How do you create a safe learning environment?

by Danique Geskus | Sep 27, 2023

The Good(!) Conversation thrives in a climate where employees can see mistakes as learning opportunities. In such a work environment, they do not have the fear of being judged, but they rejoice in having a (coaching) manager. For example, a manager who is happy when they feel the openness to say they don’t know something, can’t do something yet or made a mistake before.

When Thomas Edison failed to make a working light bulb after countless attempts, he was asked how it felt to deal with these failures over and over again. To that he replied, “I have not failed, I have simply found thousands of ways that don’t work.” Edison saw setbacks as part of a long road to success. Without those thousands of failures, this inventor would never have arrived at a working light bulb.


Falling and rising in a safe climate

Learning and development involves trial and error, and that can make you sick, weak and nauseous. Depending on the situation, employees need to let go of the old familiar, leave their comfort zone and enter the fear zone when they get a handle on something new. That process can be met with resistance (“that doesn’t apply to me”) and lead to stagnation (“I’ve been working this way for years”). Yet the truth is that most people are not afraid of the new, they are more afraid to leave the old behind.


The first step to a safe learning environment

Everyone can continuously improve themselves. But the willingness to grow rises as the fear of failure falls. What helps for employees is a role model (a supervisor or coach) who they trust and supports them to develop, in a safe environment. Employees who fear failure have never learned to feel safe, according to organizational psychologist George Kohlrieser. According to him, a secure base makes for less or no fear of the new and unknown, and it also keeps employees from giving up.

“If a manager does not provide a safe foundation, employees do not dare to experiment or take risks. Those who are afraid are only protecting themselves and are primarily focused on minimizing loss rather than being successful and winning.”

(G. Kohlrieser)


What is a learning climate with LEF?

A safe foundation to start learning is a learning climate with LEF (book “Mistakes make courage” by Remko van der Drift) and LEF stands for:

  • Allow others to shine: Allowing others to fail and develop by spotlighting their learning. Space for the employee, mistakes are allowed.
  • Andinstead of “but. Accept and take advantage of situations that go wrong. Saying “yes” to what is happening AND seeing it as an opportunity to try new things. So it may go wrong
  • Enjoyment of failure: Allowing the employee to enjoy trying new things and learning from them. Mistakes are allowed.


A good learning climate, reinforce what works!

Scientific research shows that when effective behaviors are named and indicate when employees use their talents well, it results in an average 35% performance improvement! This performance drops by as much as 23% when emphasis is placed on mistakes made. Leverage employees’ strengths (reinforce what works!) and see mistakes as learning opportunities for further developing these strengths or developing a new one.

“Mistakes are only mistakes if we have to do the same thing over and over again. On the assembly line, for example. In our contemporary work, usually in the form of projects, they are an irrational fear. After all, every project, every day even, is different. Think of mistakes as non-working options and there is nothing left to fear.”

(Jeroen Busscher)


Want to know more?

Want to learn more about revamping your HR cycle? Also read our blog “The modern HR cycle: tips, examples and everything you need to know!”.

Gratis downloads

Chart low and high performers with objective evaluations

Additional Resource

All resources >

Maandelijkse nieuwsbrief

Aanmelding voor nieuwsbrief voordelen