When I wrote about safety and security in the workplace last September 10, I didn’t realize it would be the subject most searched to find our blog. Clearly leaders and managers want to know how to create safety and security for themselves and their employees in the workplace.
Creating a safe workplace is definitely not about having police officers roaming the shop floor. Safety and security happens fundamentally because someone running the show actually cares enough to make it that way. The most important aspect of leadership in this regard is that they care.
When leadership cares they make sure that dangerous or threatening people are not working in the organization. Threats to safety and security are simply not to be tolerated; not from coworkers and not from management. This is established through workplace rules and policies.
Workers generally don’t feel threatened by rules, especially those established for their safety. The policies and procedures, what we call structure, are there to provide a framework for achieving. With a framework in place, leadership and management can focus on care and support.
This care and support has people feel like they are important and integral to the success of the organization. Nurturance creates a feeling of security which allows people to work at their best. Without the fear of rejection (of losing their job) people can settle in and bring their best problem-solving to their job.
The essential fuel to power employees is the nurturance provided by the organization. The nurturance is provided through interactions that indicate that the company values its people; that they are listened to, encouraged, and offered guidance. No one talks down to them or criticizes them personally.
There are two people that workers look to for the sense of caring and security. They look to their immediate supervisor and to the overall leader of the organization. The immediate supervisor is the translator, or messenger, of the company. The CEO is the company.
When workers see that these people care, they feel safe and secure. More about this in my coming posts.
Tom DeMaio, PhD
Easier said than done. That’s the reaction I sometimes get when talking with leaders and managers. Working with people can be difficult and frustrating. People make mistakes, get irrational, and need things that seem unrelated to the mission of the business.
So where do you find the acceptance, the caring, the ‘love’? For me, it’s all in the heart. We need to remember that one person is not better than another. We are all born human and all have similar struggles with the human condition. Be careful not to judge, you have not walked in the other’s shoes.
“Fine,” I’ll hear, “but do I have to accept the times when people screw up?” My response is absolutely not. You accept the person, not necessarily their behavior. You would like to see each employee succeed and you are committed to helping them achieve high performance for their own personal success and for the good of the organization. This is why your messages about mistakes will be about the performance and not about the nature of the person.
Your goal is not to be a saint either. You can get annoyed, frustrated, or upset with people. Your emotional reaction can show that they matter and that what they do matters to the business. Your upset is because the business goals are being thwarted, not because they are idiots. And this is what you need to have clear in your heart and in your actions. So if you have been short or cross with someone you have to go back and let them know that you didn’t mean it personally.
If you are a manager and leader, you are probably oriented to outcomes: you want to achieve the mission of your organization. Remember, it is your attachment to those goals that gets you frustrated with people. Part of your growth as a leader is to be committed to the mission and to finding the best ways for people to achieve it. You don’t want to turn into HAL, the computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey, who had to eliminate the spaceship crew because he believed they threatened the mission.
People are much easier to accept when you have a full toolkit for working with them. Learn the six principles; it will work for you and for those you lead.
Tom DeMaio, PhD
Too often business managers and leaders look to workplace programs to create healthy and productive employees. The great ones know something that is foundational and more natural. You can’t build a dynamic employee culture unless you ACCEPT people. So easy to say, but what does it mean?
Great leaders and managers appreciate people and accept that they are human: that they can be irrational and emotional. People aren’t machines and don’t work like them. They don’t just do the assignment as it is asked and sometimes they like to do things their own way. It is almost impossible to lead people if you don’t like them and the way they operate.
Employees read acceptance from their leaders. They look to the smile on your face when you interact with them. The smile conveys that they are appreciated and that they matter to you. The absence of some form of positive affirmation can easily be read as rejection, disinterest, or bad intent. This is what makes the ‘meet and greet’ aspect of leadership so important.
Expressing an interest in employees, both professionally and personally, conveys that you care. People always light up when someone higher up asks them about their job. The simplest question, like, “how is it going?” can really make someone’s day. The sense is that they matter if the boss asks. And if they matter, then they are more likely to give a damn about the work and the company.
A critical piece to the process is that people believe they are wanted, and that they are not being rejected. Fears of rejection haunt even the most stable and solid personalities. Peoples’ brains are wired to look for rejection since avoiding it (developmentally) was a survival skill.
Personal affirmations are incredibly powerful. People remember if their boss noticed and mentioned something they did well. It builds connection and loyalty to the mission.
Remember, as a leader, you want to leave nothing about acceptance/rejection to the imagination of the employee. Some are too prone to expecting rejection or disapproval. You must counter this actively through your interaction (and workplace programs) to build a solid foundation of trust and good will.
People ultimately work for you, not just the mission of the organization. Your personal acceptance makes all the difference.
Tom DeMaio, PhD
Evidence for the people side of business exists in successful businesses. The Psychologically Healthy Workplace Awards program demonstrates that there are many businesses which not only take care of their employees, but also succeed at developing healthy, productive employees. Achieving a work culture that is positive and productive takes leadership and an awareness of the needs of employees.
Organizations are led by people who are usually experts in a technical area and/or have training in business. But there is a third requirement for organizational leadership, skill in the people side of business, which too many leaders lack or are less aware. Taking care of people – and providing adequate structure – is not often trained, is not easily quantified, and is as much art as science.
Consequently that third leg of running a business, the people side, is often short changed, handled “if possible”, and not made a focus of organizational structure. It is a terrible mistake because inadequate effort on this front too often leaves workers dissatisfied, unhappy, and less productive. Sometimes it leads to costly and dangerous mistakes. Think of hospital workers who have delivered the wrong drug, or air traffic controllers asleep at the job, or people in manufacturing being sloppy in assembly.
Learning the people side of business is not so easy in today’s busy work culture. Leaders and managers were not trained as psychologists or people specialists. In fact, most have no training at all. And if you try to get trained, the information is all over the map. Most books available to business people argue for one idea or the other. Drive, yes, that’s the issue. No, wait, accountability. How is anyone to pull it together into a sensible whole?
This is why we wrote The People Side of Business: Six Psychological Principles (to be published in July). The approach to employees needs to be comprehensive and balanced. Working people need to be accepted as emotional beings in need of encouragement and nurturance. They work best in a family-like environment, with the opportunity for growth and development. They also need structure and accountability to the mission and goals of the organization.
My coming posts will focus on more of the specifics needed to create a dynamic, high performance work culture.
Tom DeMaio, PhD