We have an organisational obsession with performance. If we don’t perform at work, we don’t thrive, and we fail both individually and collectively. While there is good evidence for orienting work around appropriate goals, and being output focused to enhance performance, I’m suggesting that we are merely tinkering at the edges of true success! There is something else even more powerful, underpinning work-related human factors that works wonders as a stand-alone approach, and when combined with other factors amplifies their impact.
Psychological safety is the belief we can speak up without risk of humiliation or punishment. It is now well established that when we feel psychologically safe we:
- Make better decisions
- Experience healthier interpersonal relationships
- Work better in groups
- Are more innovative
- Execute our tasks more effectively
This is true across all organisations: from healthcare to finance, software engineering to construction. Whether you are running a weekly project team meeting or conducting an annual strategic planning off-site, fostering psychological safety will bring significant benefits to your organisation.
Psychological safety can make inclusion a reality. No matter who we are, a psychologically safe environment allows us to share our questions, ideas, concerns and mistakes. This inclusion facilitates mutual learning, helping performance in the volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world of work. If your organisation is on a journey to create inclusion, psychological safety is needed to help design and implement the changes to get there.
Psychological safety enables candour and challenge. This is not the same as kindness. It doesn’t mean accepting everyone’s ideas. It involves challenge, often direct challenge. But it is not a shield from accountability.
What does it look like in practice?
- Hearing difference voices in a meeting
- Offering ideas or challenge
- Reporting errors in a clinical or financial setting
- Admitting weaknesses or mistakes
To do this requires a culture of speaking up and being fearless. When we do, we learn, improve, innovate and perform better.
Creating psychological safety
We create psychological safety within CBO and for our clients, so that the consultant, the lawyer, the developer, the accountant, speak up.
We start with framing work as learning situations. Try saying the following:
- Things may be uncertain
- Decisions aren’t pre-determined
- We cannot know the future
Create the setting for people to speak up by letting them know:
- We want your voice
- We want your ideas
- You have a part to play
- You have knowledge we want to hear
Acknowledge your own mistakes and fallibility. Destigmatise failure. “I made a mistake there. Thank you for holding me accountable. Let’s reflect and see how I can improve.” It shows humility and creates more safety for others to speak up.
Use proactive enquiry to invite participation:
- I’m missing something here. What else could I see?
- What other ideas can we generate?
- Who has a different perspective?
And then respond productively. Acknowledge voices, ideas, concerns to show they are wanted and included.
Our default position should always be to lead by example. So, model curiosity and ask lots of questions. Be open and candid. Really listen to what people are saying. This creates safety and invites other voices to conversations and decisions.
Psychological safety is the anthesis to toxicity and the foundation of inclusivity. When you are performance focused, you should care about employee engagement, job satisfaction, culture and goal setting. But the key to success is to appreciate and leverage the power of psychological safety.
If you would like to understand and explore psychological safety within your own organisation, please contact Kate and have a chat.