For a while, I've been really interested in learning more about “psychological safety” and how this concept is really a required foundation for continuous improvement, patient safety, and excellence.
You're not going to have a culture of continuous improvement unless people feel included (being included is both a human need and, arguably, a human right that's given to them by leaders).
Employees have to feel safe to learn, which means being able to speak up to say “I don't know” or “I made a mistake” without the risk of punishment. People need to feel safe to do their job, earning “autonomy with guidance” from leaders.
Finally, they need to be safe to challenge the status quo. It needs to be not just tolerated, but encouraged, by leaders.
You might enjoy this piece that I wrote for the Value Capture website:
OK, let's dig into some of what I planned on sharing from a firm LeaderFactor. but first, some more background from…
Learning from Amy Edmondson
On this topic of psychological safety, I was honored and thrilled to have the chance to interview Prof. Amy Edmondson about this a few years back in Episode 356 of my Lean podcast:
Learning from Leader Factor
This year, I've really taken a deep dive into what's being taught by Timothy R. Clark, the author of the book The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety: Defining the Path to Inclusion and Innovation.
You can learn a lot through his company and their website: LeaderFactor
I recently took their training class and got formally certified by Tim and LeaderFactor to work with organizations to “measure, learn, and improve” the level of psychological safety in a team or a workplace. Contact me if you'd like to talk about this and how I might be able to work with your team.
In this post, I'll share some free resources that you can use to educate yourself, your team, and your leaders (if it's safe for you to do so).
What is psychological safety? Read more about the LeaderFactor definition. In short, it's:
“A culture of rewarded vulnerability.”
You can find some short intro videos along with the text on these pages, and some different LeaderFactor videos are embedded below.
- Stage 1: Inclusion Safety
- Stage 2: Learner Safety
- Stage 3: Contributor Safety
- Stage 4: Challenger Safety
Rather than stating a broad goal of “higher levels of psychological safety,” the 4 Stages framework allows us to break down the problem (which aligns well with Lean/Toyota problem solving mindsets).
We can break the problem down and find a progression toward this end state of “challenger safety” that leads to innovation and improvement.
If your team doesn't have “inclusion safety,” then you need to start there… one stage of psychological safety builds upon another.
As we say, it's a journey. Don't try leaping right away to a focus on Stage 4.
They have a new free eBook: “The Complete Guide to Psychological Safety“
What are the 4 Stages of Psychological Safety? (Overview)
Stage 1: Inclusion Safety
Stage 2: Learner Safety
Stage 3: Contributor Safety
Stage 4: Inclusion Safety
Deeper Dive Webinars on the 4 Stages:
A Much Needed Foundation for Lean
There's just a treasure trove of insights from Tim Clark and his team.
A “lack of psychological safety” or “low levels of psychological safety” is one of the key missing links when it comes to Lean and continuous improvement.
If your organization is struggling with Lean or having trouble engaging people in improvement, instead of focusing more on the Lean tools… take a look at the foundation of psychological safety.
Measure, learn, and improve.
That framework prevents us from “jumping to solutions” — again, that should be familiar to you as a Lean practitioner.
One organization that I've worked with jumped too quickly, in a well-intended way, into “improve” mode. That didn't move the needle on the psychological safety survey measures. They need to “study and adjust.”
There are many well-intended countermeasures that might not help. Asking or encouraging people to feel safe, through words, such as “We want you to feel safe to share your ideas with us” are what Tim Clark calls “rhetorical reassurances.” That doesn't work.
Real improvement requires action — and the right kinds of action. Leaders need to model the right behaviors… and then reward behaviors (“acts of vulnerability”) when they occur. What you say about speaking up doesn't matter as much as how you actually react when people report problems or share ideas.
You can learn more about the actions that work from the LeaderFactor free behavioral guide. Check it out (free registration required).
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Check out my latest book, The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation: