Seven key steps can encourage employees to be problem-solvers, creative decision-makers.
A growing number of organizations see a culture void of finger-pointing and fear as essential to innovation and employee engagement. As far back as 1990, researchers suggested the value of the ability to be open and honest without fear of negative consequences. This concept, known as “psychological safety,” encourages workers to take risks, share ideas, and contribute to the organization’s quality, growth, and positive change. In 2002, one researcher said, “In psychologically safe environments, people believe that if they make a mistake, others will not penalize or think less of them for it.” So how do you embrace psychological safety and promote it in your workplace? The good news is that you likely are doing some things already to promote psychological safety, but these seven steps will help ensure your efforts are sustained, strengthened, and embraced over time:
1. Break the “Golden Rule.” Treat people the way they would like to be treated. To determine this, ask your employees about issues such as their preferred style of communication, what education or training they would value, how often they want feedback/check-ins, etc.
2. Welcome curiosity. Promote a culture of learning and inquiry. Make it clear that there are no stupid questions and that all inquiries are welcome, respected, and appreciated.
3. Promote healthy conflict. By asking questions in a way that allows others to feel respected and appreciated, you can promote healthy conflict and make it more likely that people will come to you with ideas, concerns, and different ways of doing things.
4. Give employees a voice. Encourage conversation, and provide open channels for feedback and suggestions. Urge managers and executives to be open and available to employees at all levels. This empowers workers to identify problems/barriers and suggest solutions and opportunities for improvement.
5. Earn and extend trust. Show workers that you trust them to do their jobs and come to you with questions or concerns. Avoid, when possible, second guessing actions or imposing your ideas or ways of doing things unnecessarily. In general, trust people until they give you a reason not to, not the other way around.
6. Promote effectiveness over efficiency. Encourage people to focus on doing the right thing in the right way, instead of just getting the job done to meet an arbitrary quota or deadline. When deadlines or quotas are essential, work with teams to help them accomplish their goals without sacrificing quality or experiencing undue stress or anxiety.
7. Rethink creativity. Encourage everyone to share work-in-progress, and use this to learn and become inspired through interactions with others. Such a creative process promotes openness and trust, giving employees permission be vulnerable and experiment in a safe environment.