Message to Team: “Whatever you do, don’t take risks!”

caution-tape, croppedWhen I saw this article recently on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, I thought it was a joke. Unfortunately, it was not April 1st and the article was for real.

Here is the title: “Safety Cops Patrol the Office For High Heels.” Seriously? You can see why I thought it was a joke.

The article tells us that employees at some companies now have to document daily safety risks including “walking across the street, entering restaurant, sitting down and eating meal.” I’office helmetm not kidding.

At some companies, employees are required to document at least two safety infractions each month – like holding open an elevator door for a colleague. (How horrible!)

The article goes on to say that employees at Exxon Mobil Corp. in Irving, Texas recently positioned themselves in the stairway to determine if people were using the handrail. (Really? This was the best use of their time?)

Please understand that I do not mean to make light of workplace safety. It is a very real issue – for people operating wood chippers and stump grinders. These are office workers.

Now think for a minute about the message this sends to people in an organization with these ridiculous safety policies. That’s right – whatever you do, don’t take a risk. Don’t take initiative. Don’t do anything differently than in the past. Don’t step out of “the box”. And above all, don’t even think about innovating.

Someone in these organizations who sees the bigger picture needs to intervene.

Lead So Your People Think Like Founders

Leaders, cropped

Peter Thiel was a co-founder of PayPal and the first outside investor in Facebook. When he offers insights on how big companies can be more like startups, it’s worth listening.

His observaPaypal-Logotion is that companies can be innovative and agile when they are led by founders or a person who is as close to a founder as possible. He goes on to observe that “founders are often able to make more choices and take more risk and have more inspiration than more politically minded CEOs.”

So, what does this mean to you as a leader in your organization? Let’s focus on his characterization as close to a founder as possible. Well, firFacebook-logo-PSDst off what are the traits of a founder? There is no on uniform template, but in general founders tend to be visionaries. They need to comfortable taking risks and have a reasonable amount of courage to do so.

So, will your people be more innovative and take more initiative if they exhibit these traits? Yes, very likely. Should you work to make them more comfortable taking risks like founders do, though likely not on the same scale? Yes.

I talk at length in my books, presentations, coaching, posts, etc. about the need to create an organizational culture that encourages and rewards intelligent well-executed risks. As you do this in your organization, it may help you to think in terms of creating a setting where you people are given the permission to think a bit like founders.

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The interview referenced in this post is accessible at: http://online.wsj.com/articles/peter-thiel-on-why-big-companies-dont-think-like-startups-1414962990

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