The Need to Break Out of the Safety Space

The safety space is a natural way of structuring the environment in the context of control and direction. The employees are likely to develop mental models that justify the management's role of protector, and themselves for taking on roles defined by management. This structure is inclusive, meaning that an employee who in turn becomes a manager, as a result of a job promotion, will most likely create a safety sub-space for individuals depending on him or her. In the context of a hierarchical organization, a promotion towards the top of the hierarchy becomes the ultimate understanding of growth by the employees. It takes a substantial amount of mindfulness and willpower—qualities rarely developed inside the safety space—to build a sub-structure of a different nature.

The key implication here is that a hierarchical organization that values structure more than the intrinsic potential of its employees, does not have the ability to evolve with the changes in the business environment. Essentially, the scope of the safety space of the organization, which defines its core capability and possibility of engagement with the market, is super-imposed by the founder or the CEO. The employees operate within the boundaries of the organization, and have little means to shape them. This results in a static organization, one restrictive to change and incapable of reacting timely to the disruptions in the marketplace. As a counter example, think of Gmail, which was created by an employee as a side project within Google, as well as many other side projects created by Google employees that are now part of their core business. This would never happen in the highly structured environment of one of the world's top banks. Organizations rarely give employees real power to drive their business or to change the boundaries of the organizational safety spaces.

Deci and Ryan identified three conditions to facilitate intrinsic motivation in a structured organization: mastery (or a feeling of competence), autonomy (or internally perceived locus of causality), and relatedness (or association and acceptance of values, of a profound individual or a group). These conditions, if implemented by an organization, allow employees to experience higher levels of intrinsic motivation within existing boundaries, since they give individuals room to realize their learning potential. This capacity for growth, however, is limited by the boundaries of the organization's safety space. The real capacity for growth lies outside, in the learning space. To leverage it, organizations need to loosen up the importance of structure and let the employees break out of their safety spaces to tap into higher cognitive, emotional and physical capacities, shaping the boundaries of the organization in conjunction with the constantly evolving business environment.

Responsible People Thrive on Freedom, and are Worthy of Freedom

Our model is to increase employee freedom as we grow, rather than limit it, to continue to attract and nourish innovative people, so we have better chance of long-term continued success.[1]

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  • [1] Netflix (2009). Netflix Culture: Freedom & Responsibility. Available at: (accessed: June 11, 2014).
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