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A Roadmap for Creating Psychological Safety in Your Organization


 — August 11th, 2021

A Roadmap for Creating Psychological Safety in Your Organization

#4 in a four-part series on the critical importance of psychological safety in the workplace

If you’ve been following this blog series, you get why psychological safety is important.

You probably also understand how it can make a difference in the things you care about as an internal communications professional – things like culture and the employee experience.

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Now you just need practical advice so you can get to work building a fearless organization.

As the function that builds understanding of how employees should think, feel, and act, the internal communications team can play a key role in building psychological safety by integrating it into your internal communications strategy.

I’ve outlined some specific approaches to keep in mind as you build out this strategy.

Equip leaders

Like all culture change, it needs to start at the top. If the leaders are not modelling the right behaviour and are using their power and position to create fear rather than eliminate it, then you have bigger problems.

I must admit, I was worried at first that I had written four blogs and only one of them had actionable advice for internal communications professionals.

Then I realized, the first three blogs were the most important because they’ll equip you with the knowledge you need to advocate for psychological safety (just think of how smart you’ll look when you bring up the research of Amy Edmondson, one of the top three management thinkers on the PLANET!)

Whether you are providing senior leaders with an overarching narrative or putting together speaking notes for the next town hall, you can help build a fearless organization in several ways.

First, how a subject is framed matters. For example, if you are talking about a new project or policy, make sure leaders set expectations about failure, mistakes, and uncertainty.

Then, always invite participation by making sure the leader demonstrates humility and asks good questions.

As a trusted advisor, you can create the right structures and processes that help leaders listen.

Finally, internal communications professionals should work with leaders to acknowledge and thank employees for their input.

Even a simple step like including the right questions in a leader’s toolkit can make a big difference. Some of the questions we’ve used are: have I missed anything? Does anyone have a different perspective? What other ideas can we come up with? These are questions that invite conversation, not deter it.

Fearless internal communications

For internal communications to promote and reinforce psychological safety, a radical shift must take place.

Internal communications tend to be dominated by feel-good stories that celebrate success.

Our channels are one-way, and we spend a lot of time getting the message right but not thinking about the questions, if there are even questions included.

Building a culture of psychological safety starts with celebrating failure, asking questions and being vulnerable in our attitude and approach to our work.

We don’t know all the answers and nor should we be expected to have them. Often questions are treated by the communications team as something to be feared – instead, they should be celebrated.

We are a voice in the organization, but we should not be the only one. Get creative to harness other voices and find ways to recognize, acknowledge, and celebrate them.

Some ideas we’ve used are to have employees develop and share internal communications content. Another tactic is to create a community (on Yammer, Slack or Teams) to help you better understand the questions and to co-create ideas.

Finally, transform internal communication so it is humble, human, and curious. This will foster humility and a learning and growth mindset.

Measure, Learn and Discover

Professor Amy Edmondson and her colleagues have developed the Fearless Organization Scan that can be administered by a certified practitioner.

It measures the level of psychological safety in teams across the organization along the four dimensions (outlined in blog #2 in this series) (link).

Certified practitioners will then work with teams in your organization to dig deeper and gain a greater understanding of psychological safety and how it can be improved.

Organizations work tirelessly to hire smart, talented people. Yet so often voices are stifled, ideas are lost, and any motivation and energy end up being wasted.

One-way internal communications that drown employees with company news and announcements isn’t the answer.

Creating an environment that promotes growth and open conversation allows for psychological safety.

I hope this blog series has helped you think differently about internal communication and the power it has to build better, stronger and more fearless organizations.

I’d love to know what you think of these blogs. Is there anything I missed? What’s your experience with psychological safety? Do you have stories and perspectives to share?

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