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Exquisite Risk: Why Social Connection Eats Rules, Law, Values, Etc.

We have come to the understanding that risk cannot be eliminated, and it can be mitigated through various operational processes and technologies. Still, the effectiveness of these mitigation is hampered when those in power do not recognize the most powerful force that drives human behavior. This force is the need to belong. This need is the reason why most people’s actions will stay in line with what their social connections expect of them. To go against those expectations would mean taking an exquisite risk—a term that means being willing to risk rejection by speaking or acting in authentic ways that reveal our innermost selves (Mark Nepo).

Ironically, urging an employee to speak up to reduce actions that lead to injury, death, fraud, or financial loss means promoting a willingness to take an exquisite risk—do and say what you think is right even though it goes against your social group’s expectations.

My struggle to speak up has led me to adopting concepts like Self-Leadership and Self-Responsibility. It has worked well for me. These philosophies, along with my mother and other significant mentors, have contributed to my growth from a poverty-stricken childhood in Mexico to a world traveller consulting to major companies on leadership development.

Nevertheless, outward success didn’t lessen the sense of personal risk I felt each time I wrote an article or stepped in front of people as a teacher or expert. Almost everything I did was in spite of the fear that I might be found to be insufficient. I felt something was wrong with me and if people knew the real me they would not like me. This sense of falling short was quite exhausting, and kept me from fully using my talents.

A huge step on my path to authenticity has been to accept that I have an immense need for belonging.

A huge step on my path to authenticity has been to accept that I have an immense need for belonging. This is very difficult in the USA, where the #1 cultural trait is individualism according to Hofstede. At first, I felt a sense of shame and weakness. The realization that I did not fit in explained for me why I wasn’t more successful in being heard.

This temporary misconception was lifted by new knowledge. “Knowledge is power” indeed! The research from neuroscience showing that we are constructed to need connectivity transformed my thinking. Belonging is part of being human. It makes sense to address the need for inclusion in the workplace if we want full engagement and top performance.

If you are a strong individualist with a low need for inclusion you might be tempted to stop reading. I hope you will turn on your leadership mindset and continue. Most of the world cultures are not individualistic, and a 2018 study of the Milgram experiments has pretty much confirmed that the majority of individuals have a need for inclusion. The original Milgram experiments were thought to be limited to an individual’s response to authority, but listening to the original interviews with new scientific understanding reveals that “obedience” was the reason given, but the motivation was inclusion.

Social Connection Eats Rules. As the Milgram experiments shows, it pretty much eats values and beliefs as well. You may see where I am going in theory, but what to do with this knowledge?

You have a written rule or procedure, but it does not become part of the work routine unless there is a sense that you must do it that way or pretty close if you want to continue to belong to a significant group. This becomes truer the more the new procedure interferes with the usual work routine.

Implications for action:

  1.  Have a few rules that count. With the amount of time and energy it takes to get buy-in and implementation, you can’t afford a lot of rules. Otherwise you risk losing credibility by having rules that aren’t peer enforced out there.
  2. Create an inclusion process around the selection and introduction of new rules and operational processes. What makes people feel included? Respect, recognition of contribution and value of work, clarity of purpose, clarity of roles, and being heard. How do people know they are being heard? You implement their ideas and fix concerns.
  3. Know your social networks. Find out how people are connected and include those groups in discussions together. Do some cross-group communications with informal/ formal leaders. These conversations can start new social connections that will support implementation.
  4. Make sure all groups/ functions affected participate in the conversation. In addition to a sense of belonging the research shows that clarity of roles is important in creating a sense of security. Clearly describe the process, the expected outcomes, each person’s role and how it contributes to the larger picture.

You don’t need a lot of rules, procedures and processes to have a high performance organization. You need the buy-into and implementation of a few. In the meantime be conscious that people are trying to hold on to security and comfort. Changes, layoffs, mergers all threaten that stability, and even on the micro level of 1-1 social interaction we need to be aware that people are rigged to be vigilant. When we don’t hear “good morning” or “thank you” the default limbic system in the brain gets activated to protect us. Unfortunately, this leads to less learning, collaboration, trust, and listening. Which, or course, can lead to the failures we are trying to prevent with our rules and procedures.

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Rosa Antonia Carrillo

Rosa Antonia Carrillo, MSOD is a leadership and culture expert with an emphasis in environment safety and health. Her upcoming book, The Relationship Factor in Safety Leadership, is scheduled for publication by Routledge Publishing has been called required reading to understand the foundations of "safety culture" by Edgar Schein. Her ground breaking articles on relationship centered leadership, safety culture, mindful conversations, trust and open communication have gained the attention of of leaders world-wide. In recognition of her contributions, the Safety Institute of Australia invited her as the Wigglesworth Memorial Lecturer in 2015. She is president of Carrillo & Associates, Inc. a provider for employee engagement, leadership development, and coaching services for leaders of companies that want to achieve high performance in EHS while delivering business results. The C&A team delivers engaging leadership development workshops to executives, managers, supervisors and employees to help them transform into leaders who build collaborative, trusting, and motivating work environments. At the same time, given the unique challenges of operating a high- hazard facility, the training focuses on managing and enhancing employee performance as well as effective decision-making. Ms. Carrillo holds a Masters of Science in Organizational Development and is former adjunct faculty for the Presidential Key Executive MBA program at Pepperdine University.