What is Psychological Safety?
Let’s be honest, when we feel like we belong to a supportive team that encourages us to voice our insights without fear of judgment, we perform at our best. Think back to a time when you felt unstoppable, when life was going your way, and consider the circumstances that surrounded you. Where did support come from, and what did it feel like?
Psychological safety is the absence of fear when taking interpersonal risks. It means speaking up freely, without biting your tongue or mincing your words, and being able to share wild and new ideas or voice concerns at work or home. Organizations and teams that foster high psychological safety are more innovative, efficient, and high-performing. They also tend to retain talent. At home, it means open communication, fewer disagreements, and an increased likelihood of growth together.
Why Is This Important?
Putting it simply, when employees feel psychologically safe at work and at the home environment, they experience lower levels of stress, anxiety, and burnout. It supports overall wellbeing!
According to a study by McKinsey, despite the incredible benefits of psychological safety, it is not the norm. The behaviors that create psychological safety are often lacking in leadership teams and organizations. Their survey found that authoritative leadership behaviors of team leaders are detrimental to psychological safety. On the other hand, consultative leadership behaviors, such as soliciting input and consulting team members, as well as supportive leadership behaviors, such as supporting individual goals and leading with empathy, promote psychological safety.
I’ve never led a successful top-down, authoritative-style change program where the company realized all its benefits without losing top talent. Many organizations struggle with transparency and fail to take simple steps to solicit input. It’s crucial that every aspect of the change strategy and implementation does this to enable and foster psychological safety. Does yours…? If the answer is uncertain or a resounding no, it’s time to pause and reevaluate.
How this Applies to Change Management
One model that I love to use to check my Change Management strategy and implementation plans is David Rock’s SCARF Model. It’s a brain-based model that helps to explain human motivation and behavior and how we can be triggered into a reward or threat state. Hence, I used it to guide decisions and ensure alignment with my psychological safety goals.
It helps me ensure that my change roadmap, change communications and engagements such as, Q&A forums are planned with the social factors of SCARF in mind. By considering Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness, we can create an environment that supports psychological safety. Look at the examples below:
- Status: Clearly communicate the value and importance of each employee’s role in the change process. Recognize and highlight their expertise, skills, and contributions. Provide opportunities for individuals to showcase their abilities and make meaningful contributions to the change initiative.
- Certainty: Maintain open and transparent communication throughout the change process. Provide regular updates on the progress of change, including milestones, goals, and any adjustments to the plan. Address concerns and provide reassurance by offering clarity on how the change will impact individuals and their roles. For this point, leverage Design Thinking principles such as prototyping and role-playing to pilot and develop clarity of the impact of change before it happens.
- Autonomy: Empower employees to have a say in the change process by involving them in decision-making. Seek their input, ideas, and suggestions regarding the changes being implemented. Provide flexibility on how individuals adapt to the changes, allowing them to exercise autonomy within the boundaries of the change objectives.
- Relatedness: Foster a sense of camaraderie and collaboration among employees during the change process. Encourage open dialogue and active listening. Create opportunities for team-building activities, group discussions, and cross-functional collaborations to strengthen relationships and support a sense of unity. For this point, leverage Design Thinking principles such as co-creation, storytelling, and user-centricity.
- Fairness: Ensure fairness and equity in the change process by involving employees in a transparent manner. Seek diverse perspectives and opinions, as well as considering different viewpoints during decision-making. Address any concerns or conflicts promptly and impartially, ensuring that all employees are treated fairly throughout the change initiative.
Practical Digital Tools I Use
While the SCARF model becomes my go to for checking my strategy and planning, the digital tools I use activate everything. In this hybrid world, it is now rare that I have an in-person only meeting. There is almost always someone dialing in which means that inclusive use of digital tools is a must.
- Trello – I use it to co-create the change narrative and I also use it to project manage my client work as it’s transparent and enabled everyone to document progress and take ownership.
- Miro & Mural – I use it to co-develop and document the change impact assessment in real-time and develop consensus and buy-in as you go.
- Zoom and Team Breakouts – I use it to foster connectedness and to support divergent thinking before we come together and share the multitude of ways to solve a challenge.
- AhaSlides – I use it for gamification and for co-creation of ideas and voting.
- ChatGPT- I use it to synthesize my ‘scrubbed’ data after engagements, which is something I learned from a recent A.I course I sat with the team at Earth2Mars. It has reduced my documentation time and gave me back think time, engagement time and just time for myself!
If you are not acquainted with these tools or how to use them effectively for co-creation, reach out, and I’d be happy to connect to you incredible practitioners whose day job is to upskill professionals in digital tools to foster co-creation, connectedness, improve strategy development and increase psychological safety.
A commonly held misconception is that psychological safety is about being nice and feeling comfortable all the time. The key is to take risks in a safe environment – one without negative interpersonal consequences.
Quote by Amy Edmondson in Harvard Business Review written by Amy Gallo
In conclusion, embracing a human-centered approach that emphasizes co-creation and inclusion, while moving away from solution-led strategies, is crucial for promoting psychological safety. By consistently evaluating our change strategies and implementations through the lens of psychological safety, leveraging the SCARF Model, and incorporating design thinking principles, we can create an environment where teams thrive, individuals feel empowered to contribute their best and improve the state of their wellbeing overall.
Learn more about our Author: Cristina is a 90’s dance music loving, down to earth professional with a flare for keeping it real. She is fiercely committed to supporting organizations and individuals to unlock potential and grow with purpose. She has a demonstrated history of supporting clients, nationally and globally, through organizational transformation initiatives. Her strategy and transformation projects span technology, culture, experience programs, people and mindset, and place. As an educator she helps organizations and leadership teams build trust and develop cohesion and the skills to develop high-performing teams. With the ability to work across multiple verticals and industries, she is passionate about developing creative, meaningful and measurable solutions for organizations. She is a community builder and advocate for people-centered business practices and is a champion of new power models which acknowledges the wisdom of the collective. In action, she leads with compassion, directs with candor, and manages with agility.
*Disclaimer: This post was not generated by A.I. It is indeed written by a real life human. A pretty cool human in fact.