Psychological Safety Newsletter #44 – Don’t just say it, Do It.
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This week is a bumper edition, and all about actually doing the work to create psychological safety, not just saying it.If you enjoy reading this newsletter, please share it via your social networks and/or forward it to other people who may appreciate it.
This newsletter is sponsored by Conflux.
Conflux is the leading business consultancy worldwide helping organisations to navigate fast flow in software. We help organisations to adopt and sustain proven, modern practices for delivering software rapidly and safely.
Fostering psychological safety is one of the principles that organizations must adopt in order to succeed – according to Jon Smart’s recent book, ‘Sooner Safer Happier: Antipatterns and Patterns for Business Agility’. Sophie Weston, Principal at Conflux, has been taking a closer look at the patterns for creating psychological safety and describes her key takeaways in this article.
Big news! The first Psychological Safety meetup is planned for January 25th 2022!
7pm UK time / 8pm CET / 11am PST / 2pm EST / 6am EADT.
Thanks so much to Romy, Stephanie, Paul and Samantha in the Psych Safety Community for all your help getting this moving! Our first meetup is a little bit of a trial run (everything is an experiment, right?!), and we’re going to kick off with a roughly 25 minute talk about the history and evolution of psychological safety, followed by a “Lean Coffee” session where everyone who wants to be involved can get involved. Don’t worry if you’d like to be more of an observer – there’s no obligation to speak up, or even have your camera on! Register here!
Psychological Safety In the Workplace: This is excellent, and articulates something that I’ve been trying to for a long time – that there are many systemic tactics employed by managers and organisations that place the burden of resilience on individuals rather than leaders and systems. And this is because it’s cheaper and easier to do that rather than addressing structural issues. Research by Dscout People Nerds, a human-insight research organisation found that workplaces responded to org-level trauma with one of four “playbooks,” a set of go-to tactics intended to keep the organisation afloat while navigating employee trauma and hardship:
- The DIY-er
- The Empty Empathizer
- The Minimizer
- The Performer
They describe how these approaches are insufficient, even harmful (and we see the same thing with psychological safety. Indeed, trauma and psychological safety are necessarily interrelated). The Trauma-Informed Organization Playbook approach brings the lens away from individualistic to systemic approaches, and adopts active progressive practices over traditional practices and platitudes.
And in the same vein as the DIY approach above, in trying to reduce work stress and overload, simply telling people not to check or send email after normal work hours won’t work. As this Inc.com article and research shows, “formal policies don’t limit the stress, anxiety, and impact on personal time caused by after-hours emails.” Instead, managers simply must not send out-of-hours emails (and other communications, unless actually critical). “The only way to reduce the anxiety I might feel from wondering whether you sent me an off-hours email is to never send off-hours emails. Then I won’t wonder.” People will only feel psychologically safe if what they’re asked to do looks like what their manager is doing.
“We will not, nor should we, try to meditate our way out of a toxic culture. Buying everyone a yoga mat while failing to address sources of unnecessary stress is a problem.” A great piece by Stephanie Overby in the Enterprisers Project about change management, and again highlighting why a focus on individual resilience is ineffective and harmful, which also highlights the need for psychological safety and leaning into resistance to change rather than shutting it down.
“When Alan Mulally first became Ford’s CEO, no one on the senior operations team dared to admit that there was any problem in their respective area for fear of being fired — even though the car manufacturer was in trouble. When one person finally said during a meeting that he needed help solving a manufacturing issue, Mulally clapped, signalling that asking for help was not only safe but actually encouraged.” This is a great article by Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly about the secret ingredient of thriving companies – don’t say it – you must actually do it.
Here’s an excellent piece by Noble Ingram, interviewing Douglas Reeves about psychological safety for teachers and educators: in reflecting on the impact of the pandemic, “because we were in an environment where we had to try new things and improve them or abandon them, there was an imperative to admit when there’s a mistake, fix it, and go back to work.” Sometimes that environment of permissive candour is created through circumstances outside your control.
In the context of being under-prepared, “The reason you do that is not because you’re afraid to fail as is most commonly thought, but because you’re afraid to work hard at something and then fail anyway.” A fantastic article here from Pratyush Buddiga on How to Become a Great Storyteller, in respect to pitching for capital. The lesson: managers must remember that moonshot goals are not only more likely to fail, but carry more psychological risk too; encourage multiple smaller goals instead of one big goal.
Thanks to Derek Louey for creating this concept map of psychological safety in medical education. This is excellent, and I’d love to see them for other domains too.
Psychological Safety Theory, Research and Opinion:
“Algorithms are animated by data, data comes from people, people make up society, and society is unequal, … and thus algorithms arc towards existing patterns of power and privilege, marginalization, and disadvantage.” This fantastic piece in Wired magazine espouses: A Move for ‘Algorithmic Reparation’ Calls for Racial Justice in AI, – we know already that even simple algorithms mirror, or even increase, existing bias and structural inequalities. This is one reason of why I’m inherently apprehensive of any psychological measurement or profiling tool that doesn’t expose its algorithm – its inner workings – to scrutiny.
Here’s an episode of the Seachange podcast with Morten Dal from Microsoft and Mike Pounsford from Couravel discussing work/life balance, digital, and psychological safety.
And now for Digital Analytics and psychological safety! Here’s the podcast episode with J D Long.
Thanks to Conflux for sharing this excellent piece reflecting on Gene Kim’s interviews with Ron Westrum, of Westrum’s Organisational Typologies, and they highlight the fact that pathological cultures make people sick. My own studies in public health examined the Social Determinants of Health, which includes The Whitehall Study. The Whitehall Study showed that employment grade (not pay) had a significant effect on morbidity (heart disease and similar) – adopting more humanistic management practices doesn’t just improve team performance, it will save lives.
Things to do and try: Thanks to Helen Bevan for the tweet, Tanmay Vora for the sketchnotes, and Amy Edmondson for the scripts:
And here’s a gem from Amy Edmondson, rightfully banging the drum of “Don’t just say it, do it.” with a great quote from Jim Detert. Just as in the DIY approach above, leaders who espouse “courage” to speak up are simply saying that they’re not willing to create the conditions in which people feel they can speak up – they’re telling people to speak up *despite* the environment.
This week’s poem:
“The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.