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Why You Should Trust a Boss Who Bakes You a Cake

March 2, 2017, 3:00 AM UTC
birthday cake on desk in office
Martin Poole—Getty Images

The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for, “How do you build trust with employees when you’re the new boss?” is written by Robin Koval, CEO and president of Truth Initiative and author of Grit to Great: How Perseverance, Passion, and Pluck Take You from Ordinary to Extraordinary.

Most business leaders would agree that trust is the cornerstone for creating a workplace where employees are engaged, productive, and continually innovative. Yet a 2016 survey by EY found that less than half of full-time workers surveyed globally trust their employers, bosses, or colleagues. So how do we bridge the workplace trust gap?

As the CEO of Truth Initiative, a national public health organization dedicated to achieving a culture where all youth and young adults reject tobacco, truth and trust go hand-in-hand. We’ve learned that building a culture of trust is both art and science. As renowned neuroscientist Paul J. Zak points out in his book, Trust Factor, “When someone shows you trust, a feel-good jolt of oxytocin surges through your brain and triggers you to reciprocate. This simple mechanism creates a perpetual trust-building cycle—the key to changing stubborn workplace patterns.”

See also: How to Earn Employees’ Trust—Even if You’ll Have to Let Some Go

Celebrating effort, sharing information, and empowering employees have been key ingredients for our company’s ongoing commitment of building and maintaining a high-trust environment. And as the science proves, trust creates more trust, but it must be constantly nurtured, nuanced, and fine-tuned, or else it can be fleeting. It can take 20 years to build a trusted reputation but just five minutes to ruin it, especially in this instant-information age. Here are my top tips to help your organization bridge the trust gap for good:

Start at the top
Communicate that the commitment to integrity, excellence, and respect starts at the top—and even more importantly, demonstrate that commitment through decisions and actions. Make your vision clear and show that you’re embracing your values. At Truth Initiative, our mission and values are literally front and center, as we’ve incorporated them into the design of our workspace. Words that inspire us are etched on artwork located throughout the office, and our mission is stenciled on the walls in the stairwell. Your word is your currency, so make sure your employees can bank on what you say. A promise made is a promise kept. Being true will go a long way toward building trust among those you lead.

Bake a bigger pie
Sharing information and empowering people works much better than creating an environment where everyone hoards information and fights for their slice of the pie. Providing information, along with a framework for success rather than a rigid set of rules, will yield much bigger and better results. Purpose and trust mutually reinforce each other. I believe in constant communications and send a weekly note to staff that shares what’s happened, and what’s coming up. We also have monthly staff meetings and an internal news vehicle called “The Insider” where we post news in real time.


Cheer them on
Neuroscience shows that recognition has the largest effect on trust when it occurs immediately after a goal has been met; when it comes from peers; and when it’s tangible, unexpected, personal, and public—much like what happens in a sports arena when someone scores. It also creates an aspirational and immediate learning opportunity for others to strive to achieve.

In my weekly email to the team, I always make sure to name the accomplishments of individual staff members. We host friendly team competitions at least once a quarter around shared goals and throw cupcake parties for the winners. You would be surprised, but a little cake and frosting goes a long way in building an atmosphere of collaboration and community. Giving your employees the recognition they deserve will encourage and inspire them to continue to do their best work, all while reminding them that you have their best interests in mind.