A recent book review of “The Fearless Organization” explored author Amy C. Edmondson’s view on “psychological safety” as creating an environment where employees are “communicating and collaborating with people across boundaries of all kinds.” In such a space, interpersonal fear is mitigated through sparking an environment where personnel are “confident that they can speak up and won’t be humiliated, ignored, or blamed.”
Edmondson’s book is a great companion to another wonderful work by Paul J. Zak, “Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High-Performance Companies.”
In Chapter 1, “The Science of Culture,” Zak sets the foundation for the rest of the book, which is about what he describes as the “building blocks of organizational trust” under the acronym OXYTOCIN, which represents Ovation, eXpectation, Yield, Transfer, Openness, Caring, Invest, and Natural. Simply stated, OXYTOCIN triggers organizational trust, and trust sparks intrinsic motivation, organizational performance, and a “culture of high engagement.” While this book is a foundational part of any compliance library, a description of each part of OXYTOCIN would not do justice to any of those elements; accordingly, the focus of this piece is on the C=Caring and N=Natural chapters, which are too often undervalued in compliance discourse.
In the “Caring” chapter, Zak starts off by sharing how Caring “is intentionally building relationships with colleagues.” His quote from Bob Chapman, CEO of Barry-Wehmiller, is perfect, when he shares how Chapman’s management team has a “sacred covenant to treat people well and return them home each day physically and emotionally healthy.” This is crucial, as it’s the company’s responsibility to keep people “successful and safe” no matter where they work and regardless of job function.
Zak identifies empathy as fostering a Caring environment and shares how it “is also the foundation for ethical behavior” by fostering “emotional safety.” That’s a critical point, especially for compliance leaders tasked with helping to support a globally disbursed workforce, where teams are working remotely and less supervised than their peers working closer to HQ. Those are the people companies need to keep “close to HQ” at least emotionally because, as Zak states, “people who are disconnected from the community of colleagues are those who need extra support,” and sometimes that’s going to mean “being patient with them.” That’s true Caring, where even in the face of frustration management remembers patience means enduring “under difficult circumstances” and “when things get difficult.”
It’s about being available and patient with those who work remotely, who are often disconnected with their peers and home networks and understanding that ethical decision-making can sometimes be tricky when working far away from home. Under conditions of jet lag, sleep deprivation, and unrelenting commercial pressures, ethical decision-making can get strained. Caring helps companies to remember they sometimes need to help people hit their own “pause button,” so they slow down and consider both the short- and long-term consequences of the company’s conduct.
But that’s not going to happen on its own. Inserting empathy is critical to encourage people to reach out for support, and to reach out early. It can be as simple as stating that as compliance and business leaders “we might not always get it right” and that “we want to know what you’re up against in your work, so we can help you with your challenges.” By sharing that vulnerability and empathy, you are demonstrating that you care enough to solicit feedback and always welcome a difficult conversation by making it discussable. Zak points to a Google study of their best managers that demonstrated how those individuals expressed “interest in and concern for team members’ success and personal well-being.”
“A culture of trust and purpose resonates with the social nature of human beings and creates engagement, Joy, and profits.”
Paul J. Zak, Author, Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High-Performance Companies
In the “Natural” chapter, Zak shares how “an organization is Natural when leaders are honest and vulnerable.” Very much a complement to the chapter on Caring, “Natural leaders embrace their vulnerability; they let it show.” A question often posed is how to encourage personnel, especially in regions where there’s a respect for elders and hierarchy, to speak up. Zak addresses that challenge in encouraging even CEOs to share with their teams how they also need support and how they, too, don’t always have all the answers. When a CEO shares that not all decisions are easy, it’s a very loud, yet unspoken, message to the entire organization that it’s always OK to ask questions and to help “other teammates to open up about the difficulties they (are) facing.” Better said, “admitting that you don’t have all the answers is an effective way to engage colleagues.”
Going back to expressing humility, humanity, and vulnerability when engaging with the workforce, Zak reminds how Natural leaders get to know their colleagues “by letting themselves be known.” It’s about sharing “your values and experiences, (to) discuss why this organization is important to you and (to) build emotional ties with others.” And I would add the importance of his counsel to spend time “on the frontlines to see how the organization works” to be an enabler of team success, not just “the organization’s omnipotent commander.” That’s as helpful to a compliance leader as it is to a CEO, and it’s often called “servant leadership.” I have worked with multinationals where servant leadership is the organizational paradigm, starting from the CEO to regional managers, and it’s inspiring to see how the primary role of servant leadership is helping and enabling personnel to “be successful and fulfilled as human beings.” Or, as I heard one CEO share, “our role here as leaders is to ask how I can help you to be successful, instead of here’s what you need to do to make me successful.”
In his concluding chapter, “Joy = Trust x Purpose,” Zak shares how “Joy is the result of working with trusted colleagues who have a transcendent purpose.” When addressing purpose, he notes the impact and inspiration generated by using “human scale stories that follow a hero’s journey—that is, a story with tension and emotion that features ordinary people doing ordinary things.” Everyone knows those stories exist in all organizations: someone, who in some part of the world, decided not to “play it safe” or “take the road most travelled” and who made a great ethical decision, perhaps in a market where others were facing another direction. Why not share that success story, and the choices and struggles that the individual faced, with the entire enterprise? Why keep it a secret?
“A culture of trust and purpose resonates with the social nature of human beings and creates engagement, Joy, and profits,” Zak writes. Zak provides the science in what he calls the “neuro-management” framework for getting there, but it all gets back to putting ourselves out there and showing empathy and vulnerability to those who need it most. Maybe a good place to start is at your next compliance training session—surprise everyone and, at opening, just ask, “Before we get started, is there anything missing from our program; is there a way we can better help you that needs to be addressed or re-calibrated?” It might surprise your commercial workforce when you ask, and you might not like everything you hear—but if we can’t make the difficult the discussable, then how are we going to help those who need it most? From my perspective, “Trust Factor” gets us started, just by Caring, asking, and connecting.