How Creating Psychological Safety in Your Organization Changes Everything

The pace of change in our world is off the charts—or at least it feels that way. Change can certainly be discombobulating, even downright terrifying. To handle all of the systemic change coming our way, there’s only one real salve: relationships. People would be well served to have better and more authentic relationships with those around them to navigate our rapidly shifting society, both at work and in our personal lives. 

We feel this on a cellular level, which means it deserves our attention and focus.

Along with this sense we all have of the rapid pace of change, there’s also been an increase in human consciousness. What do I mean by that? Well, it comes down to how our motivations are shifting. More people than ever before are thinking about what’s the rightthing to do in their businesses and organizations—not necessarily the most profitable thing to do.

That shift away from pure profit motive to people, planet, andprofit is opening new avenues for organizations to succeed and for people to thrive, not as cogs in a big system but as creators and collaborators.

As of April 2019, unemployment in the United States was only 3.6 percent. The firms that don’t figure out how to engage their people are going to lose long term. As a leader, having a deep and meaningful relationship with an employee or with a team is absolutely crucial right now. Your best people will leave if you’re not serving them well. 

What is Psychological Safety?

So, what does it mean to serve your people? Hint: it’s not about building a free coffee bar or giving away gourmet snacks for lunch—although that doesn’t hurt. 

It’s about creating one-to-one connection and providing a place where each employee feels psychologically safe. This “safety” idea may sound a little touchy-feely to some of you (task-oriented people, stay with me), but it’s a non-negotiable. The employee who feels safe is the same employee who is going to feel free to share ideas, question groupthink, and open new revenue opportunities in your organization. 

Psychological safety is the foundation of everything for today’s leading organizations, in every industry.

The concept comes down to this: What does a particular employee perceive the consequences to be of taking some sort of risk? The risk could be as simple as making an unusual suggestion in a team meeting. Google’s Project Aristotlefound the teams that did the best on a variety of metrics were the ones who created a safe environment for everybody to offer risky alternatives, or ideas, or mistakes. They asked questions nobody else would ask, or offered new approaches nobody else was willing to offer. In other words, these team members had the courage to be vulnerable.

In the recent Tim Ferriss podcast “Lessons from a Trillion-Dollar Coach,”listeners learn how Bill Campbell coached Eric Schmidt and a number of leaders at Google at the same time as he coached Steve Jobs and a number of leaders at Apple. He created a way to develop a psychological safety between himself and the leaders of two competing companies and grow them both. 

It was Campbell’s ability to create that sense of safety that made his coaching so effective.

A One-to-One Meeting Structure Designed to Create Psychological Safety

It’s not enough to tell your employees they are safe to be vulnerable and leave it at that. Creating a culture of psychological safety is something you accomplish over time. Here is an idea you may consider. 

By scheduling regular one-to-one meetings with your direct reports and following these five steps, you’ll be well on your way:

1. Recognition:Start a meeting by praising or delivering some sort of appreciation to your direct report for an action or accomplishment. Take the time to find out how every individual on the team wants to receive appreciation, and deliver the recognition in that way in each and every meeting.

2. Wins:Give your direct report an opportunity to discuss what he or she feels were moments of accomplishment or things they did to take a big step toward a long-term goal. This could even be a new thing he or she learned you weren’t aware of, or maybe a personal accomplishment. 

The more time you spend at the beginning of a meeting having your direct report discuss wins, the more connected to you he or she will feel.

3. Actual Project Deliverables:What was it that your report was supposed to complete in the last two weeks? Ask for a quality check or status update on the tasks or responsibilities he or she had. This kind of accountability matters. Make sure there’s commitment and follow-through on important projects. 

In addition, check in to see that the next steps or deliverables are well aligned with the organization’s strategic objectives as well as the individual’s personal goals.

4. Challenges and Opportunities:Let’s assume the direct report is running into a handful of roadblocks, or challenges, or people that are hindering her progress. Can she feel safe enough to say, “I’m running into these challenges. Will you help?”

Commit to do something specific to help by a specific date. If you can’t remove the roadblock, you can help to brainstorm ways to get around, or through, or over the roadblock.

5. Reflection and Goals:What can you celebrate with regards to mistakes made or lessons learned? This is not something that our society typically does. We don’t like to make mistakes. 

Create a safe enough environment where people can chuckle a little bit, and say, “Well, here are the major lessons I’ve learned, and here are the people or the things I’m going to go share as a result of the mistake that I made.” 

What to Do if You’re Not Engaged

I’ve written in the past about how important it is to choose your boss, not your job. If you are that direct report and you’re not receiving the kind of one-to-one attention and focus you’d like, that may be a sign your current organization is not the best fit for your talents. 

But there is a lot you can do before you begin seeking out other opportunities. For example, you could schedule a meeting with your current boss and present him or her with the structure above. Ask if he or she is willing to do this particular structure with you every two weeks. 

If the leader is unable to commit to it or doesn’t want to do it, ask if he or she could provide suggestions for other mentors within the organization. Or, inquire if the leader would be willing to hire a coach that could do it.

Relationships are Everything

Millennial employees change jobs more frequently than other generations. They’re also the largest generation in the workforce. And, it typically costs about two times a person’s salary to replace him or her. 

The direct report’s relationship to the leader is the number one determinant of the length of the employee’s stay with the organization. It also has a huge impact on profitability. Gallup recently found the organizations with the most engaged employees – those in the top 25 percent of all companies that have been tracked – saw employees that were 17 percent more productive than others. These firms were then 21 percent more profitable.

The very thing that’s going to lead to a deeply engaged workforce is the amount of time each week and each month a leader is willing to have intentional one-to-one meetings with their direct reports. Get started today.

Need more tools? 

In my “Enhancing Your Communication” online course, I address how to communicate to a person who has a different communication style than you. 

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