Measuring Trust Using The Leadership Trust Index

John Blakey
John Blakey
14 February, 2024
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Trust is becoming more and more central to cultural challenges in organizations, according to a recent Deloitte survey. Organizations are choosing hybrid working and incorporating working from home. These emerging working models are here to stay and have thrown up a new set of business challenges. Trust is no longer a nice to have, it has become a must for top-performing organizations. 

According to my research at Aston Business School, 89% of board leaders consider trust critical to attracting and retaining top talent, while 91% consider it vital in maintaining customer loyalty. Stephen Covey suggests in his classic text The Speed of Trust that low trust causes friction, which slows down organizational processes and eventually leads to low-quality outputs. These, and many other studies, demonstrate that a high-trust culture is a leader’s magic wand that positively influences many diverse business outcomes.

The Challenge Of Measuring Trust

However, if trust is that important, how can we measure it better than we do now? How do we track it in the same way we track employee engagement, productivity and staff morale? Because without accurate measurement tools and techniques, it is impossible to identify the trust strengths and risks within an organizational culture.

According to the Deloitte survey, 55% of organizations have no trust tracking in place, but nearly half of them plan to start measuring trust in the next 12 months. This priority is echoed in a recent CEOWorld article where the author, Rhett Power, states, "You must find objective ways to assess trust. Otherwise, you’ll end up relying on your gut to tell you if your people trust you. And your gut is always prone to being subjective." Indeed, in my own research, I found that CEOs rated themselves 29% more trustworthy than the people they lead. I call this the authenticity gap, and it should be a timely reminder for all leaders who are tempted to rest on their laurels regarding trust.

The Leadership Trust Index

Arising from research, we have developed a unique, academically verified trust metric known as the Leadership Trust Index (LTI). Over the past five years, the LTI has been used to measure trust levels in leading organizations in the UK's public, private and third sectors. Using this bank of data, we can benchmark any organization’s LTI so organizations know exactly where they stand when building a high-trust culture. What the Net Promoter Score (NPS) score did for focusing organizations on customer experiences, we hope the LTI can now do for creating a new standard of leadership defined by trustworthiness.


The Business Impact Of Measuring Trust

Overlaying our LTI against the work of Dr. Paul Zak (as featured in the Harvard Business Review), we estimate that increasing an organization’s LTI score by 20% leads to the following outcomes:

  • A 15% drop in stress levels
  • A 3% drop in sick days
  • A 10% increase in productivity
  • A 15% increase in employee engagement

In simple terms, organizations that increase their LTI scores are waving that magic wand of trust in a conscious and deliberate way. If we consider that trustworthiness = ability x integrity x benevolence, then the LTI score will point to gaps in those areas where a concerted management focus can drive improvements. For example, when used with a national law firm, the LTI revealed that the organization could improve its LTI by working on the integrity component of trustworthiness. Specifically, the culture was not considered humble by its employees and this affected perceptions of the brand's integrity. Being able to measure this aspect and benchmark with other organizations helped convince the leadership team to take action and improve.

Improving The LTI Score

When it comes to the practical steps organizations can take to improve their LTI score, we have found some common themes that generate immediate impact:

• Coaching. Leaders who help their staff develop through coaching, rather than telling, find that they can drive improved performance while still improving levels of trust in the team.

• Be open. Leaders who err on the side of being more open in sharing their own feelings, learnings and challenges engage their followers at a human level and this can inspire greater levels of trust.

• Evangelizing. Leaders who hold an inspiring vision, communicate this passionately and bounce back quickly from disappointments generate a positive "can do" confidence that can inspire others to trust them.

• Be kind. We refer to being kind as the purple dye of trust; all it takes is one drop of kindness and the whole complexion of a situation changes. Kindness is a trust "power tool" that is often neglected by busy, task-focused leaders.

Next Steps

In summary, what gets measured is treasured. As more and more CEOs realize the increasing power of trust, the next question they might ask is how to measure it. The Leadership Trust Index provides a reliable and consistent way to pin trust down, identify strengths and weaknesses, and take action to improve. In our experience, those organizations that benefit most from measuring their LTI have already taken their top team through some preparatory work to gain a better understanding of the role of trust in a high-performing organization. For example, the work of Lencioni and his Five Dysfunctions of a Team is a great primer for anyone contemplating going down this path.

Finally, the biggest obstacle organizations face when measuring their LTI is often the challenge of "survey fatigue." Staff have been subject to many different surveys and can grow weary of offering opinions that are not followed up with tangible responses and actions. The antidote to this is to make sure every survey counts and specific improvements are clearly linked to the named survey findings. If staff experience real change in organizational life as a result of a survey, it is hard to see how they would ever grow tired of offering their opinions, feedback and insights.


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