The Research Brief is a short take about interesting academic work.
The big idea
Professional workers are more likely to value their own work and feel it contributes to their team’s success when their managers show they trust them, according to a study I recently completed as a part of my unpublished Ph.D. dissertation.
I wanted to understand how various types of social capital, such as building trust and creating common values, influence employees’ performance and how they feel about their work. So I conducted a survey of 457 people I recruited through Amazon Mechanical Turk who have done work on at least one project for their employer. I then asked them a series of questions about the experience and their views on how it went. The survey attempted to measure perceived levels of participants’ engagement when their manager used social capital.
About 74% of the respondents said having a manager who fostered trust – for example, by soliciting opinions during meetings and encouraging them to share their knowledge with the team – made them feel positively about their own work. This was often more important than if their work was completed on time, on budget and satisfactorily.
Why it matters
Companies routinely fail to successfully complete projects. By that I don’t mean they don’t complete them, but they fail to finish the project on time, on budget or by some other measure of success.
In fact, it’s estimated that over half of projects – whether a merger, a public works project like a bridge or a sporting event like the Olympics – fail by one measure or another.
This is why figuring out what contributes to their success is so important.
My research suggests the seeming lack of project success is in part because the main measuring sticks guiding how businesses think about it – time, cost and quality – may not be as important as fostering trust among the workers integral to making it work. This isn’t to say the other measures aren’t important, but my work suggests the use of social capital in a way that makes employees feel valued could be an overlooked component.
What still isn’t known
My study focused on worker perceptions, which I believe are valid and useful measures of a project’s success. Further studies will be needed, however, to validate my findings and show they correlate with actual results.
I’m hoping to investigate novel training methods that might help companies build and sustain trust in the workplace. My goal is to find strategies that businesses can use to foster more trust and thus increase worker productivity.
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