by Zach Montroy
I love an effective tool for encouraging personal and organizational growth. Today, we’ll be diving into one of my favorite paradigms for determining the health of an organization or company. I’ll introduce you to the concept of psychological safety, and what it looks like in real life.
My work doesn’t aim to reinvent the wheel – it aims to help you use powerful tools to your advantage – and that of your company. Self awareness creates an environment that encourages growth. My job is to help you understand where you are and where you need to go in order to create a healthy company.
What Does “Psychological Safety” Mean?
The concept of “psychological safety” as a construct at work was first defined by Amy Edmondson – an organizational behavioral scientist. She offered this definition: “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.”
Google became a high profile company to embrace this idea and develop strategic materials around it. I like the list of qualities described by Google’s Re:Work program on this topic. In this case, psychological safety comes from dependability, structure and clarity, meaning, and impact. A team is psychologically safe when team members feel comfortable to take risks and show vulnerability to one another.
When employees trust one another to get things done correctly and on time, they experience a high level of psychological safety. There’s no fear that they’ll have to shoulder extra burdens or check up often on one another.
Structure and Clarity
When team members understand their roles and place in the organization, they feel safe. They feel free to innovate, ask questions, and enjoy their roles. They have clear goals and understand what’s expected of them.
When work feels important to team members, they feel empowered and encouraged. Meaning is a key component of psychological safety in a work environment. Providing a work environment that offers meaning to employees makes a big difference.
When team members understand that their work has an impact on a broader scale, they feel a sense of psychological safety. Taking the time to outline the real world impact of work pays big dividends.
Psychological Safety Leads to Real Impact
As the leader of an organization, you’re likely used to looking for results. It can be tempting to think only of immediate benefits…and when you’re talking about psychological safety, the benefit to the company’s bottom line isn’t always obvious.
Here’s where my personal philosophy comes in. Bottom line is impacted by the health of your organization. How often (and how catastrophically) have we witnessed leaders and companies destroyed by the shadow sides they worked so hard to conceal and deny? One of the best ways to ensure long term productivity (and revenue) for your company is to ensure that its members are thriving. This creates success and innovation.
People Perform Best When They Feel Safe
What motivates people most? Fear is one way to motivate. However, the benefits are short lived. In the long term, a culture of fear and intimidation will lead to burnout and high employee turnover. We witnessed some of the effects of toxic culture during the current “Great Resignation.” A recent study ranked “toxic work culture” as one of the top predictors of attrition during this period. Other predictors included “job insecurity and reorganization” and “failure to recognize employee performance.”
A wise leader will recognize that longevity is a worthy goal. Costs of employee turnover are high, both monetarily and in man hours. Retaining and encouraging great team members is good for everyone – including your revenue goals.