How to Create a Culture of Safety in Your Organization

How do you create a culture of safety

It’s important to have a culture of safety in your organization.

A culture of safety is one where people feel psychologically safe, where they feel free to speak up, share ideas, admit mistakes, ask for help, bring up problems, disagree, and share feedback because they know their leaders and coworkers are there to support and help them, not judge or “get” them.

A culture of safety has so many benefits. In a culture of safety:

  • Employees are motivated and engaged
  • Productivity is higher
  • Turnover is lower
  • Ideas are shared
  • Innovation happens
  • Employees feel heard and valued
  • Problems are revealed early
  • Better decisions are made
  • Information is freely passed around
  • More revenue is earned
  • The organization is able to accomplish its mission faster and better.

So, then the question is, how do you build a culture of safety? Here are 30 actions you can take to make that happen.

1. Encourage mistakes

Encourage mistakes (the right kind, of course – see the article about employees making mistakes).

Be about learning and solving problems, not punishing. Reward people for trying new things, innovating, and taking risks, even if they fail. When discussing mistakes, ask what they learned from it, and depending on the mistake, what steps they can take to fix it.

As Ray Daleo said, “Create a culture in which it is okay to make mistakes and unacceptable not to learn from them.”

“Create a culture in which it is okay to make mistakes and unacceptable not to learn from them.” – Ray Daleo Share on X

Listen to Podcast: Episode 10: Make It Safe

2. Ask for feedback

One of the best ways to start encouraging people to speak up, disagree, and share information is to ask for feedback yourself.

Ask for it, encourage, draw it out, and receive it well.

Don’t get defensive or upset. Even if you disagree, tell them “thank you” and praise them for sharing that feedback.

3. Listen to ideas and implement what you can

In a similar vein, ask for and listen to the ideas of your team and employees.

Welcome them. Praise them for sharing. Implement the ideas you can and that make sense and explain when you can’t (as much as you can).

Create a system for listening and feedback.

Especially if people don’t feel comfortable speaking up, an anonymous system for sharing can be helpful. And when people share, make sure to respond and act on the feedback.

That will let people know you are serious and encourage others to share.

4. Set clear expectations

Make sure to set clear expectations about the behaviors you expect and the ones that aren’t tolerated.

If you expect people to share ideas and disagreements in meetings, say so. If you expect people to encourage each other and support each other in mistakes and silly ideas, say so.

Then, after you set expectations:

5. Model the behaviors you want

“Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t work. If you want a safe culture, if you want people to exhibit positive behaviors, you must model it yourself.

If you don’t, you will just be seen as a hypocrite and no change will be made.

6. Don’t tolerate negative behaviors

Create culture of safety - Don’t tolerate negative behaviors

At the same time, don’t tolerate negative behaviors. As the saying goes, “You get what you tolerate.”

It doesn’t matter if the person is a top performer, if the person exhibits negative behaviors, stop it.

Even if that person is successful now, in the long run, it will hurt your team, your culture, and your productivity. On top of that, people won’t think you are serious if you don’t hold everyone to the same standard.

Also Read: A Comprehensive Guide on How to Manage Difficult Employees

7. Show trust toward your team

Show trust in your team. Set clear expectations, provide them the support they need, and give them autonomy to reach those expectations.

The more trust you show your team, the greater the trust they will show in return.

8. Put people first

Put people first. If people know they are just seen as an expense to lop off whenever they won’t feel cared for.

Put people over profits. It may “hurt” you short term, but the long-term effects will be great.

9. Care about and show respect to your team

Care about your team. Depending on your position and the size of your company, you can’t get to know everyone, but you can get to know your direct team.

If possible, learn about their career goals and dreams. Help them accomplish them if you can.

If people are struggling, offer the support you can.

Show respect. Never belittle or make them feel stupid. Treat their ideas and concerns as valid.

10. Be open and transparent with information

Don’t withhold information – that will just hurt you.

Unless there are legal or such reasons not to share information, share information freely.

People will feel more trusted, information won’t be seen as a power tool, and people can make better decisions because they have better information.

11. Respond well to people sharing feedback, problems, and ideas

It doesn’t matter how much you say you want to hear people’s ideas and feedback or about problems if you respond negatively when they share it with you.

Never shoot the messenger. Don’t get irritated when people ask for help. Don’t get defensive.

Instead, tell them thank you and praise them for bringing it up and sharing it with you.

12. Encourage questioning

Encourage people to question.

Encourage them to question ideas, policies, procedures, plans, and decisions. It’s by questioning and examining those that we get better policies, procedures, plans, and decisions.

13. Put decision-making closer to the problem

Put decision-making closer to the problem

Put decision-making as close to the problem as you can. This is not only a sign of trust, but it also makes sense.

Those at the problem generally know more about the problem than you do. You want to give them the ability to solve the problems they face without having to always come to you for permission or guidance.

If they mess up, that’s okay, help them learn from it so they don’t make the same mistake again.

14. Encourage ideas, innovation, and risk

Encourage it with your words and actions. Praise those who take risks and innovate. Praise those who share off-the-wall ideas.

15. Set a clear mission and values – and live them

Make sure you have a clear mission for your organization and/or team and clear values – and make sure you live them.

Then help everyone see how what they do aligns with the mission and emphasize the importance of the mission and values.

When you have a clear mission and values, it solves many questions with decisions and direction – everything must align with your mission and values.

Having a set mission and goals also helps unify your people around one direction versus everyone having their own goals working against one another.

16. Give and show purpose to what employees do

Make sure employees see purpose in what they do. Help them see how their work helps accomplish the mission of the organization.

Show how it helps customers or others in the organization to do their jobs better. Help them see how their work not only helps the organization, but it helps them in their career goals as well.

17. Focus on supporting your people, not finding them doing wrong

Your focus should be one of service, not compliance or finding people doing wrong.

When you meet your team or walk around the office, your mentality shouldn’t be about catching them doing wrong, it should be about helping them and supporting them.

18. Encourage disagreement and dissent

You want people to disagree about ideas and decisions because it’s how you get the best ideas and decisions.

You want people to argue about ideas and tasks. That’s healthy conflict. It’s when you attack one another that it’s unhealthy.

You want to encourage people to disagree. Initially, you may have to ask questions and draw them out. “What could go wrong with this idea?” or “6 months from now, our decision failed – what went wrong?”

You also want to make clear that you all are about the best idea, not one’s own idea.

Separate the idea from the person. Make sure people know that disagreeing with one’s idea is not disagreeing with them as a person.

19. Admit your mistakes

Admit your mistakes. When you mess up, say so. Don’t hide it.

If you hide it, others will likely do the same (and it makes you less trustworthy, because often people already see your mistakes).

Admitting your mistakes encourages a culture where sharing mistakes is okay.

20. Ask for help (and admit when you don’t know)

If you need help with something, ask. Model that behavior. If you don’t know something, say so. By doing so you are showing others that that behavior is okay, normal, and welcome.

21. Reward people for the behavior you want

Create culture of safety - Reward people for the behavior you want

When someone admits a mistake, praise them for it. When someone asks for help or brings up a problem, praise them for it, especially if in a meeting.

Write thank you notes.

Find ways to reward those who do the behavior you want, and you will start getting more of that behavior.

22. Measure psychological safety

It could be a good idea to measure how safe people feel speaking up, sharing ideas, and admitting mistakes and problems.

One way this can be done is by an anonymous survey which can help you gauge where your people are at.

23. Create ways for people to call a time out

When there is a mistake or problem, Toyota has a cord that employees can pull to stop the line so the problem can be addressed.

You may not have a cord that people can pull, but having a system or a way for people to call a time-out so a problem can be addressed can be incredibly helpful.

And, even if there is no problem and it was a false call, praise them for doing so, otherwise people will fear being wrong to call it.

24. Focus on solutions and learning, not blame and punishment

Make sure your focus isn’t on finding who’s to blame or making sure people get punished. Your focus should be on finding solutions, solving problems, and learning.

Yes, if someone is exhibiting negative behaviors and is unwilling to change, or they are making lazy mistakes and will not learn or change, then, yes, you may have to do consequences, but your focus, in general, isn’t about blame or punishment, but learning and solutions.

25. Take ownership

Don’t blame. If you blame, you create an environment where others do the same (and it builds a weak culture in itself).

Model by taking ownership and focusing on fixing problems instead of finding someone else to blame.

26. Share credit

When good things happen, pass the credit to others. It builds goodwill with your team and those around you.

27. Focus on serving, not being served

Make sure you have the right focus and motive. Be about serving, not being served.

Be about your team and mission, not yourself.

When you are about yourself, people know, and it will hurt your ability to build a great culture.

28. Grow an “us” mentality

Grow an “us” mentality

The mentality you should work to build on your team is one of “us”.

When mistakes happen, when problems pop up, the mentality isn’t, “It’s their problem”, it should be “our” problem. Your team should be about helping one another succeed, not seeing one another as competition.

Even across departments, that’s why it’s important to build a strong mission and to emphasize it. Everyone is working together as a team toward a common goal and purpose.

 It’s not marketing against sales, it’s marketing and sales working together to accomplish the mission.

29. Don’t shoot down ideas too fast

Be careful about shooting down ideas too fast or being a wet blanket.

Yes, some ideas may be silly or may not work, but if you dismiss ideas too fast without considering or vetting them, people are less likely to share in the future.

And, often, those ideas can spur other ideas that could be beneficial.

30. Know it may take time

Especially if your employees have been living in a toxic culture and one of fear, it may take time to turn it around.

It will take time for people to know you are serious and feel safe speaking up.

That’s okay.

Practice these ideas in this article and, over time, you should start seeing a change.

The effort is worth it

Creating a safe culture will take time and effort, but it will be worth it.

You will have more engaged, loyal, and motivated employees who aren’t just coming to work for the paycheck but because they love where they work and what they do.

Your employees will be more productive, ideas that can move the company forward will be generated and shared, and revenue will be higher than it would be otherwise.

Grow to be the leader you need to be and create an environment of safety.

Now to you: Are there any other ways to build a safe culture that you have found works? Let us know in the comments below.

And, if you need more help with building a culture of safety, make sure to connect with us.

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