on my lab door. They wanted to know how to measure trust in their organizations. Back in the early aughts my oxytocin measurements were obtained using repeated blood draws. Some media outlets even likened me to a vampire for all the blood I was drawing. I was fairly sure taking blood from employees would not fly at most human resource departments (though I have received permission to obtain blood samples from people at work in a number of field experiments). In order to measure trust without blood, I ran experiments to identify the set of actions that produce trust between work colleagues. Then I designed, tested, and refined a survey to capture these actions in order to quantify organizational trust. This research showed that trust was measurable at work and substantially improved business performance. The analysis revealed that high trust organizations innovate faster, are more productive, face less employee turnover, and those privileged to work at such organizations are more satisfied with their jobs and with their lives outside of work. A huge win!

But surveys. In my organizational trust survey, I ask employees about a "typical day." That's OK, but it does not capture how during a single workday one's experience can vacillate from joy to despair. These mood changes affect how people respond to surveys and are, in fact, just what smart supervisors should be managing to sustain team trust and high performance.

The next innovation driving organizational performance is measuring and managing emotional health at work. Enter Immersion.

The unprecedented changes in how we work due to global pandemic lockdowns have severely hampered the rich information supervisors get from working alongside direct reports. Video conferencing is literally two-dimensional and information poor.

The COVID-crisis has generated a more than 500% increase in the use of Immersion to manage team meetings, press conferences, and remote client engagements. Clients have improved organizational performance by measuring immersion to learn from past events, rehearse upcoming events, and monitor experiences in real-time to ensure both psychological safety and immersion remain high. Immersion directly builds trust and effective teamwork.

By measuring Immersion during remotely-attended meetings, our clients have discovered that people need wellness breaks every 20 minutes. The data show even a two-minute break is enough to re-establish psychological safety, laying the foundation for immersion in the next module's content. Many companies make wellness breaks fun by inviting attendees to do calisthenics or sing together. Guess what: both of these activities cause the brain to release oxytocin, building connections between attendees.

Trust is essential. With colleagues and with clients. We even have to trust ourselves to make the right decisions. This is easier when you have the right data. When you need performance, you need Immersion.

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