Creating Safety in Your Organization

UPDATED: February 8, 2010
PUBLISHED: February 8, 2010

Did you know that when people feel safe, they perform better? Have you ever stopped to think that if you could help people feel safe with you, they would perform better for you? That does not mean that you lower your expectations or accept sub-par performance or that you start every meeting with Kumbaya.

You see, when people feel safe, their limbic system “relaxes,” and as it does, they have more access to the higher-functioning areas of the brain, like the hippocampus and the neocortex. You might be thinking, “So, what does this mean to me?” Well, if you want people to deliver top-notch work, you want your staff to be able to access the most sophisticated areas of the brain. It is in these areas where creativity, rational reasoning, decision making, judgment/discernment, and the ability to evaluate and choose a course of action take place.

What is the easiest way to help your staff get to higher-level brain function? Care about them, talk to them, smile at them, affirm them, praise great effort, recognize them, laugh with them, be pleasant and even ask personal questions.

In the process, you build “relational capacity” with your team. That relational capacity allows you to deal with issues, stress, challenges and opportunities better than the teams that don’t have that kind of capacity.

When people feel safe with you, they also do many other things—especially if you maintain high performance expectations. First, they will give you more of their discretionary effort, the effort that lies above minimal effort to keep their job and current output. It’s the effort they only give when they are “bought into” the leadership. It’s also effort that you don’t have to pay for, because they give it to you with the desire to see you become as successful as you can be.

Second, they will talk to you because you are more approachable. Let me tell you what that is worth.

We have a client who used to be fairly hard with his team. He was not friendly with his team, he did not celebrate their successes, and he did not ask how their families were. In his words, “I’m here to do business, not to be their buddy.” He was losing money and opportunity. As he began this process of becoming more approachable and thoughtful toward others, his team began to open up. As he built relational capacity, his team began to tell him what was not working and what could be improved. That provided the opportunity for them to come together to address some of the things his staff members were seeing. Of course, that meant they could fix the problems and turn those solutions into profitability and customer service. He was also able to attract some high-quality people who, until this time, would not have joined or stayed with him because of his leadership style, or lack thereof.

People who do not master these abilities will lose great people as well as their best customers. I hear a lot about being the “vendor or provider of choice,” but that is an incomplete offering. The challenge is to be the “leader of choice.” Then, you will know that you have the best team on the field.

Flip Flippen is a New York Times best-selling author as well as a widely recognized entrepreneur, educator, philanthropist. As the founder of The Flippen Group, one of the largest leadership development companies in North America, he is committed to “bringing out the best in people.”