book cover
“Joy on the job comes from doing purposeful work with a trusted team.”

The Trust Factor Book Review

The Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High Performance Companies, Paul Zak, 2017


The work of Dr Paul Zak suggests that performance goes up, dramatically, and anxiety is diminished in a work environment characterised by high levels of trust. A high performing organisation thrives and survives on trust. This book is well researched with lots of case studies and practical examples.

So What? 

Zak calls himself a neuro-economist. He’s interested in the chemistry of trust. The book describes a chemical which is released in our brain when someone else invests significant trust in us. This chemical, oxytocin, is a powerful hormone which plays a role in pair bonding. It underlies trust and acts as an anti-depressant. He is the first scientist to show that the brain synthesizes the chemical oxytocin when we are trusted and respected. When we feel good about ourselves and our surroundings, we reciprocate trust by being trustworthy. Zak says that employees working in organisations characterised by high levels of trust have higher levels of oxytocin in blood samples.

Now What?

“Colleagues in the top quartile of trust are 50% more productive and have 106% more energy than those in the lowest trust quartile.”

Zak has produced a checklist for building trust in an organisation. He uses an acronym – OXYTOCIN – to do so. It’s a little contrived and repeats itself but the research behind it is solid.

  • Ovation: is about recognition and celebration. It should be unexpected, tangible and close to the event. Ovation is about highlighting contributions to shared success and explains 67% of organisational trust.
  • eXpectation: Some stress is good! Challenge stress arises when we confront a difficult problem as a team. We set goals to stretch our creative abilities. This stretch engages the brain and enhances emotional circuitry. 
  • Yield: Choice motivates. Empower your colleagues to share their expertise and allow them to choose how to do projects. Instigate innovation through double loop learning. Train extensively and delegate generously.
  • Transfer: Control, whether real or imagined, influences our hormones. Crafting one’s own job enables mastery and skill development. It can be highly motivating when it’s authentic. 
  • Openness: Organisational trust occurs when decisions are transparent, and reasons for decisions are shared. Flat management structures and simple lines of communication help greatly. 
  • Caring: Organisations who invest in people and relationships thrive. Historically too many workplaces have been competitive ‘dog eat dog’ places where feelings get trampled on. Simple things like knowing names or getting to know customers make a difference. 
  • Invest: Work-life integration is done well in high performing companies. Open ended and forward looking ‘whole person’ reviews based on work by Drucker ask three questions – Are you growing professionally? (Am I helping you to get your next job?) Are you growing personally? (Are you and your family happy?) Are you growing spiritually? (Are you developing as a human being?)
  • Natural: “A natural leader is one who accepts responsibility for mistakes and includes others in wins, who know the organization at every level, from the front lines to the executive suite.” Be honest about weaknesses and share the human factors of imperfection.

This book challenges management orthodoxy and is evidence-based. For those two reasons its an important read. The old solutions around extrinsic reward – bonuses, promotions, status – are questioned for their effectiveness to produce high-performance behaviours.