What does trust mean in an organization? 

Here is a point of view from Brent Gleeson in Forbes Magazine:

The first dimension is competence; the belief that an organization has the ability to deliver on what it says it will do. That it has the ability to sustain and compete in the marketplace. The second dimension is integrity; the belief that an organization is fair and just. The third dimension is dependability; the belief that an organization will do what it says it will and act consistently1.

There are many recent examples in the press where companies were caught off-guard by mass employee walkouts, an indicator of lack of trust in leadership. These were situations where sexual harassment was ignored or protests over corporate leadership’s avoidance to address climate change. 

Do employees on the whole trust their leaders to do the right thing? 

Good news, according to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, is that 58% do.

Fifty-eight percent of general population employees say they look to their employer to be a trustworthy source of information about contentious societal issues.

Employees are ready and willing to trust their employers, but the trust must be earned through more than “business as usual.” Employees’ expectation that prospective employers will join them in taking action on societal issues (67 percent) is nearly as high as their expectations of personal empowerment (74 percent) and job opportunity (80 percent).

In addition, 71 percent of employees believe it’s critically important for “my CEO” to respond to challenging times. More than three-quarters (76 percent) of the general population concur—they say they want CEOs to take the lead on change instead of waiting for government to impose it.2

And how can we measure trust? Here is Brent Gleeson again.

Trust is dynamic and so its measurement must be done consistently over time, not just through one simple process. Trust is also multidimensional and touches everything from the cognitive and emotional to the intellectual levels.1

Methods to measure what people think and what they say are mature, organizations have been doing this for years. The standard “employee engagement survey” is a time consuming and onerous task not undertaken lightly, usually once a year or every other year. In recent years it has been augmented by the “pulse” survey. There are some known gaps and issues in survey style (bug or feature?) due to their probing of the thinking side of the brain. For example, often observed is a phenomenon called the “Say-Do gap” where people tell you what they think you want to hear, or what is politically correct.

Feelings are processed emotions. Let’s introduce a little neuroscience. Emotions are physical reactions in the body that last 90 seconds and occur before thoughts. Thoughts process emotions to produce feelings using neural networks centered in the limbic brain. Emotional Intelligence is the capacity of an individual to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions and to exhibit empathy. In other words, to successfully convert emotions into appropriate feelings that drive appropriate actions.

Imagine if we could transpose this from an individual to an entire organization? If we could measure the emotions, or feelings, of an organization to determine why people act the way they do and to identify specific actions for leadership to promote trust. 

Reverting to Gleeson’s point:

“Trust is dynamic and so its measurement must be done consistently over time, not just through one simple process”1.

We need to do this over and over and over again – more often than once a year. The measurement needs to scale to engage every employee that wants to participate – it is not a focus group whose results are extrapolated from a subset of “statistically significant” out to the entire organization. To be engaging, it needs to leverage all available tools that most employees love to use – video, podcasts, emoji. It needs to be anonymous (this topic is too important to dive into here – we will address the value of anonymity in our next post). 

In addition to this list, the holistic mechanism to measure trust is not one simple process, it must probe both the intellectual (thinking brain) and the emotional (feeling brain) to be effective1 – a complexity indeed! 

You already know what your employees think, would you like to know how they feel?


  1. https://www.forbes.com/sites/brentgleeson/2017/05/17/measuring-trust-and-its-impact-on-a-companys-financial-performance/#2bc662515dd2
  2. https://www.edelman.com/trust-barometer
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