The importance of psychological safety

How much do you know about the value of psychological safety at work? Not enough businesses place value on this, when in fact, it should be their number one priority. By believing in people and giving them the space to make mistakes in an attempt to express themselves, you're giving your business the best chance possible to fly!

The importance of psychological safety


Psychological Safety sounds really complicated doesn’t it?

It sounds like you need to be a doctor, or at least have a master’s degree, to understand it. Well let’s put that to bed and, in a world where everything is so complicated, talk about it in simple terms.

It’s “the belief that anyone can speak up without risk of punishment or humiliation.”

Employers often talk about how this happens within their company, however, the reality is it hardly ever happens.

As a start-up, or indeed in any organisation, if you make this your number one priority and deliver on it, you’ll have the basis for an amazing business. This approach will benefit the owners and everyone employed within the company.

So, what does it mean?

There are four pretty simple areas to psychological safety. The theory is easy, but the implementation comes from brave, talented people who get it - and finding them is the challenge.

Timothy Clark’s book, The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety, provides an excellent framework:

1. Inclusion Safety

Do you work for a non-status organisation? That means anyone, irrespective of rank or pay grade, is listened to, valued and given the same opportunity to contribute to the organisation?

Years ago, 80% of the new products for United Biscuits came from the staff suggestion box. What does that say? It says the best ideas are going to come from your people. If you genuinely ask people, empower them, value them, include them and celebrate with them you’re in with a real chance.

Is that your company? I’m sensing lots of head shaking…

2. Learner Safety

To grow (accepted as a basic human need) we all need to be able to engage in multiple aspects of the learning process without fear of being rejected or neglected. In general, this doesn’t happen at school and it doesn’t happen in our social lives, so what’s the chance it’s happening for you at work?

Do you genuinely feel able to make mistakes on the basis that everyone knows it’s part of the learning process and you can’t succeed without failing along the way?

More head shaking…

3. Contributor Safety

The vast majority of humans have a deep desire to play in the game, to contribute and be part of the future. Very few people come to work with the express idea of having a bad day. Quite the reverse, people turn up wanting to have a great day until people and events knock it out of them day after day after day.

This is about educating and developing people so they are prepared to play. In sporting terms, you start on the bench and as you become more able you get more game time. Everyone in the wider team is a contributor, not just those on the pitch at any one time.

Does your company let you play in the game and contribute the skills you have, whilst developing new ones in you?

It’s the exchange of autonomy for results.

4. Challenger Safety 

Are you encouraged to challenge the status quo, whether at home, at work or in your social life?

The best teams always challenge the status quo because there is always a better way of doing what you’re doing now, even if you’re doing it well. This is how disruptor companies develop. They find innovative ways to do things that are more efficient, making the old way obsolete. For people, intellectual challenge is progressive and personal challenge is destructive.

So, what’s going to make the difference in your workplace? How can you ensure that psychological safety exists?

Two key principles:

1. Do the owners of the business buy into it and is it genuinely modelled from the top down? Anything not modelled top down has little chance of working. Anything that matters to the Senior Team, that they passionately believe in, will filter through the business as a core belief.

2. And this is huge… Are the managers in the organisation (and by that, I mean Team Leaders, First Line Managers, Senior Managers, every level) trained, developed and bought into the principles of psychological safety?

If they are, and they are supported, you’re in with a great chance of creating an environment where people want to come to work and express their best ideas and achieve great things. If your managers are underprepared or just not good enough, you have no chance. They will willingly or unwillingly destroy the hopes and dreams of some fantastic people.

The message from this article is as simple as it gets:

To employers:

If you want your organisation to fly, take this stuff seriously. Implement it. But more than that, be someone who invests in it and believes the best resource you’ll ever have to create something amazing is the people who work with you.

And to employees:

Make this your top priority when you’re searching out a new company for your next role.

It’s a game changer…

If you would like to find out more about how we can help your company and workforce grow, why not request a FREE consultancy call?

Written by Peter Thorp, a performance coach and programme facilitator at alterniq inspired growth. 

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