Psychological safety in the workplace has been getting a lot of traction in the midst of the pandemic. Do you feel like you can bring your whole self to your team and work? Many people cover or feel like they have to portray only certain parts of themselves with their team or at work, but in the face of remote and hybrid work environments, psychological safety is becoming more important than ever before.
Psychological safety is the belief that one can speak up without the risk of punishment or humiliation. It is the ideal that we should all be striving for, but what will it take to make psychological safety happen in the new future of remote and hybrid work? Psychological safety is the number one thing that all leaders, all businesses, all organizations need, especially in this future of work. Join me as I explore the critical importance of creating physiological safety as we face the future, the inner game skills that we need to cultivate, and the simple words that we can all use to increase psychological safety in the workplace and in the world. If we can create psychological safety at work just imagine what we can build in our world together.
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Carley Hauck 00:01
Hi, my name is Carley Hauck and I am the host of the shine podcast. Welcome to season four. This podcast came about over two years ago, as part of the research I was conducting for my new book shine ignite your inner game to lead consciously at work in the world. Shine debuted four months ago, and is getting wonderful acclaim and acknowledgement.
This podcast is about three things: conscious and inclusive leadership, the recipe for high performing teams and awareness practices. I will be facilitating three episodes a month. Today’s episode is about the important topic of creating psychological safety. In the midst of the new future of remote and hybrid work.
Imagine that your monthly one on one is happening with your supervisor. And he, she or they say to you, I really appreciate how you’ve shown up at work and with the team in the last year. I imagine it wasn’t an easy time for you.
It wasn’t easy for any of us.
I am wondering if we can create a new foundation today?
What might I say? Or do that would create a greater sense of helpfulness or would support you to feel like you could be really open in our conversations. I want you to know that I have your back. And that this is a safe space for you.
How do you feel hearing this? Open suspicion, appreciation, relaxation. Just allow yourself to notice: what do you feel the sensations in your body? What is the emotion present? Hearing this? Whatever arises is welcome. What if the next statement out of your supervisor’s mouth was this?
I’ve been reading a lot about the importance of psychological safety. And I would like to invest more in this concept in our team and in my interactions with you. Notice how that impacts you. What is psychological safety, maybe it’s a term you’ve never heard. I believe it is the number one thing that all leadership teams, all businesses, all organizations need, especially in this future of work.
Psychological safety is the belief that one can speak up without risk of punishment or humiliation. It has been well established as a critical driver of high quality decision making, healthy group dynamics and interpersonal relationships, greater innovation, and more effective execution in organizations. Essentially, to be successful on a team and as a team. psychological safety is the enabler. This insight is the result of almost 30 years of research by Dr. Amy Edmondson. This was supported and reinforced by an extensive two year research program called Project Aristotle where 15,000 employees at Google were assessed to see what was the number one trait that was supporting high performance and innovation. And it came down to psychological safety.
In the last year, every organization around the world has gone through a reorganization. We are still going through it as each company is reevaluating their business model, their values, their mission, what are the products and services that make sense to market build and produce now these are the conversations that we’ve been having and will continue to have If you don’t have trust, you won’t have loyalty from your team members, your stakeholders or your customers. Marc Benioff, the CEO of the technology company, Salesforce, and one of the conscious and inclusive leaders that I highlight in my book, SHINE has been quoted as saying, you’d better decide now that trust is your highest value. Because in this new world, when everything is changing, people want to know they can trust you. So, if we don’t have psychological safety, we don’t have trust. And that often leads to dangerous silence.
People that are aware of the risks of a situation but they don’t dare to speak up for fear of being called out or punished for it. We’ve seen this happen, or avoidable failure. This means people are more focused on avoiding failure and getting the most out of work. People also will tend to make more mistakes that could have been avoided if psychological safety levels were higher. When we think about the skills necessary to manage in this new remote hybrid work environment, it is more important than ever, that we have cultivated these skills that support collaboration, decision making and innovation, the people skills, the real skills are what I like to refer in my body of work and in my book, the inner game.
New research from David J. Deming at Harvard’s Weiner Center for Social Policy, examines lifetime earning patterns and shows how the peak earning years have shifted dramatically up the age continuum. Over the past five decades, this study has been getting some buzz in the last few weeks. This trend has been driven by changes in the mix of skills required in the workforce, away from routine tasks and toward non-cognitive domains like critical reasoning, and decision making. Again, the inner game skills. I have been specializing in organizational and leadership development consulting coaching, and I also teach on leadership topics as an instructor at Stanford and UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. And what I found in these last 10 years of working with lots of organizations, LinkedIn, Pixar, Clif Bars, and then tech, Asana, and also with leaders, and emerging leaders at these two academic organizations, is that when these folks possess a strong inner game, they’re really able to align with what really matters, and where they can actually support the sustainability of psychological safety in their teams and then the culture. And so these inner game skills are self awareness, emotional intelligence, which comprises of self management and empathy, and social awareness and relationship mastery. Another inner game skill is resilience, we can think of that as having a growth mindset.
Love releasing from love, not from fear, well being, and authenticity. Again, these inner game skills, I see are necessary to be able to have these brave exchanges to create psychological safety, and our one on ones, our teams, our senior leadership, and our greater culture at work.
And since the workplace is a microcosm for the greater world, if we can create inclusion, belonging, psychological safety, and collaboration at work, just imagine what we can build in our world together.
So I want to give you an example of a senior leader that I have been coaching since the beginning of the pandemic. And he utilized this strong inner game to create more psychological safety and trust in his team. Let’s call this leader Scott. First I want to highlight that this leader already has High self awareness, a growth mindset.
He showcases humility, empathy, compassion, he has high performance and his motivation for his work, his company, and his role is something that’s intrinsic to him. I feel honored to have been able to serve this leader and to watch his growth. And one of the things that we’ve really been working on together is his discomfort with conflict.
So we decided that it would be important to assess the psychological safety in his team. Based on what I’ve already seen this leader express in our coaching sessions, for example, his commitment to his own learning, growth and development, his willingness to be humble, take personal responsibility to be coached. He is the exception, I would say not the rule in my professional experience. But this kind of leadership can be inspired and can be nurtured. And I had the suspicion that when we did the psychological safety assessment with his team, that it would be high.
So this is what I did. I conducted a psychological safety scan with this leader in his for direct senior reports earlier in the year. The psychological safety scan is an anonymous survey. It has been validated by Dr. Amy and Manson’s work on the subject, I spoke to her earlier. And she is a woman that I deeply respect, and think of as a mentor to me. And actually, I feel very delighted that a few months ago, she endorsed my book and body of work. The survey and the scan is one of the very first things that I do with organizations when I’m brought in to assess or build out an inclusive leadership or Management Development Program, to engage in a change management strategy to support team building to get a sense of what’s happening in the culture. And this scan is basically measuring four different dimensions of psychological safety. And as I shared before, I had a sense that this score would overall be high in psychological safety, but I forecasted that the team would probably score low in one quadrant. And that actually ended up being true. The area that needed the most improvement was the team’s comfort with failure. So what do I mean by that? Can each member of the team willingly showcase and share mistakes with one another. Based on some of the culture pieces that were present in the company, they didn’t feel comfortable to make mistakes and to share them openly in the setting of the team.
But based on talking openly about their scores, and creating a social contract for psychological safety, they were able to talk about why. And we could make a game plan for how they might grow this part of their team. Just the process of talking openly about their discomfort with sharing mistakes as a team, increase the psychological safety and the comfort level. As a follow up to this team debrief on psychological safety, I encourage the team and Scott, the senior leader, to have a failure party. This would encourage an environment where mistakes are seen as normal, where folks can learn and grow from them, and then innovate and collaborate better. So a few months back, Scott put in their team meeting agenda that they would create a failure party. And he set this up first by creating a social contract for psychological safety, which I had coached him how to do. And we had set at the first debrief where we all met as a team and I facilitated that session. And then how he created the context for the failure party was he went first, he shared a mistake that he’d made earlier in the week, what he learned from the mistake, how he course corrected and even how he asked for support to navigate the next steps. He then asked other members of the team to share as well.
One of the best ways that you can increase psychological safety with your direct reports, or with your team is to be willing to be vulnerable to go first. So as a result of Scott, going first in the team, one of the team members shared that they’ve had this ongoing challenge with self management and reactivity with one of their direct reports. They’re actually working with a coach around it. And they were able to express openly with the team, but they made a mistake earlier in the week, and they lost their cool, and they were able to check it in the moment, come back, course correct, you know, put in an apology, take some personal responsibility, and being able to share this openly in the group to be witnessed in it. And then to note that this is something they’re working on, they’re growing, they were able to get positive reinforcement, so that it didn’t have to be a place of shame, but a place for healing and transformation.
In my professional experience, many successful executives encounter serious negative feedback for the first time in their careers, when they take on larger roles or responsibilities, like the example above of this particular manager in being able to shift emotional reactivity. That often is feedback given to leaders that often centers on style rather than skills or expertise. So if that leader isn’t able to have a growth mindset, it can feel like a threat to their identity. But if they take on a learning mindset, they can grow.
We can imagine that in the last year, we’ve all had more challenges than normal, because of the pandemic. We are sorting through a lot of systems and structures that are being reinvented, that are taking into account the unveiling of racial injustice, systemic oppression, more emphasis on business models that are in alignment with regeneration, with sustainable development goals, and even the added pressures of mental health, needing to care for the elderly and for children. We are navigating a lot. And while we were always bringing our whole selves to work, we have literally been in each other’s living rooms in the past year. So there has been more that has come to the light, like young children bursting into a meeting, divorce, struggles with healthcare. And this burden has been on managers and leaders to hold to navigate hearing about all of these work life situations. And this isn’t going away with remote hybrid work. So there is a real need for managers, for leaders to support psychological safety in this new foundation of remote and hybrid work, so that each individual’s needs, preferences and or limitations are taken into account and they feel safe to speak up. And once the leader is able to showcase that it is safe, there can be accountability and empowerment for each member of the team, and even the culture to uphold it so that everyone can feel they can bring their whole and best self to work and thus feel like they belong.
Psychological safety is needed today to enable productive conversations in new, challenging and even potentially fraught territory. By viewing ourselves as works in progress, and supporting a learning culture. We can really reconcile our yearning for authenticity and how we work and lead with an equally powerful desire to grow. The place we want to be has high psychological safety and accountability. If this podcast was meaningful to you, and you are wanting to bring a foundation of psychological safety with your one-on-ones, your team or your culture, this subject is something I feel really passionate about. And this is one of the first things that I do with any of my coaches, with any team building, our larger inclusive manager development program, organizational change management, that I am asked to come in and conduct. If psychological safety is low, in my experience, there will be a large challenge in the long term success for anything that I can possibly bring into the company. But if we are able to create a foundation of psychological safety, then the sky’s the limit.
If you’d like to work with me to create psychological safety, there are three ways. First, you can book a free consultation with me, the link will be in the show notes. And you can provide me with more information on what you’re needing, why this might be important. And I can talk you through the steps of how I might be able to do that with your supervisor, your team, or your culture. The second way you could work with me is you could bring me in for a training session on psychological safety. And in this session, I’ll customize it to your particular needs and culture. But I’ll be able to assess and show you how to create and sustain psychological safety and trust as individuals in your senior leadership team and within your greater culture.
The body of work that I’ve been facilitating as an organizational and leadership development consultant, and as an adjunct instructor at Stanford, and UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business is on creating a strong inner game. And again, these essential skills are necessary to really support a sustainable culture of psychological safety and trust. And number three, if you are seeking someone to support you in a more full time capacity on this topic, please reach out. I would love to book a free consultation with you on how I can support you in this new future of work.
I want to leave you with just a few thoughts on psychological safety as a way to really bring this home. There are societal factors that favor silence over voice, self protection over self expression. Self protection remains a contracted and fear based stance, which doesn’t support one to lean into their purpose and courage. It’s protecting against the thought, what is the worst thing that could happen, versus what is the best thing that could happen? It’s playing safe. But in playing safe, we miss opportunities to grow for fulfilment and contributing skillfully to something wonderful in the world. When people feel praised and encouraged for their efforts to speak up, that increase the psychological safety. The simple words of thank you for speaking up does wonders.
Lastly, psychological safety is fragile, and it needs constant nurturance and renewal. I have a wonderful article that I wrote with Mindful magazine earlier in the year which focuses on the inner game of authenticity, and thus the outer game of building trust. I will leave it for you on the show notes. And now, I have a special invitation for you. Over Labor Day weekend, I will be offering and facilitating a conscious and inclusive leadership retreat with my good friend and colleague Brian McCormick. We are taking applications now and it will be at a beautiful retreat center in Black Mountain North Carolina, which is on very special and healing land and a creek that runs through the whole property. There will be time for renewal, learning community, healthy food, nourishment, and play. I would be delighted to have you come. We will also have time to explore the concept and practice of creating psychological safety in this setting in this deeper dive. I feel so excited about being able to bring people together after this long year and hope. Holding space for transformation. Before I began writing my book, I was leading conscious leadership retreats for women at this beautiful eco lodge in Mexico once a year. And when I started writing the book, I pushed pause on the retreats, but I knew that once shine was out, I would start hosting retreats again. It is undeniably one of the most favorite things that I get to do with my work bringing people together for immersive experiences, for transformation, healing for growth. And I would be delighted to have you join us and you’ll see a link for the retreat in the show notes. If you have any questions or comments, please email me at support at Carley. Hauck dot com. I’d love to hear from you. Finally, thank you for tuning in and being part of this community. I have many more wonderful podcast episodes for you. So until we meet again, be the light and shine the light