Building Safety (Part 4): The Business Steps

In the previous blog post we talked about the personal steps you can take as a leader to build safety and a better culture. In this post we are going to look at the business steps. When I do personal business coaching in Houston and personal business coaching in The Woodlands the bigger challenges to building safety come in the business steps.

Why? The business steps determine the quality of person you bring in the door and ultimately employ. You can bring in people who meet the experience and education qualifications, yet if they are not willing or good at connecting, it will be a never-ending challenge to build a safe and good culture.

The first business step is to be absolutely focused on your hiring process. This is the gateway to bringing in the right people or those who are not a fit. And this alone, can bring you long-term success or failure. I had one company as a client that grew rapidly and as a result became less meticulous in their hiring process. Where before they hired people for management positions who were likeable and qualified, they settled on a different course during rapid growth. They hired people who were qualified but not necessarily likeable or connectors.

These managers have to work together to address problems, resolve audit deficiencies and other problematic situations. To say the least, getting these people to collaborate and work together has been a challenge with limited success. People who work for these managers no longer feel safe. No one wants to take the risk of an independent thought for fear of reprimand, or in the case of a couple of managers who are very insecure, being fired, because the managers see their intelligence and problem-solving approach as a threat to their leadership.
Here’s the second business step. Let’s say you have a very good hiring process. You are still going to have some bad apples. Sometimes these occur when a company grows and as a result an employee’s responsibilities change. The employee is a good person but cannot adapt to change. Therefore, they become a liability to the culture. Other times, we just make mistakes in the hiring process. Regardless, the worst thing to do is not act. As a leader, people expect you to look out for their welfare and safety. Bad apples do not create a safe environment. Get rid of them.

The third step is not one that every business can do. Create spaces that maximize interaction. As a business coach, I encourage companies, when possible to rearrange an area or an office to where there is the potential for more interaction. Increased visibility adds to the potential for greater contact and more connections. Very often, it is those unexpected encounters that lead to meaningful conversations. Office design, where possible can help this.

The fourth business step is to make sure everyone has ownership. In short, everyone must feel that their voice can be heard. In businesses that encourage the personal development of their employees, it is very hard to develop if you don’t have an atmosphere that encourages and wants your input. The only way you learn, and grow from what you learn, is to take the action to put your thoughts out there and to see what the response is. Businesses that create a safe place for this to happen increase their employees’ sense of ownership, their feeling that they matter and their loyalty.

One other point to consider as a leader. Be human. Show that nothing is beneath you. Ray Kroc who founded McDonald’s was meticulous about picking up trash in the office that had missed the waste paper basket.
Follow the business steps above and show your humanity. When you do you will be taking the necessary steps to building a better culture.

Building Safety (Part 3): The Personal Steps

In the previous two blog posts we talked about building a culture of safety and how it centers on our desire to belong. What are some steps we can take to create that culture? After all, very often it is easy to identify WHY we need to do something and WHAT needs to be done. But, it is the HOW that can hold us back.

As a personal development business coach in Houston I am often reminded in collaborating with clients and even from my own experiences as a business owner, some of which were fairly large, that it is the start of instituting change that stops us.

Yes, the start is what stops us. Here are some thoughts to get you started on building safety in your culture, in your life. And along with that to create a sense of belonging and collaboration.

First you must be an active listener. Almost go overboard in letting people know that you are truly listening to them. In my personal business coaching in Houston and The Woodlands I have learned that I gain so much more in the ability to have better relationships when I actively listen. I listen to learn. I don’t listen to respond. Also, and this is critical, my cell phone is on mute and turned over where I can’t see it. You cannot be an active listener is someone sees you have a potential distraction.

Second of all let your people know early on in the conversation where you are weak or maybe need support. To be an effective leader this is a must. Why? If others know where you are weak, and you admit to it, two things happen.

This allows you to create a bond with them that can come from no other source. Vulnerability has the ability to build very strong connections unlike anything else. And, when they know where you have stated your vulnerability, they now know where to support you as a leader. Weak leaders never admit to vulnerability. As a result, they don’t make the strong connection and their people don’t know how to support them. My belief is that one of the greatest self-improvement tips for success as a leader is to share your vulnerability.

Third, as a leader, whatever the message that is being brought to you, embrace the messenger, even if you don’t like the message. People must feel safe in coming to you. When they do, they will alert you to unseen opportunities and guard you against potential future problems. They will have your back.

Fourth, give the people who follow you a preview of future connections and possibilities. Use examples of other team members who started where they are and are now in higher positions because they chose to add value to themselves.

Lastly, make sure you acknowledge people with many thank-yous. It may seem corny but in good cultures which are safe you will hear it a great deal. No one dislikes appreciation. And appreciation by its very nature allows us to share what is good in others with them and make it, because we are giving it, part of ourselves.

As a leader or in your life utilize the above steps in creating a culture of safety, a winning culture.

Building Safety (Part 2): Do I Belong Here?

As a business coach in The Woodlands, I am always struck by the great sense of belonging that this community generates. It is welcoming but not overly so. People there have to get to know you. Yet, there is something special about The Woodlands. And the people who live there are proud to be part of this vibrant community.

All of us want to belong. As human beings one of our primal instincts is to look for belonging cues. And, like The Woodlands, we want to belong to something bigger than ourselves. Belonging is about connection. Very often, one of the challenges I work with as a personal business coach in companies is with the culture and creating a greater sense of belonging.

There are companies who want their employees to feel like family. That sounds good. And when applied correctly it is great. People feel safe. When applied incorrectly it can bring a sense of separation, anxiety and feeling isolated. People will feel that they are in danger.

I had a client who ran his business like his personal family. He tolerated outbursts of anger, broken promises, missed deadlines and he had family favorites. For all the belonging cues he wanted to generate he failed as he let “his” family philosophy tear his company apart.

On the other side I collaborated with a company that created a sense of family, a wonderful sense of inclusion. It worked. What was the difference?

In the first company, accountability was subjective, selective and ultimately, because it was not consistent, ineffective. People could not count on or trust each other to get the work done right and on time. When disconnectors, which is what this type of behavior does, is allowed to proliferate, no one feels safe in getting their job done, there is little trust and whatever greater purpose they were working for as a team is destroyed. The employees were being included in a family that was toxic.

The second company ran things quite differently. It was a safe environment because everyone was held accountable. There was a sense of belonging because people felt safe because they could trust their teammates to do their work on time and correctly.

The idea of “family” inspires the idea of togetherness. Yet, you can be in a dysfunctional family where you are together physically but disconnected mentally and physically. This is not a place where you can pursue your self-improvement.

When there is accountability, collaboration and achievement of common goals at expected levels and in a timely manner, the bonding that takes place between individuals in the company serves as the foundation for greater growth, productivity and happiness.

Why? The social support network, you create at work, your family, is the primary driver of workers’ happiness and productivity. And, the studies on happiness and work back this conclusion.

Most of us have experienced the good and the bad “family” work environment. To answer the question: “Do I belong here?” Ask yourself the following questions:

What is this job doing for me?
What is it doing to me?
What does it have me becoming?
Is that acceptable?

If you like your answers stay. And, if you don’t and that you don’t feel safe. This is your cue to move on because you don’t belong and it is time to move on.