This Week in Culture

Unveiling the Trust Triangle: Building Authentic Company Cultures

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the UKG Aspire event in Las Vegas, where I had the honor of delivering a keynote on the spotlight stage. It was a packed house, standing room only for 500 people in person and over 400 more tuning in online. The title of my presentation, “How to Get People to Give a Sh*t,” reflected the burning questions surrounding perceived chronic apathy in the workforce today and clearly it resonated with the Aspire conference attendees. 

Throughout the event, I had the opportunity to hear from some brilliant minds in the industry, such as Chas Fields, MSHRM, SHRM-PMQ Fields of UKG and John Frehse of Ankurra Consulting. They shared some insights into the ethics of business, and it all started with John Frehse’s introduction of the Francis Frei Trust Triangle. 

The Francis Frei Trust Triangle is a framework that explores the three essential drivers of trust in leaders: authenticity, logic, and empathy. When trust is lost, it can almost always be traced back to a breakdown in one of these drivers. As leaders, it’s crucial for us to understand which of these drivers is our “trust wobble.” In other words, it’s the driver that’s most likely to fail us, and recognizing it is the first step to building trust within our organizations. 

Most leaders today have the logic part of their trust triangle nailed. It is in authenticity and empathy where they need to improve. As John shared in his keynote, “Leaders are good at math, they’re usually not as good at people.” 

Sometimes we underestimate how the information we convey, or the misinformation we inadvertently spread, can undermine our own trustworthiness. Even worse, stress often exacerbates this problem, causing us to double down on behaviors that make others skeptical. For example, we might unconsciously mask our true selves during a job interview, even though such less-than-authentic behavior decreases our chances of being hired. 

The good news is that most of us generate a stable pattern of trust signals. This means that making a small change in our behavior can go a long way towards building trust. In moments when trust is broken or fails to gain traction, it’s usually the same driver that has gone wobbly – authenticity, empathy, or logic. 

It’s essential to recognize that leaders who possess all three of these qualities can transform their organizations. This transformation is demonstrated by John Frehse, who shared that he has helped every one of his clients cut their turnover in half by focusing on authenticity and empathy. 

Chas Fields also provided a compelling example of empathy in leadership. He told a story about a meat processing business that discovered 40 pounds of beef had been stolen. In the past, the leaders would have fired the factory worker responsible, as that seemed the logical thing to do. However, today’s leadership takes a different approach. They paused, considered the worker’s circumstances – a family of 12 to feed – and chose empathy. They retained the employee, gave everyone a raise, and implemented a discount to make beef more affordable. The result was a significant boost in productivity, illustrating that new-age leadership looks different and is rooted in empathy. 

At Culture Partners, we believe in the power of the Trust Triangle theory, and we integrate this philosophy into our approach to building company culture. Our programs are designed to help leaders identify their trust wobble and develop all three essential drivers of trust. By nurturing authenticity, empathy, and logic, our clients can create inclusive, innovative, and high-performing cultures where people genuinely “give a sh*t.” 

Elsewhere In Culture 

Why some companies are ditching ‘feedback’ for ‘feedforward’

In today’s evolving corporate landscape, the terminology we use can significantly impact our company culture and employee interactions. Many forward-thinking companies are moving away from the term “feedback” in favor of “feedforward” to foster a more constructive and forward-looking approach to performance improvement. This shift acknowledges that the word “feedback” can sometimes trigger defensive reactions, raising stress levels and inhibiting clear thinking. 

“Feedforward” encourages a focus on future actions and potential, rather than dwelling on past mistakes. This shift aligns with a more inclusive and mindful approach to management, particularly as Gen Z enters the workforce with a greater focus on mental health and well-being. However, it’s crucial to strike a balance, as some employees may still value the importance of constructive feedback when used respectfully and thoughtfully. Companies are redefining their terminology and communication strategies to create a more open and supportive work environment, where employees can grow and thrive while feeling understood and valued. Ultimately, this linguistic shift is just one step toward creating a culture of genuine learning and development within our organizations. 

4 Phrases That Build a Culture of Curiosity

Cultivating a culture of curiosity in the workplace has proven to be a transformative practice, positively impacting employee well-being, retention rates, productivity, and innovation. To intentionally foster such a culture, it is essential to adopt four key phrases and behaviors that promote inquisitiveness:   

  • “I don’t know”: This phrase signifies the importance of intellectual humility, where leaders openly acknowledge the possibility of being wrong and remain receptive to alternative viewpoints. By creating an environment where saying “I don’t know” is encouraged, leaders become more approachable and less intimidating, while trust and openness within the team are enhanced. Furthermore, research reveals that embracing intellectual humility not only makes leaders appear more competent but also positively influences perceptions, making them seem more communal and friendly. 
  • “Tell me more”: Responding with genuine curiosity when team members make bids for attention is another pivotal element. Just as this practice strengthens personal relationships, it can also be applied to the professional sphere, reducing burnout and stress among employees. Furthermore, promoting a workplace culture where curiosity thrives fosters creativity and innovation, enhancing problem-solving and leading to a more engaged and fulfilled workforce. 
  • “I understand that you’re more than your job”: Recognizing the multifaceted lives of employees beyond their job titles is crucial in alleviating work-life conflicts. Employees bring with them a rich tapestry of personal experiences, challenges, and aspirations, which can significantly impact their performance and well-being. Acknowledging these factors not only enhances the quality of work-life balance but also demonstrates a deep curiosity about the whole person, strengthening connections and reinforcing a culture of care and understanding within the organization. 
  • “Who else?”: This phrase challenges the conventional belief that valuable insights and solutions are solely the purview of specific roles or titles. In reality, brilliant ideas can emerge from unexpected sources. By consistently asking, “Who else might have unique insights or solutions to offer us?” leaders can instill a culture where innovative thinking is encouraged, and diversity of thought is celebrated. This approach not only promotes inclusivity and a sense of belonging but also enriches problem-solving capabilities and leads to more comprehensive decision-making. 


Incorporating these four phrases and behaviors into daily interactions is a powerful step toward embracing deep curiosity within the organization. As these practices become more visible and leaders actively model them, they have a contagious effect, encouraging others to follow suit. In turn, this collective adoption contributes to the gradual shaping of a corporate culture that values inquiry, promotes creativity, and fosters collaboration, ultimately redefining the organization’s ethos for the better. 

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