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 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.

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.