High-Trust Organizations

I recently found a very compelling article in Harvard Business Review focused on the many benefits of increasing trust in the workplace. The author, Paul J. Zak, notes that employees in high-trust organizations are more productive, have more energy at work, collaborate better with their colleagues, stay longer, and compared with people at low-trust organizations, report 74 percent less stress. Who wouldn’t want more of that? He then lays out a number of mechanisms to manage for trust. When reading these I immediately realized that effective OKRs could contribute significantly. Here are three behaviors he notes, and a description of how OKRs link to each.

The ‘Good’ Stress

Induce challenge stress: One way to increase trust in the workplace is to introduce challenging, but achievable goals. The moderate stress of the assignment releases neurochemicals, including oxytocin, that intensify focus and power social connections. Zak goes on to note that the effect is only possible if the goals are attainable and have a concrete end point. Does this sound familiar? That’s basically a colloquial description of an OKR – an attainable objective coupled with a concrete key result gauging its success. If, however, the goals are vague or impossible people will tend to give up before even trying. So if you want to boost trust in your company, using OKRs that stretch the possible, but are ultimately achievable, is a great first step.

Employee Choice

Enable job crafting: When employees are given the opportunity to choose the projects they work on, energy, focus, and trust increase substantially. There is an important OKR lesson there: teams and individuals must have the opportunity to create their own OKRs. If their objectives and key results are handed down from senior managers, with no input or negotiation, you can be certain that trust and commitment will suffer immediately, and poor results will be the natural longer-term consequence. Naturally, it’s vital for all OKRs to align with the company’s strategy, but to ensure that is the case, leaders and teams should meet to review and mutually agree upon the OKRs.


Share information broadly: This next statistic is one that is sadly endemic to the corporate world: Only 40 percent of employees report they are well informed about their companies goals, strategies, and tactics. Uncertainty about the company’s overall direction leads to chronic stress, undermines teamwork, and reduces trust. You simply cannot create an effective OKR without knowledge of the company’s strategy. Therefore, before launching an OKRs Framework, be sure you’ve communicated your strategy widely – reaching the entire workforce. Most frontline employees will seek information from their direct supervisors, so be certain this critical audience is particularly familiar with the strategy and consistent in how they discuss it. And once you have strategy-based OKRs, share them! One of Google’s OKRs best practices is complete transparency. Literally everyone can see anyone else’s OKRs. This boosts collaboration, productivity, and trust.

Let me know how OKRs have helped improve trust in your organization. And if you’d like to discover more OKRs tips and resources, visit www.okrstraining.com or contact me directly.

Paul Niven, OKR Coach and author of Objectives and Key Results.


The article I referenced is “The Neuroscience of Trust” by Paul J. Zak, appearing in the January-February 2017 issue of the Harvard Business Review