Exquisite Risk: Why Social Connection Eats Rules

We have come to the understanding that risk cannot be eliminated, but it can be mitigated through various operational processes and technologies. Still, the effectiveness of these methods remains hampered in most organizations 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 people’s actions will stay in line with what their social connections expect of them. To go against that would mean taking an exquisite risk—a term that means being willing to risk letting others know us as we are even though it may mean rejection (Mark Nepo).

Ironically then, reducing risks that lead to injury, death, fraud, or financial loss means promoting a willingness to take exquisite risk—the willingness to speak up, do what you think is right even though it goes against the norm. That is because in order to make sense of risk, we need to commune and converse with others; it is a social activity.

My struggle to embrace authenticity has led me to adopting concepts like Self-Leadership and Self-Responsibility. They, 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, I began to realize that outward success didn’t lessened 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 they found out they would not like me. The sense of falling short can be quite exhausting, and I am sure keeps 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. This is very difficult in the USA, the #1 individualistic culture according to Hofstede. So, at first, I felt a sense of shame and weakness. The research from neuroscience showing that we are constructed to need this connectivity transformed my thinking. Belonging is part of being human.

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 the majority of individuals have a high need for inclusion. It makes sense to address these needs in the workplace if we want full engagement and top performance.

Social Connection Eats Rules. 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 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, but even on the micro level of 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 network 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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