Published by Sameet Dhillon 4 min read

Episode 5: Karin Hurt & Liz Wiseman Explore Psychological Safety

category: Curiosity

What does psychological safety mean to you? What ideas do you have about the impact of psychological safety on organizational innovation?

Episode 5 features Karin Hurt & Liz Wiseman who share their insights on this important topic.

Full Transcript

Karin Hurt:

Psychological safety is just, do people feel safe to show up, to be who they are, to speak the truth, to raise their concerns? Is that the norm? Is it okay to do that? So it doesn't take a lot of daily courage to summon to do it because they look around and everyone else is doing that too.

I want to share with you a little bit of our research that we've done that led to our book Courageous Cultures. We noticed a consistent pattern. We were going in to do work across a variety of industries all over the world, working with very senior levels, and we would hear things like this, "Why don't more people speak up and share their ideas? Why am I the one that has to discover these best practices when I'm walking around? Why aren't people raising their concerns when they see a problem?"

And then, we would go in to do training at the front line of these very same organizations, and we would hear things like, "Nobody wants my ideas. The last time I spoke up, I got in trouble. Nothing ever happens anyway, so why bother?" We thought, "Are you all working for the same company?"

So we set out on an extensive research study in conjunction with the University of North Colorado to ask a couple of questions. First, when people were saying they were holding back ideas, what kinds of ideas were they holding back. And they were not trivial.

They told us they were holding back ideas that would improve the customer experience, the employee experience, or a productivity in a process. And then, when we asked why were they holding back these ideas, it was really interesting. 49% said, "Well, I'm not regularly asked for my ideas." We had 50% say, "Nothing will ever happen anyway, so why bother?" 56% said, "I'm worried somebody's going to steal credit." 40% said, "I lack the confidence to share my ideas."

So, how do you do this? Even if you were the most human-centered leader that really wants people's ideas, it is still statistically likely that there are people on your team holding onto an experience from the past that is preventing them from speaking up.

Liz Wiseman:

I've spent years studying the best leaders and what they do to bring out the best in people they lead. I've written about it in a book called Multipliers, but I can sum that book up really into two words, safety and stretch. You see, the best leaders cultivate an environment that is both comfortable and intense.

They remove fear and provide a security that invites people to do their best thinking. But at the same time, they establish this energizing and intense environment that demands that people do their best thinking and work. In other words, leaders not only create a great place to work, they create an environment that demands that people do their best work.

You see, what occurs when a leader creates only one of these conditions? What happens when a leader stretches people without first building a foundation of safety? Well, this onslaught of challenges produces a debilitating stress and an anxiety rather than growth. You either get complete paralysis and people just freeze up, or you get a partial paralysis where people offer only safe ideas and take safe actions. In either case, what you get is you get diminished people and you get diminished thinking and diminished products.

But what about the other environment where you've got safety but no stretch? What happens when a leader fosters this supportive environment, but never actually asks someone to do something that's challenging or hard? These leaders become like banyan trees, that provide comfort and they provide shade.

But the problem with the banyan tree is nothing grows under these trees, and people don't grow under these leaders. People may feel appreciated, but they're left to languish. And what else languishes? Good thinking, ideas, products and innovation languishes in an environment that just has psychological safety without the stretch.

People perform at their best and innovation flourishes in organizations when leaders can bring together equal doses of safety and stretch.

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