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DEIA | Psychological Safety Sparks Curiosity and Innovation

August 18th, 2022

In the utilities industry, workplace safety is a shared value. It’s ingrained in the organizational ecosystem to the extent that employees incorporate the standards, practices, and policies into their personal lives. In 2018, I worked at a utilities organization that embarked on a monumental transformation. The leadership team understood the need to welcome curiosity and innovation while remaining physically safe. So, they expanded the scope of workplace safety to include psychological safety and worked to engrain it in all of the organizational systems. 

According to Amy Edmondson, an Organizational Behavioral Scientist at Harvard University, psychological safety is the shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking, thus eliminating the fear that their ideas will be rejected or they will be treated badly for speaking up.

You don’t have to be a part of the utilities industry to infuse psychological safety into your organization’s ecosystem. Here are a few actions you can take.

  • Set the stage: Create shared expectations and meaning
    • Set expectations about failure, uncertainty, and interdependence
    • Identify what’s at stake, why it matters, and for whom
    • Understand that by taking these actions, you are modeling the behavior you want to see from employees
  • Invite participation: Create confidence that all voices are welcome
    • Create forums for input and provide guidelines for the discussion
    • Establish shared boundaries and agree upon how to hold one another accountable when boundaries are crossed
    • Acknowledge gaps and resist the temptation to lecture
    • Listen, acknowledge, express appreciation, and ask clarifying questions
  • Respond productively: Steer orientation towards continuous learning
    • Destigmatize failure – “fail fast,” look forward, offer support without removing responsibility, and have a dialogue about the next steps/corrective actions
    • Establish feedback loops so that people know you heard them and how the feedback will be utilized
    • If an idea will not be implemented, share the reason why (no sugarcoating) and offer alternatives

When organizational leaders create psychologically safe workplaces, individuals are more productive and collaborative. They are willing to share innovative ideas that could take the organization to the next level and make the organization a great place to work. 

What actions will you take to foster psychological safety in your workplace? I’m looking forward to hearing about your experiences.

Sherrice Thomas 
Vice President of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Access
SherriceThomas@columbus.org