The Importance of Trust in the National Audit Office

In: BlogDate: Feb 19, 2018By: Claire Lickman

In this short three-minute video, Susan Ronaldson and Steve Mirfin of the National Audit Office explain about why they have made trust the centre of their workplace culture.

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The Importance of Trust in the National Audit Office [Three-Minute Watch]

“Just to give you an idea of some of the things that we felt that trust could do for us as an organisation.

“The first is about really tackling that issue about people not necessarily feeling confident. We recruit really amazing, bright people, who join this office with amazing talent, and they are the people who go out to the front line, who are at the Cabinet Office or at the Home Office and other clients, and we really need them to be coming up with ideas and to be listened to – and I think in the past, we had a culture where maybe people respected hierarchy too much, where people didn’t feel that they could challenge. And by making people more self-confident, it means we can build on the best of everyone’s ideas.

“Collaboration is absolutely vital. One of the advantages that we have at the National Audit Office, in fact it’s probably our Unique Selling Point, is that we have a unique place that we can look across the whole of Government. We work with something like 400 bodies, we can see the different ways that they’re doing it, so the advantage we can have is we can draw on best practice on one place and share it with another – but that relies on people talking to each other and working together. So we need people to collaborate and bring the best that every individual has to every piece of work that we do.

“Promoting strengths – Steve will talk about it a bit more in a moment in terms of our performance management framework, but we probably had a sort of deficit model in the past, very focused on what were the weaknesses that we needed to overcome. We believe that it’s now much more important to focus on people’s strengths and building on those strengths, and understanding that different individuals can bring different things.

“Finally, around coaching. So we’re moving much more to a coaching style of management but also a coaching style of organisation. What that means is that we understand that different people in different roles or different grades can help each other to develop, and that’s something that we’ll talk more about when we talk about the Way We Work Programme in a second.

“So overall we feel that trust is really vitally important if we’re going to really increase our collaboration and get the best out of everyone and to be a more creative organisation, because as we’re talking about celebrating mistakes, we have to let people feel that they have that room to innovate and experiment, and that we trust them to do that.

“Here’s the science bit. Why do we want people to be happy and trust each other?

“Well, when we’re happy and we trust each other, you get this lovely thing called Oxytocin. It’s released in the brain. And it’s the love chemical – when you’re in love or you’re in a really close bond relationship with somebody, this is what happens.

There’s been a lot of research, a recent article in the Harvard Business Review actually, in January’s edition, I think it was called the Neuroscience of Trust, and it says that if you get lots of Oxytocin released in an organisation, you’re more productive, people have more energy, they will collaborate better, naturally, they will have less stress – and they’re happier with their lives. And of course if you’re happy with your life, then work is just happy too, so it’s a very similar philosophy to you guys at GDS [Government Digital Service].

“They’ve also done research that shows that the more autonomy you give people and the more trust you give people, the more Oxytocin is released – and the more Oxytocin you have in your brain means that you release more Oxytocin in your brain. It’s like a vicious circle only not vicious! Unvicious. Is that a word? It is now. I’m owning that, and unvicious is a word.”

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Steve and Susan were speaking at the Creating Happy Workplaces in the Public Sector Conference on 22nd February 2017. Click here to view more videos, PowerPoint slides and blogs from the event.

Steve Mirfin joined the National Audit Office a long while ago, and from 2000-2012 was a Manager leading the audits of a wide variety of public sector clients (for example British Library, Royal Parks, UK research Councils). In 2012 he moved to the Financial Audit Practice and Quality team where he leads on the development and delivery of training to our financial audit people. From here, his role has developed to encompass aspects of knowledge sharing and non-financial audit learning and development. He is now the Head of Skills and Talent.

Susan Ronaldson has worked at the National Audit Office, with whom she qualified as a chartered accountant, since 2001. During her career with the NAO, Susan has worked on a diverse range of clients including the Ministry of Defence, Department for International Development, Parliament and even 10 Downing Street where she once met Larry the Cat. Having always had a strong interest in people and organisational development, she took on her current role of the NAO’s Director for Engagement and Change in 2015. In this role she leads work to improve engagement levels and support a range of business change programmes aimed at building a more modern organisation, both technically and culturally.


Claire Lickman

Claire is Head of Marketing at Happy. She has worked at Happy since 2016, and is responsible for Happy's marketing strategy, website, social media and more. Claire first heard about Happy in 2012 when she attended a mix of IT and personal development courses. These courses were life-changing and she has been a fan of Happy ever since. She has a personal blog at

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