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.

Building Safety (Part 1)

As a personal business coach in The Woodlands and also in my business coaching in Houston the first thing I must do to build trust and rapport is to create a culture of safety. This is true in collaborating with and supporting individuals and groups.

Whether it is the small business owner, a large corporation or individual clients my primary goal is for them to feel safe. If you don’t feel safe you will always minimize your sharing of what is going on that needs to be addressed. In other words, without safety, fear rules. And when fear is your guiding force, whether it be in your business or personal relationships it will ultimately lead to difficult situations because it promotes a lack of trust.

In organizations, this lack of trust creates a culture that will stifle creativity. Why is this important? The only way to remain relevant as a company, a team or organization is to embrace change. When there is a lack of trust and fear dominates people are not willing to change. They think that if they change and don’t do things in a new way correctly, they will be held back professionally or at worst, be fired. Cultures that are punitive are not safe. In this type of atmosphere self-improvement or group improvement is very challenging and as a result, the creativity to bring about change is virtually non-existent. Creativity happens in the area of how to survive, not thrive.

The second thing that happens when the culture is not safe is that efficiency will start to diminish. If there is “Holy Grail” in business, it is a focus on efficiency. When I speak with some of my fellow business coaches in The Woodlands, the topic of efficiency almost always comes up. Yet, in a culture that is not safe, efficiency ends up being sacrificed.

How? I am reminded of a client I had who does international manufacturing of “widget” (a made-up name) devices. These are produced in plants around the world as well as Texas and several other states. A new leadership came in that was very authoritarian in its implementation and leadership. Everything was about the bottom line. They decided to cut back on the frequency of maintenance on the manufacturing equipment. They also reduced the capital expenditures budget for new equipment to keep up with the changes in the industry.

The result a year into this was higher maintenance costs, more downtime, more overtime to meet the orders because of equipment breakdown and delays and worst of all, a loss in sales. The employees no longer felt safe because they did not have the tools or resources to do a good job. And, when things did not go right, they were reprimanded for lapses in production that were caused by the new culture of scarcity and threats.

Building a safe culture in your business and personal relationships will allow you to embrace change and stay current or ahead because you can be creative and efficient. Without safety, creativity and efficiency are sacrificed on the altar of survival and an ongoing fear that things are going to fall apart.