Creating an ‘us against the world’ culture

 The outside world is fraught with danger.  When it comes to survival of the fittest, the basic concepts of fear and managing outside threats to our lives and our livelihoods have not changed that much since the caveman era. In today’s modern business world, we can replace the threat of saber-toothed tigers attacking us in the night, with the threat and pressures that could kill and stifle our businesses. In the modern business world, the things that provide immediate threat to your business are things like unpredictable market changes; interest rates, inflation and how this impacts your business, what your competitors are doing and planning, what social movements and trends might affect customer buying behaviours and threaten your sales and profits margins, a new emerging technology that could render your business redundant. Threats, if not addressed and conquered, can result in business failure. 

So what about the threats and pressures coming at individuals internally? How can we feel psychologically safe within our own company? The answer lies in creating a strong work culture where people are a strong team ready to tackle the obstacles the world throws at them. A culture centred around trust, cooperation, shared meaning; a place where everyone feels supported and psychologically safe. 

What is the circle of safety and why should all businesses have one? 

In his book “Leaders Eat Last“, Simon Sinek frames this as the “circle of safety“; which is something leaders provide where they “draw a circle of safety around their people to say “if I keep you safe internally and you do not fear any dangers internally, then you are more likely to work together, trust each other and cooperate, to face the dangers externally”.  Companies that are successful in establishing a circle of safety create teams where the fear of failure is minimised. Only when people feel safe and secure in their jobs and their roles, will they have the courage and the confidence to think creatively, to be innovative – all the attributes that businesses in the modern world need in order to face and fight the constantly evolving threats and pressures of the outside world. 

How big is your circle? 

In order to be an effective strategy, businesses need to define just how strong the strong circle of safety is. The fact is, many companies often don’t put their money where their mouth is when it comes to harnessing and fostering innovation. Whilst they understand the need for innovation in order to stay ahead of the game, the inherent nature of innovation means it is risky. It can either succeed or fail. Businesses need to prove they support the good and the bad that comes with experimentation, creativity and innovation. While it’s great  to incentivise, recognise and reward innovation, it’s equally important for leaders to show that their people will be supported despite the results. If there is even the slightest hint that one could lose their job if they get it wrong, then the fear of innovation will stop it from happening in the first place. 

It’s essential, Sinek says, for companies to define just how big their circle of safety is. Some companies have a small circle of safety, whereby the leaders are safe, but the rest of the organisation are left to fend for themselves. As you can imagine, these companies are not effective at creating a culture where innovation is encouraged. “In the strongest organisations, the leaders extend the circle of safety right to the most junior people within the organisation”. In such a business, each layer of bureaucracy protects the layer beneath it;  it. 

It’s also vital for leaders who have extended their circle of safety to protect everyone within their business, to tweak their hiring policy to ensure they are only taking on like-minded people who reflect the shared values of the business; people they can trust and who will trust them in return. So rather than focussing on technical skill and expertise alone, the need to hire people with the right cultural fit and who are creative and innovative by nature, is also an important consideration. 

When the circle of safety is strong and people feel safe, they naturally work together to fight against the threats of the external world and likewise to make the most of the opportunities in the outside world. As Sinek points out “when they have to invest any more than the minimum, if any, energy to protect themselves internally, they’re taking away the energy they could apply externally. That’s why great leadership commits to the people first”.  

How big is your company’s circle of safety? Is it big enough to foster innovation at all levels? I’d love to hear from you. If your leadership team could do with my help get in touch today.

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