Very rarely can leaders find a single solution for solving multiple challenges. Rarer still is the ability to drive universal change throughout an organisation with a single strategy when faced with so many moving parts affecting economies and employment, and day-to-day success. Creating psychological safety could prove the answer to many perplexing leadership problems.
Much more than the latest business buzz term
The concept of psychological safety is gaining increasing momentum. And when such a topic becomes a reoccurring focus of thought leadership, it often inspires forward-thinking leaders and encourages conversation. A by-product of this can be the creation of buzz that diminishes the latest strategic thinking as jargon or a passing fad. Psychological safety is distinct from this because it’s something that exists, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. And it is so practical and effective in its implementation, that to not harness its power is a huge opportunity missed.
In its simplest terms, psychological safety is the concept of an environment where everyone feels safe – safe to share ideas, safe to ask questions and to express concerns and safe to fail. These factors can support organisations in addressing the myriad of complex, and most pressing challenges they face; whether that’s employee retention issues (think the Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting), creating diverse and inclusive cultures, and, in driving high performance.
Cultivating it can be challenging. It’s not as simple as asking ‘does psychological safety exist in my organisation?’ It’s subjective; every individual within a team will have a different experience of it from their peers. And it’s incredibly delicate. One throwaway comment dismissing someone’s contribution can shatter it. As such, it needs to be maintained and nurtured with care.
Everyone within an organisation contributes to it and has the power to disrupt it, but the most powerful players remain the leaders. They have the power to set the tone by way of their own example and within the environment they cultivate within their teams.
When done well, it can be transformative with the potential to penetrate nearly every aspect of an organisation. Here’s three key ways it can help your organisation, whatever is on your agenda:
No one likes having their mistakes exposed - not least to their colleagues – but, so much opportunity is lost due to the fear of getting it wrong and embarrassment that follows. But failure is as inevitable as it is necessary. It’s where innovation thrives. We need it to help us recalibrate our efforts, refine our approach, hone our technique, to help us get it right next time. In my experience, the best ideas come around after working through a number of bad ones first.
Employees who are involved in the day-to-day will have the greatest knowledge and experience of what customers want, the problems they’re keen to solve and the opportunities they want to capitalise on. All too often, many team members may feel their views aren’t important or it’s not their place to make suggestions. Or, even worse, they may believe they’ll expose themselves to embarrassment if they get or say something wrong.
If you can successfully create this culture in your teams, employees are more likely to express their ideas, take risks, and think creatively, leading to a more diverse range of ideas and innovative solutions.
People need to feel safe enough to flag potential issues. When people don’t feel confident enough to do so - perhaps they don’t feel it’s their place or perhaps they just don’t think they’ll be listened to - things can go very wrong...
You only need to look at the banking crisis of 2008 to see how badly this can go. Triggered by ‘groupthink’ which sees people tow the party line and be risk-averse can actually prevented people from whistleblowing about critical issues in the company.
Fostering a ‘speak-up’ environment where everyone feels safe to raise concerns and believe they will be listened to is crucial to this.
There are many studies linking the impact of psychological safety to employee engagement and retention. When people are happy and engaged, they don’t want to leave and performance lifts. When people feel like they can lean on their teams for support, less errors are made and performance lifts. When people feel confident to explore new ideas, greater innovation happens and performance lifts.
Quite simply, psychological safety is a precursor to high performance.
If you’d like practical advice on how organisations can implement psychological safety to build trust and enhance performance, download our free whitepaper here.