The research on psychological safety, diversity, inclusion, and belonging in building high-performing, “deep trust” workplace cultures is well established. So is the differentiating positive impact of “high expectations” on individual and team performance, including data on the power of compelling purpose and Carol Dweck’s groundbreaking theory of fixed vs. growth mindset.
At Blue Beyond Consulting, we’ve learned that it’s when both deep trust and high expectations work together in an “elevating, virtuous cycle” that it sustainably unleashes organizational potential, agility, and business results — and in a way that is deeply fulfilling for the people in the organization.
There is robust research behind the idea that the very best work environments are characterized by deep trust, where people feel comfortable taking risks, failing, learning, and growing. They feel psychologically safe to bring their whole selves to work — and aren’t afraid to ask for help, seek feedback, admit errors or lack of knowledge, try something new or voice a different opinion.
Neuroscience has revealed that when someone shows you trust, a jolt of oxytocin surges through your brain and triggers you to reciprocate. This creates what has been called a trust-building cycle, which can be stimulated by celebrating effort, sharing information, promoting ownership and more.
Put simply, humans are wired to learn more and perform better when they trust the people they work with, where relationships are deeply valued and leaders are credible, competent, communicative and honest. They believe they are treated with respect as people and professionals, and the workplace is fundamentally fair.
In a similar manner, high expectations environments provide “stretch” challenges, spur collaboration, stimulate meaningful contributions, illustrate a consistent standard of excellence and focus not only on outcomes but also on learning, progress and mastery.
Learning, progress and mastery are hallmarks of what Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck calls a “growth mindset.” People who exhibit a growth mindset are those who believe abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work while those with a fixed mindset believe our character, intelligence and creative ability are static and can’t be changed in any meaningful way. People who exhibit a growth mindset outperform others in goal achievement, learning and job satisfaction.
It’s important to understand that you need both deep trust and high expectations working together — one without the other can create dysfunction.
If you have deep trust without high expectations, you run the risk of creating a “Comfy Culture” where motivation, productivity and accomplishment are low. High expectations without deep trust creates a “Darwinian Culture” where anxiety and suspicion are rife. A workplace where both deep trust and high expectations are absent is likely to produce an “Apathetic Culture,” marked by detachment and indifference.
When both deep trust and high expectations are present, they form an “elevating, virtuous cycle” that creates the optimal conditions for the people and the business to thrive. We call this the “Elevating Culture” — which is distinguished by psychological safety and caring, mutual commitment to excellence, group genius, reciprocal support, ongoing learning, sense of personal meaning and purpose, and real and sustainable productivity and impact.
Check out our six organizational strategies you can focus on today to build a company culture rooted in deep trust and high expectations for tomorrow.