Whether you lead a global corporation, develop software, advise clients, practice medicine, build homes or work in one of today’s state of the art factories that require sophisticated computer skills to manage complex production challenges, you are a knowledge worker.
As Professor Amy Edmondson of Harvard University identifies, just as the engine of growth in the industrial revolution was standardisation, with workers as labouring bodies, confined to execute ‘the one best way’ to get almost any task done, growth today is driven by ideas and ingenuity. People must bring their brains to work and collaborate with each other to solve problems and must accomplish work that’s perpetually changing. Organisations must find, and keep finding, new ways to create value to thrive over the long term. And creating value starts with putting the talent you have to its best and highest use.
For knowledge work to flourish, the workplace must be one where people feel able to share their knowledge! This includes sharing concerns, questions, mistakes and half formed ideas. In most workplaces today, people are holding back far too often. Reluctant to say or ask something that might somehow make them look bad. Amy uses the term “Psychological Safety” to explain the perceived levels of difference.
Increasing Psychological Safety can make the difference between a satisfied customer or angry customer sending a damaging tweet that goes viral. An accurate complex patient diagnosis or sending a patient home too early, between a near miss and an industrial accident, between strong headline performance and dramatic headline grabbing failure. This happens by creating a source of value creation within teams that allows your organisation to thrive in a complex, uncertain and increasingly interdependent world where people can pursue excellence.
Yet, according to Gallup, only 3 in 10 people believe that their opinions count at work. Organisations maybe focused on hiring talent, but to unleash this talent it is critical to create an environment where employees feel free to contribute ideas, share information and report mistakes. Employees are failing to speak up with potentially threatening or embarrassing content, or withholding ideas for improvement because they fear they will seen in a bad light, fear they will be labelled negatively or that by speaking up they will damage work relationships.
Psychological Safety promotes learning by helping people overcome interpersonal risk for engaging in learn-how behaviours. Even where technical programmes such as Total Quality Management are in place, research has shown that strengthening interpersonal climate matters and has an impact.
Amongst other case studies, a multi-year study at Google identified that Psychological Safety was the critical factor when explaining why some teams outperformed others.
Research has also shown that increasing Psychological Safety is also seen to increase employee engagement levels with an increase in trust and respect for the organisation and it’s leaders and organisations. This delivers the recognised benefits of engagement to the organisation such as reduced sickness, employee turnover and operating costs whilst seeing increased customer satisfaction and revenues.