Why do you want to create psychological safety in your organisation?
To improve employee retention? To increase productivity? Reduce risk? Improve innovation? Or simply because it’s the right thing to do for people?
I often talk about the business benefits of psychological safety, because sometimes that’s the only, or at least the quickest, way to light a fire under people and inspire action. We must remember why most organisations exist: they exist to make money, provide a service, or solve a problem. The goals of an organisation itself are rarely to provide a humanistic, rewarding, and safe environment for the people within it. Likewise, our own desire to make money is not a malign motivation: we want to provide for our families, enjoy our lives and create a comfortable home.
To a degree, when we’re working with an organisation (at least within a capitalist system), we have conflicting goals: one is the goal of the organisation, and our other goal is a moral imperative to treat each other with kindness, and create a more just and safe world. It’s serendipitous that creating psychological safety contributes to both goals.
Creating psychological safety means we can achieve our organisation’s goals, and at the same time create an environment that is decent, just, human and safe. But that doesn’t mean we can let our guard down.
Psychological safety is not a new phenomenon, it’s simply only recently been given a name (similar to most, if not all, psychological concepts). And it’s only once something has a name that it can be researched and improved.
We must be careful not to commoditise psychological safety and generative cultures. Whilst we must pay close attention to the practices and methods used to create these cultures, and resist practices that take us in the opposite direction, the worst thing that could happen is the weaponisation of these practices, or psychological safety itself. We must think about *why* we’re working to create psychological safety, who we’re creating it for, whether anyone is being excluded, and what we expect to be the result.
Personally, I flinch when I see another psychological safety proprietary tool, system or framework. Whatever the intentions, they can smack not only of gatekeeping knowledge, but of co-opting the best part of humanity: that part of us that wants to care for others. I charge money to download the psychological safety Action Pack: in most part to enable me to pay for the upkeep of this website, and in part to donate to Plan International. However, if you ask for it and you’re using it not-for-profit you can have it for free, and distribute it using the Creative Commons license. I am conscious of the potential apparent conflict by charging for it, and it does make me uncomfortable!
To avoid the trap of commoditising humanistic methods and improvement, we must remember to reflect on our intentions, maintain our humility as students and teachers, and be prepared to change our minds and our approach often.
It’s my belief that we’re now entering a new management and leadership paradigm, where inclusive and generative approaches become the norm, in part because they improve organisational performance, but for the most part because it’s the right thing to do.