Saturday, April 2, 2016

How safe is your work place?

I've been thinking about safety today. Perhaps it's somehow related to talking about SAFe, the agile framework is less than admiring fashion last night, but the word has come to my mind often. Feeling safe. And in particular, lessons I've learned on what it takes to make people feel truly safe at work.

Some years back, I had a manager who believed that he needed to see me mark test cases passed / failed. He was honest enough to not try to wrap this into any methodology wrapping, but stated his true feeling: how do I know you're working if you don't do this?

We found other ways. For us, the simple thing that worked it to establish trust through the fact that our software at the time was so buggy that he knew I was working when I was logging on average 8 bugs a day over consecutive years. It took away the need of worrying, and established trust that was very important to me.

With my latest manager, the trust is extended even further. There's no cadence of me having to check in, and I've been intentionally testing the limits. With me feeling trusted and safe, I'm the natural me: excited about stuff, wanting to share, being active and figuring things out together so that he does not need me to check in, I just do. And I feel happy, I generate new ideas and act on them.

But the safety goes even further. It's a foundation of feeling nothing you do could destroy it all.

Imagine an employee who did not provide value. Or if he provided value, the value could be perceived negative. Interrupting others from creating value. Breaking things. Creating artifacts that would make further work harder. I used to believe these people should be fired. But I've also experienced now what I feel is extraordinary safety: supporting these people. Helping them over long periods of time. Thinking firing would almost be an option out of reach, even if it wasn't.

I'm realizing that action sends a message stronger than anything I've experienced before. It's safe. Safe to fail. Safe to be incomplete. Safe to try things out and learn.

That's a level of safety I'd now like to aspire for. Safety in the sense that it feels the current results-oriented world has little room for. 


  1. Great post - thx for making me think - and consider some of the things I've done / said in the past.

  2. I think I followed you up until the last point.
    Having trust is great - I don't know if I could operate without it. Having the privilege to fail occasionally with no repercussions is also a must, but I'm missing you out at the part of keeping a negative-performing employee for long.
    I have worked alongside someone who, despite being very enthusiastic (and a very nice person), was performing terribly. After the "new guy in the team" grace period it took us some time to notice that he was doing horribly on every task. After a while it seemed that we can't help him do any better - nothing we tried helped. The toll it was taking on everyone involved was tremendous - He was frustrated and therefore very emotional (I think it got once to shouting between him and another team member), I noticed that my disapproval of his professional incapability was seeping into our personal relationship to the point where I was relieved in days he wasn't at the office. In addition, the extra work each team member had to do was taking its toll as well.
    Knowing that despite all relevant managers knew about the difficulties he was having he was not removed from the team did not make me feel safe. If anything, it made me feel undervalued, that it did not matter if I did a good job or not. I also felt that my manager was incompetent - that instead of making it easier for me to do my work, he was stacking more problems on me (and the rest of the team as well).

    Is this a price worth paying for that sense of safety? I'd say no. I would say that part of being safe is also knowing that I'm valuable to have, and if something will happen (say, I will decide to immigrate, or will quarrel thoroughly with my management), I have the skills to be employed elsewhere and that I'm not around here as a charity case.

    1. What I was saying is that I'm seeing (and appreciating) the difference in the sense of safety when you go a long way to help someone who isn't. I too believe there is a limit, but for most cases, the limit is low.

      The reason I value this is that I am quick to kick people out as "unproductive". And with seeing someone I think of as "hopeless" and "eating everyone else's morale" being supported and ever so slightly coming round to learning, it makes me feel that I am quick to judge.

      In this case, it was not my choice to make. But it made me realize it was not just (my) bad manager. Things like this (others feeling unsatisfied with someone's work and the person staying) happened all around the company. The safety to a point much longer than I would consider usual kept everyone feeling they can fail.