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How to create a culture where employees can safely speak up (Part 4/5)

Psychological safety, the ability to take an interpersonal risk to speak up, or even offer new ideas has become harder for many. The FCA has stated that creating such safety is critical to financial services firms successfully navigating the pandemic. But it is the key to flourishing and productive

22 Oct 2020 | 11 min read

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

 

Here at Rungway, there's one belief that is at the heart of what we do - from the product we build to the way we work together as a team: Every Question Matters.

Earlier this month we hosted a webinar entitled “Why bad is stronger than good: How hard-wired biases can undermine your efforts to create a positive workplace culture”.

We had more questions from attendees than we could answer live, and we didn't want to leave them unanswered.  So we sent the questions to our two panellists to get more of their knowledge and experience, and we will publish their responses over the coming weeks. To watch the webinar on-demand or read through the takeaways click here

Q: How to create a culture where employees can safely speak up? Beyond having the right tech, how do we make sure employees believe in speaking up?

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Annie Coleman
Consultant in culture and conduct and 'C' Suite Executive coach

Psychological safety, the ability to take an interpersonal risk to speak up, or even offer new ideas has become harder for many.  The FCA has stated that creating such safety is critical to financial services firms successfully navigating the pandemic. But it is the key to flourishing and productive businesses.  Why pay your employees a good salary but then have an environment where they don’t feel safe to offer ideas or to challenge?

  • Create safe places by allowing people to experiment and fail but learn from the process. 

  • Have leaders show their own vulnerability by speaking out about something they find difficult - role model.

  • Undertake training for Line Managers about how to create an inclusive culture using case studies from the organisation of where people have felt the need to cover up or hold back for fear of recriminations.

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Dr Chris O’Neill
Psychologist, Fellow of Harris Manchester College, Oxford

There are no short-cuts to trust and a sense of safety; both are arduously earned and easily lost.

Actions speak louder than words; leaders must walk the walk, not just talk the talk.  

Here, more than anywhere else, bad is stronger than good; just one ambivalent or ill-judged action or reaction from a manager to an anxious employee can undermine a sense of trust that has been months or years in the making. (For the building of basic trust, the ratio of good to bad experiences may be considerably higher than Gottman’s 5:1 ratio).

Quality of relationships is key; the leader’s consistent and sustained ability to show reliability, integrity, openness and sensitivity will contribute to a sense of their trustworthiness which it is difficult (and unwise) to fake. 

Every organisation or business has its own distinctive mission and purpose. Whatever these are, the fundamental task of managers is to expedite the successful pursuit and achievement of these purposes. In order for this to happen, the organisation’s employees need - in their own separate spheres - to be fully and competently committed to these purposes; in short, the motivations of employees need to mesh with the mission of the organisation in a “lived purpose” that is the polar opposite of external coercion.  

Psychological research provides important clues about the conditions under which this is most likely to occur; it is when people’s primary psychological needs are met through their work. When this is done, the evidence shows that employees are more productive, creative, committed and engaged - and they also have better well-being. This provides the ultimate win-win situation for both the organisation and its employees. A wide range of independent evidence allows us to identify the core characteristics needed if businesses and their people are to thrive. 

These core characteristics fall under four headings:-

  1. Encouraging employees’ self-motivation so that they share and live the purpose and mission of their work (rather than being brow-beaten or bribed into doing it).

  2. Maximising employees’ individuality and autonomy (control over how they work), so that they can not only be themselves at work, but do their work out of their unique individuality. Autonomy is individuality in action. (“What I do is me”, as Hopkins put it).

  3. Ensuring an excellent quality of relationships at work, founded on basic trust, honesty and safety, nurtured by reciprocal support, and facilitated by easy accessibility to management that enables all to feel they matter, and are heard.

  4. Enhancing and expanding employees’ competence and skills through good training, mentoring, and technical support. 

These four core characteristics need to pervade the organisation at every level and in every way. In practical terms, all four principles depend on excellent quality communications between every level and every area of the organisation.   

What follows is a summary of three entirely independent areas of research, each of which offers convergent validation of these four core principles. The three areas of research include a major psychological theory of motivation, population science’s discoveries about the characteristics of the happiest and most productive people at the national and international level, and economists’ discoveries about the characteristics of the most outstandingly successful service-based companies and how they treat their employees.

The psychological theory is Deci and Ryan’s leading theory of motivation (“Self-Determination Theory)”, which not only has over forty years of research to back it up, but has also explored how it can be effectively applied in business settings. Their research suggests that the most positive and productive individuals are those who rely most on their intrinsic autonomous motivation (rather than being controlled by others’ extrinsic motivators), and who best meet their three main motivational needs for individuality and autonomy, competence, and good quality relationships. The most positive and productive organisations are those that facilitate these - to the benefit of the company as well as the individual employee. 

Secondly, when population scientists examine their national and international data, the trends they discover when tracking the happiest and most productive individuals in a given society appear to echo these core principles - and the same goes for the happiest and most productive nations too. 

Thirdly, evidence from influential economists who have studied the most outstandingly successful service-based companies suggest that these companies enshrine similar core principles to those observed by the psychologists and population scientists. Those businesses and organisations which follow the principles have a skilled, loyal and highly motivated work-force, and this seems to be the major driver of outstanding business success. 

At the levels of the individual, the company and the nation, therefore, it seems that there is convergent evidence for common core principles that enhance motivation, productivity and well-being. These core characteristics, the evidence suggests, constitute the essential features of any organisation or nation with a positive culture. 


This is the fourth article based on the questions we got during our webinar “Why bad is Stronger than good: How hard-wired biases can undermine your efforts to create a positive workplace culture”. To watch the webinar on-demand click below.

 

Our commitment to helping companies thrive, not just survive

By creating a supportive space online and offering the safety of controlled anonymity, Rungway help companies to hear the feedback that will inform how they plan for what comes next. And employees from all backgrounds can feel connected and included by having their voices heard on a level playing field while tapping into valuable support from colleagues at every rung of the ladder.

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