The Key to Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace

Transparency within an organization has always been of huge importance, but thanks to a radical restructuring of the work environment, due in large part to the emergence and subsequent dominance of tech companies, the nature of the modern workplace has been transformed. Companies where employees praise the high levels of trust and transparency in their workplace are most likely to have highest performers. An environment where people trust each other enables greater collaboration and innovation, as walls are broken down and barriers are removed. This facilitates better working relationships, as team efforts, an ‘in-it-together’ mentality, transparency and reciprocity are all encouraged. These combined efforts build accountability, competence and confidence among employees.

Most of the responsibility for fostering an environment of openness and transparency lies with management. A strong leadership is essential for sustained improvement, growth and transparency, as internal processes must be continuously aligned with team and organizational goals. These changes – and ultimately organizational transparency then peter down through all employees on all layers of the organization resulting in a process known as cascading change.

Align your people to your vision and goals

It is the job of leadership to create a vision for companies, and align it to your people. This is of vital importance, as no one will blindly follow a leader – they must be in-line with their own strategic and career goals. Leaders are charged with thinking strategically and must bring the company vision to life, but that’s not all – they must also inspire their people to join them on the journey. They must imagine all of the possibilities; take stock on what has happened the past, lead in the present and drive the desired future. They must drive this future through leading by example and by being the leader they themselves would follow. This is important advice, as one of the jobs of any good leader is to be a positive role model for their reports. Values should be organized by leadership so that it can be effectively organized and translated into common goals and objectives. These company goals and objectives can be set as key performance indicators or KPIs which are open to all people within the company. This level of transparency ensures that all employees are kept appraised of the projects their co-workers are on but also, makes sure that each employee is held accountable for his or her project contributions.

Expect the best and give credit when it’s due

It might be a cliché, but, if your standards are high, your team will aim to rise up and meet them. Expect the best from your team, and they will most likely deliver. Most of the job of ‘enabling employees’ falls on management. Transparency and clarity of purpose are crucial here as expected outcomes from a project must be clarified and expressed to all involved. Showing belief in team members that the goals are attainable for them. As a manager it’s important to give frequent recognition and feedback, but don’t rely on standard feedback, personalized feedback grounded in a trusting and transparent relationship is far more valuable than generic feedback. A simple ‘thank you’ goes a long way. This is of Particular importance for millennials (who now make up 40% of workforce) as personal relationships and a vibrant work culture matter to them: they affect engagement rates, turnover rates and ultimately the bottom line.

Create a safe space

While expecting the most from your team is certainly advantageous for productivity levels, importantly, it should also result in the formation of realistic KPIs for your team members. In other words, if a team member cannot complete a task or are unknowledgeable about a certain part of a task, they must feel comfortable enough to share their gaps in knowledge with the rest of the team and feel comfortable seeking help, even if it means missing a deadline. This will only happen in an organization with a high level of transparency, where employees feel comfortable enough, and crucially, not made to feel bad by not knowing something, or seeking help. This results in the creation of what is known as a psychologically safe space, where team members feel accepted and respected.

Create a free flow of information

Transparency within an organization ultimately means that employees are kept appraised of developments within the organization and that they can access all information pertinent to them, to enable them to complete their duties to the best of their abilities. There’s a reason they say ‘knowledge is power’. In order for people to predict and be ready for change in the market when it occurs, they must be provided with all the necessary tools and information in order to make necessary calls, and predict volatility in the market. Successful organizations have a very free flow of information, when compared to traditional organizations, instead of the flow of information being restricted to senior management and managers, High Performing Organizations tend to share and report everything that might impact an organization’s performance. This transparency ensures all employees are aware how the business is performing, as both financial and non-financial information is reported. This also increases accountability as individual KPIs are also linked to change, as the environment and business priorities change. High levels of engagement, empowerment and organizational transparency foster increased psychological safety, as a safe environment to give input is generated.

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A previous version of this piece was published on CMSWire.