The Link Between Trust and Achievement Levels

The Link Between Trust & Achievement Levels by Toby A. Travis, Ed.D.

People trust leaders who are skilled in their area of work, and they trust organizations, schools, companies, and products that really deliver results. What is fascinating to me about the research in the area of levels of trust and the impact it has upon individual performance, is that if an individual is working for someone whom they highly trust, then their level of performance and contribution increases! Also, the research shows that even when individuals utilize materials and tools associated with a trusted leader, company, school, or brand – their individual level of performance improves when they use those materials or tools.

For example, there is some surprising and rather amazing research that demonstrates benefits to the performance of students when they have a high level of trust in a school’s brand – and the utilization of a trusted product brand. Four separate research studies have concluded that when an individual struggles with a challenging task or event, and that individual utilizes tools associated with a trusted brand, it helps their individual performance. The studies also show that utilizing a trusted brand enhances feelings of self-efficacy, which can also result in a higher level of achievement. Check this out…

“Students scored higher on difficult Graduate Records Examination questions when they took the test using a Massachusetts Institute of Technology pen and showed better athletic performance when they drank water from a Gatorade cup during strenuous athletic exercise.”[1]

That’s amazing! They weren’t even drinking Gatorade – just water from a Gatorade branded cup! You see, not only does a high level of trust in the competent brand bring loyalty and commitment to the brand, it also results in a higher level of performance.This research is similar to other studies which reveal that when an educational leader or a school is known for a high level of competency, not only does that high level of competency endear trust in the leader or the school, but it also results in the individual who is placing that trust in the leader or school to perform better themselves.

Hundreds of studies have come to similar conclusions over the past decades of research – all identifying trust as the essential element for school improvement and higher levels of student achievement, as well as the key indicator of the most successful leaders of all time. Yet, very few schools, companies, organizations or their leaders, invest in the critical work of developing and intentionally increasing their level of trust. As David Horsager in his national best-seller, The Trust Edge, makes clear: “Trust is not a soft skill!” Your level of trust as a leader, as well as the level of trust in your school, company or organization, can be quantified, assessed and measured – and then through the use of intentional and deliberate strategies and methods, the level of trust can be improved. But it takes an intentional commitment of professional development time, focus, and energy for that to happen.

To what extent is your school, company or organization intentionally investing resources, time, and professional development into restoring if necessary, and expanding their level of trust? Research has also shown that a lack of trust is the biggest expense for schools, companies, and organizations (as well as their leaders). When trust is lacking between administrators and teachers, faculty and staff retention rates go down, school improvement initiatives do not move forward, and workplace morale is low. When trust is lacking between teachers/administrators and parents/students, engagement in learning is minimized and student achievement is negatively impacted.

However, when trust levels are high – schools, companies and organizations excel in every area! For example, when schools and school leaders are highly trusted:

  • Teacher retention rates go up.

  • Higher quality faculty and staff are attracted to the school.

  • School programs are financially efficient.

  • Parent satisfaction is high and most importantly…

  • Student achievement levels out-perform those schools with low trust levels in every discipline (i.e. academics, athletics, and extracurricular). Every time!

According to the research, school leaders should not underestimate the impact and importance of maintaining high levels of trust in their leadership, and in the schools they lead. Assess it. Develop it. Restore it if necessary. Then maintain it and watch the amazing impact it will have upon all stakeholders of the school.

©2016 Toby A. Travis

[1] Park, Ji Kyung and John, Deborah Roedder. (2014). I Think I Can, I Think I Can: Brand Use, Self-Efficacy, and Performance. Journal of Marketing Research 2014 51:2, 233-247.

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