“Psychological Safety” Stimulates Innovation

“Psychological Safety” Stimulates Innovation

Psychological safety is one of the most important factors for a team's effectiveness. Amy C. Edmondson, The Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School came up with the term “psychological safety” which refers to workplace dynamics and how people are treated when they go out on a limb.  She wrote, “psychological safety is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for bringing up ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.”  At its core, psychological safety is about trust.  When someone takes an interpersonal risk by speaking up, it won’t be met with ridicule, a personal attack or bullying. If leaders encourage brainstorming and openly embrace failure, then it makes sense that employees will feel safe to take risks too and as a result, it leads to innovative solutions.  During the pandemic, complex problems are in full view, so encouraging everyone (no matter what their title) to contribute and voice their opinions and solutions will be needed for all businesses.

The Perfect Team

In a 2012 study at Google, they became obsessed with learning how to build the perfect team.  They studied their high performing teams and considered things such as personality type, industry background and whether or not the teammates were friends outside of work.  Using organizational psychologists and sociologists, their data revealed that the most successful teams were ones that showed empathy towards one another and provided a safe place to speak up, mess up and raise concerns without being judged or criticized. The single most important factor for their most successful teams was psychological safety.

Psychological Safety starts with leadership

Last week, Francoise Brougher, a former COO in her 50s was fired from Pinterest and her medium article about how she was treated went viral.  While her law suit is about gender discrimination, she also talked about the lack of psychological safety.  She said,  “Our advertisers found our tools difficult to use and lacking the basic features of our competitors’ ad systems. I sounded the alarm because it was my job to raise these issues. I was blunt and did not hold back. I told the team that we were making a critical mistake by ignoring the concerns of our advertisers. Ben, in addition to being CEO, was also head of product. Now suddenly I was disinvited from all the product team meetings.”  She took a risk by voicing her concerns and was punished for it.  If there’s an issue that an employee sees as a potential problem or obstacle for the company, they should feel comfortable voicing their concern without the fear of punishment or retaliation.  

This can get tricky when the problem being addressed is an idea that came from leadership.  A friend who worked for a media company had suggested an alternative idea to the one her manager suggested.  Instead of listening to her point of view and how the company could engage with customers and build trust, he said, “I disagree.  That’s a terrible idea”.  That type of response discouraged everyone on the team from speaking up.  Instead, they agreed with whatever he said.  Obviously, this kind of response destroys innovation.  Also, my friend was 53 at the time and knew it might be difficult to find a job with benefits so she decided not to confront him about the altercation and told herself it wasn’t worth it.

Being comfortable and open to ideas that are not your own is not only a sign of a strong leader,  it’s also a sign that the company values and wants new ideas.  When employees are encouraged to discuss all options without any threat of retaliation, the benefits are extraordinary. Consider the following:

Psychological safety’s measurable benefits

According to Gallup, psychological safety can lead to a variety of benefits including: 

  • 27% reduction in turnover
  • 40% reduction in safety incidents
  • 12% increase in productivity.

Steps to Encourage Psychological Safety:  

There are several ways to ensure that a workplace environment can make it a priority for employees to feel safe. Professor Edmondson recommends 6 ways to encourage and create an environment of psychological safety.  If you’re in a leadership position, pay close attention to numbers 5 and 6 in order to be effective.

  1. Gather people’s opinions on important decisions in writing before you meet to discuss them (weekly check-ins are recommended)
  2. Ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to put forward their ideas before you announce which ideas you support
  3. Always try and experiment using multiple plausible arguments/ideas, rather than settling for one option
  4. Hold group discussions in meetings if there are disagreements rather than keeping things between two or three people
  5. Appreciate when team members take the time and effort to challenge your views
  6. Make a point of ensuring that other team members who have less authority on paper have their voice heard – adding a “no interruption” rule can help quieter team members have their say as well.

As a result of making psychological safety a priority at work, it empowers people to take risks, have open discussions, and brainstorm.  This is badly needed in a time of massive change.  Oftentimes, having a psychologically safe place to work leads to teams that outperform their company’s goals.  

Reviewed & Recommended:

Amy Edmondson | TEDxHGSE | Building a psychologically safe workplace 

Harvard Business Review, High-Performing Teams Need Psychological Safety. Here’s How to Create It

The New York Times, What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team

Top Takeaways: 6 Job Seeking & Mental Fitness Tips for Midlife Professionals

Top Takeaways: 6 Job Seeking & Mental Fitness Tips for Midlife Professionals

On August 13, illume hire hosted our first Happy Hour event with Dorianna Phillips and she provided some great tips to help mid career professionals cope during this time.  

She was the Director of Talent Acquisition for Stoel Rives law firm which is one of the largest law firms in the Pacific Northwest and now she has her own consulting and coaching firm called I.N. SPIRE Consulting. She coaches teams and empowers people to identify their strengths, build their mental fitness, and achieve peak performance. 

During our live interview, she provided tips from a talent acquisition perspective when hiring someone in mid-career. She also talked about different ways that a mid-career professional can take control of your mind using mental fitness tips. The following are some of the tools she shared to help people during a job search in a pandemic.

  1. Operate from Your Strengths: Embracing what you know you’re good at and enjoy is a start.  This takes self-awareness and the willingness to ask friends what they believe are your strengths.  These strengths can be illustrated using storytelling during an interview when it aligns with the job description.
  2. Daily Gratitude:  Having a journal and writing down every morning three aspects of gratitude will set the tone for your day. Those three things are the following: gratitude about something in your personal life, gratitude about something in your professional life, and gratitude about something in your environment.
  3. Self Saboteurs (Self Sabotaging Voices): Everyone has doubts and fears but when we focus on something terrible, we aren’t doing ourselves any favors. Dorianna said we have the power to change that ongoing voice in our heads. She recommends calling out our fears and negative thoughts out loud. By doing this, she says, it removes the power they have over us.
  4. PQ Pinch: There was a point in the interview when we all stopped, closed our eyes and pressed our thumb to our index finger in order to think of something calming. She calls it the “Positive Intelligence Pinch” or “PQ” for short. “Positive Intelligence” is a book by Shirzad Charmine that she highly recommends. Sometimes our minds get hijacked and when we’re filled with overwhelming thoughts, she recommends redirecting our mind by doing this simple exercise. It’s research-based and she said it works for people who get overly stressed. Something I think we all need during a pandemic.
  5. Know your Why:  This is your key for knowing your personal brand and will give you clarity when looking for your next gig.  Simon Sinek wrote a book called, “Start with Why” which talks about this as the main differentiator for yourself and for your business. Know your purpose, your cause, and your beliefs and this will guide you in life and it will also inspire others along the way.
  6. Grace:  Dorianna referred to grace as being easy on yourself.  We’re all going through different challenges now and it can be difficult. She talks about giving yourself grace as you learn new things and as you face obstacles.  

Our next event is on September 17th at 5:00 pm PST and the focus is “3 Tips to Find Your Hidden Strengths” by Amy Krakowski, an executive coach. Space is limited so reserve your spot here:



5 Ways to Know You’re Ready to Start Your Own Company

5 Ways to Know You’re Ready to Start Your Own Company

There are lots of articles out there focused on what it takes to start a company. Most of these focus on things like ‘you’re passionate about your idea’, or ‘you have a solid business plan’. I’d like to provide a slightly different look at some of the aspects that people don’t talk about when it comes to deciding on whether or not to take the plunge:

Know Who You Are

This may sound a little fluffy, but in my experience, this is perhaps the most important question, maybe even more important than whether you have a good idea. Without knowing your strengths and weaknesses, you won’t know what resources and complementary skills you’ll need to bring on board, and if your idea has a high chance of remaining just a good idea.

How do you know who you are? Ask trusted people, both personal relationships and professional connections. Think back through past performance reviews and social feedback. Successful founders need to have the right blend of confidence and humility: without introspection and self-awareness, you won't have a reasonable sense of your skills and how you can move your idea forward.

You Have a Growth Mindset

Yes, growth mindset is trendy, but it’s also dead-on-point. A huge part of founding a company is having an unflinching ability to turn hardship into learning; to look past setbacks and think about how you’ll do it differently tomorrow.

Remember that having a growth mindset is NOT about always being positive, working hard, and praising or rewarding effort. It’s about turning experiences - good and bad - into growth. In addition, as a founder, you’ll need to lead and inspire others. Help them see that you have the ability to turn experience into movement forward, even if you take a few steps or sideways on the way. Dr Carol Dweck professor of psychology at Stanford, wrote a book called "Growth Mindset" and if you have felt stuck for several years, it's eye-opening.

In a growth mindset, challenges are exciting rather than thinking, ‘Oh I'm going to reveal my weaknesses’, you say, ‘wow, here's a chance to grow’."

Dr. Carol Dweck

You Have a Support Network

As I’m sure you’ve heard before, starting a company is hard. Really hard. You’ll need people ready to pick you up, or call you out when you’re headed down the wrong path. Your support network should have a mixture of people who are ready to remind you that you’re special and courageous, as well as those who won’t be afraid to tell you you’re wrong.

You’re Certain that Uncertainty Doesn’t Scare You

This one ties back to having a growth mindset, but it’s worth calling out on its own. The one thing you can be certain of is that you’ll face many moments of uncertainty. Embracing that uncertainty, and developing strategies for managing through uncertainty, is critical for navigating the different twists and turns you’ll take as you launch your business. Think back over your experiences at work and in your personal life. If you see evidence of embracing and working through uncertainty, that’s a good sign.

You Don’t Have a Clear View of the Finish Line

This one may seem counterintuitive. Don’t get me wrong: when you get in front of your first potential investor, you better have an air-tight story for different potential exits for your business if you plan to raise money. But the reality is that the real finish line for your business will look quite different from what you imagine now. Imagine multiple finish lines, and understand what are the signs you’ll see along the way to help you know which ones you’re headed towards and which ones you’re heading away from. 

A good friend of mine, Dr. Peter Scoblic, recently published a great article in the Harvard Business Review on strategic foresight. One of the pillars of his approach is imagination. If you love imagining possible futures, then bring that same practice to your new business. It’s easy to get consumed in the day-to-day stresses when you start a company. Your imagination will serve you well as you navigate the uncharted waters of starting a new venture.