There's a popular commercial from a well-known chip manufacturer. The scene starts in a boardroom with a manager describing a new plan or idea to the group.
One team member at the table raises his hand and shares an idea. Next scene — same boardroom except the member who raised his hand with a new idea is gone.
The commercial explains how that wouldn't happen at its company, that it supports the person who "thinks differently" and tells the audience how their company excels by encouraging free thinkers.
The first company did not practice the theory of psychological safety whereas the message in the commercial was in support of it. What is psychological safety? From Wikipedia:
"Psychological safety is a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking. It can be defined as 'being able to show and employ oneself without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career."
In psychologically safe teams, members feel accepted and respected. In a psychologically unsafe workplace, managers are autocratic — my way or the highway type of managers. This type of organization builds teams who resemble themselves, as in what many describe as an "old boy network." There are government leaders who believe psychological safety is unimportant. They don't hesitate to use the word "stupid" to describe anyone who objects or disagrees with their circle's opinion.
Silicon Valley companies were the first adopters of the theory of psychological safety. It makes common sense to understand that rapidly changing and evolving companies must create an environment of free thought. Magic happens in free thought.
Managers in a psychologically safe workplace are accessible and encourage questions and debates.
They demonstrate that mistakes can become learning opportunities. They commonly share what they have found works and share past struggles and how they overcame them. They solve problems and lead with vulnerability.
Show of hands. Where do you want to work?
This doesn't mean there isn't accountability. All levels are held accountable to the plan's outcomes and its team members. In a psychologically safe system, you'll find performance improvement plans instead of discipline processes.
When a manager becomes aware of an issue with an employee's performance, there are two ways to deal with it. Do you try to improve performance or is it a disciplinary issue?
These are two distinct processes. Performance improvement manages poor performance and discipline deals with bad behavior. Poor performance can be a learning opportunity. But everyone enjoys when bad behavior is eliminated. Managers' knowledge of which to use supports psychological safety.
Here are some tips on developing psychological safety in your workplace:
Create mechanisms in which senior management is available and accessible to all employees.
Create inspiration by telling stories of challenges met and lessons learned.
Be secure enough to allow managers to be empowered in their roles.
Encourage managers to ask questions.
Encourage managers to share their mistakes and share ideas on how to overcome them.
Hold yourself and others around you accountable.
Copy the leader's behavior in creating a psychologically safe environment.
Be secure enough to allow employees to be empowered in their roles.
Never discipline employees for reporting a problem.
Encourage the sharing of ideas without fear or intimidation.Learn the difference between performance improvement and discipline.Hold yourself and your team members accountable.
See the theme? HR leaders are advocates for creating psychologically safe environments. Studies have shown it can be the key to effective teams.
Your company can take steps to ensure that employees feel not only empowered in their roles, but they also feel safe to strive for professional growth where every member of the organization achieves their goals.