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 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.

A Contest to Reveal Culture

In the last post I spoke about some of the foundational components to building a strong culture. It is necessary for people to feel safe and to believe they belong to something bigger than themselves. Also, for a culture to thrive it needs a clear mission, vision and an established purpose.

As a business coach in the Woodlands and as a business coach in Houston, a clear sense of purpose makes the possibilities for growth and advancement of an organization much clearer. Why? With clarity comes pointed and focused action. The individuals and teams who make up the culture have a clear purpose.

Several years ago, a designer and engineer, Peter Skillman, held a competition to find out the following: Why do certain groups add up to be greater than the sum of their parts, while others add up to be less?

To this end he assembled a series of four-person groups at three major universities and a few other places. He challenged each group to build the tallest possible structure using the follow items.

  • Twenty pieces of uncooked spaghetti
  • One yard of transparent tape
  • One yard of string
  • One standard sized marshmallow

The contest had one rule. The marshmallow had to be on the top. The most interesting part, to me, was not so much the task but the teams he assembled. Some of the teams were business students and some were kindergartners.

The business students strategized. The kindergartners had a different approach. They did not strategize, analyze or share experiences. They were too young, not only to strategize, analyze and share experiences. They did not know how to ask questions, propose options or hone ideas. All of which the business students knew how to do. Their entire technique was about how to bunch stuff together.

In dozens of trials around the country and in other parts of the world, the kindergartners won. Their structures averaged twenty-six inches tall, while the business students’ structures ended up averaging less than ten inches in height.

The results may be hard to absorb. Suffice it to say, as a personal development business coach, it was the kindergartners who had the greater personal development and self-improvement. In the next post I will discuss how these results came about. In a word, it is surprising.