Practical ways implement psychological safety at work

In previous articles, my colleague, Julia Voigt, wrote about how much fear in organizations costs a company in real dollars.  She also wrote about how leaders build trust, one trustworthy encounter at a time. She shared David Rock’s SCARF model, and how it works to increase productivity and engagement and discussed how fear undermines the very skills financial services companies need to compete effectively in the new market.

Our research suggests there are seven ways to create a psychologically safe organization, which is important for day-to-day productivity and critical for successful change programs.

  1. Address trust deficits before you start implementing any kind of change program. You are embarking on change, and 85% of change efforts fail because of organizational factors that were present before the change. Change starts by preparing the ground for the change, and that means addressing trust deficits now, not later. That’s why leaders need to be scrupulous in saying what they will do and doing what they say they will do. We unpack this in our Accenture report.
  2. Use data to understand the differences between teams. Teams have their own sub-cultures, their own fear drivers, and their own ways of responding to fear. We use Accenture’s Transformation GPS, an analytics-based system that draws on input from over a million employees in some 220 companies.
  3. Help managers build safe teams. Members should feel free to raise new ideas and criticize the status quo, without fear of political reprisal. This is a new skill for many managers, who may need coaching to get it right.
  4. Can you redesign the work to give employees more freedom? Then that’s what you should do. Here is where the change starts becoming more visible. People respond well to autonomy. Many managers fear that there is a thin line between employees designing their own work, and anarchy and chaos. Ironically, if managers let go the need to control and instead focus on team safety, the team will hold its own members accountable and stamp out any outlier bad behavior – without the manager having to get involved.
  5. Baby steps. People famously dislike change. Framing change as small, iterative steps rather than a one-off event or big jump gives people permission to make mistakes and course-correct. If they can do this with small changes you are minimizing organizational risk and driving team safety at the same time.
  6. Adopt a design-thinking approach. This is a fancy way of saying: involve your own employees in co-creating the changes to their work and organizational structure. Design-thinking is a set of thinking habits and playful techniques that get people thinking innovatively and give them that all-important permission to invent, fail and iterate quickly. Well-run design-thinking sessions are safe for teams, and those design-thinking principles can spill over into the broader organization, with beneficial consequences.
  7. Predictably, organizational silos can also damage team safety. As we showed in a previous article in this series, competition between teams inside the organization increases fear. But it’s not competition that increases fear. Fear is increased when colleagues compete with each other. When teams across the organization band together against a common external enemy, the research shows this kind of competition promotes pro-social behavior.

To read more insights on how financial services can build safety and trust in their workforce download and read Accenture’s report: How Safety and Trust Can Help Financial Services Thrive Even During Disruption and Transformational Change.

To learn more, listen to Andy Young and I discuss these issues on the Talking Agility podcast.

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