Creating a Virtuous Cycle of Trust: The E&C Pulse - March 11, 2020

March 11, 2020 Ben DiPietro

March 11, 2020

Creating a Virtuous Cycle of Trust 

Working the overnight shift at a gas station in Southern California gave Paul Zak a chance to see the full spectrum of humanity, and he was fascinated by how people behaved. He parlayed that interest in people into a career as a neuroscientist, entrepreneur, educator, and author of his latest book, “The Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High-Performance Companies.” 

Zak, who sat down with LRN Founder and Chairman Dov Seidman at the recent 25&Beyond event, said he started by asking why people are ethical at all, since there are so many good reasons not to be.

Bad behavior is easy to measure in a laboratory, easy to measure in the world. “What we don’t see often is the good behavior, the daily behavior of people doing the right thing,” said Zak, founder of Immersion Neuroscience. “So how can we create a culture in which individuals have the opportunity to grow, have the opportunity to be empowered to make the right decisions, but also are held accountable?”

Working in the lab, Zak was the first to develop a protocol to measure the brain’s production of a neurochemical called oxytocin, which is associated with trust, generosity, caring, and cooperative behaviors. 

When you think about successful organizations, it comes down to removing constraints so individuals can be empowered to make the best decisions, to further the organization’s goals, without constant monitoring and oversight, said Zak.

Seidman said that requires trust, and while we all want this thing called trust, “how do I know that you know that I know that when we talk about trust, we are talking the same thing?”

For instance, where does the virtue in trust exist? Is it in the person extending trust, or in a person for being trustworthy? 

“Aristotle, the first ancient philosopher to talk about trust, said the virtue of trust lies in he or she who gives it away,” said Seidman. When someone trusts you, they “immediately give you the opportunity to do right by him, or to betray him. The virtue lies in that sublimation, that vulnerability, that risk you take.” 

Zak said innovation can be measured in a variety of ways, but innovation takes risk, and trust is a risk mitigator, a buffer for risk. “Why am I going to innovate if my boss is going to scream at me for making a mistake? But if he or she gives me resources, and a chance to try something new, at a high-trust organization, I can do that more effectively,” said Zak.

If a person trusts someone else, 98% of the time that causes oxytocin release, and the other person wants to reciprocate, said Zak. “So now you can think about building an organization where I trust someone, they reciprocate, and now I’ve got a half-hour where they’re trusting other people, and this starts this virtuous cycle in which we can take care of each other,” he said.

That means trust keeps needing to be renewed, said Zak. “It’s such a small thing to do, to make the effort to be personal,” he said. “You’ve got to make a personal connection.”

Seidman said that still raises questions, such as where is trust warranted? And to whom?

Zak said it’s best to start out with trust, but to have very clear goals of how the person will be evaluated, when they will be evaluated. 

“It’s much more of a servant-leader model; I want to make sure you’re successful, make sure you’re meeting your goals. If not, let’s sit down and have a conversation, and let’s coach you up to those goals,” he said. 

“I’m gonna give you some leeway, but I’m gonna do some risk mitigation--you can’t burn the building down--but I want to give you an opportunity to perform...if you continue performing, I will give you more and more freedom.” 


The Pope advocated with Microsoft and IBM for the ethical use of artificial intelligence, and regulation of technologies such as facial recognition.


Board chair Joan Ruff and E&C expert Ellen Hunt, both of AARP, discuss their "BFF" relationship, and the importance of having difficult conversations. 


Alison Taylor of Ethical Systems has two pieces: in Quartz, she writes about the crumbling facade around corporate responsibility, and on the Ethical Systems blog she talks about the self-defeating nature of surveillance.


The NACD is out with tips for how boards should be thinking about the coronavirus risk. Crisis management expert Davia Temin is out with some best practices for how to respond during public health emergencies.


We should have seen the threat of the coronavirus--or something like it--long before it arrived, Axios reports. The coronavirus could be the incident that leads to widespread adoption of companies letting employees work from home


While the world is freaking out about coronavirus, Nigeria is dealing with a case of Lassa virus, an even deadlier viral outbreak, Quartz reports.


Ethisphere Institute takes a look at what happens when a company has poor training and communications.


Face facts, Mike Volkov writes on his blog: Your program isn't effective.


Global Financial Integrity released a report looking at illicit trade flows in 135 developing nations.


The importance of staying relevant is covered by Kristy Grant-Hart in her Compliance Kristy blog.


Informed360 has an article on whether ethical culture can be audited.

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