Psychological safety is a hot-button topic these days, that’s been getting a lot of attention, at least in my circles.
There’s a growing understanding of what psychological safety is, and its importance in enabling high-performing teams, but there are very few good resources that are able to offer some concrete advice on practices that promote it.
Laura Delizonna’s recent HBR piece is a rare exception which offers some concrete tangible advice:
Of the six pieces of advice she lists in the piece, the one that really struck a cord with me is a beautifully simple reflection exercise that she credits Paul Santagata, Head of Industry at Google with using, in which participants are asked to consider the following statements:
This person has beliefs, perspectives, and opinions, just like me.
This person has hopes, anxieties, and vulnerabilities, just like me.
This person has friends, family, and perhaps children who love them, just like me.
This person wants to feel respected, appreciated, and competent, just like me.
This person wishes for peace, joy, and happiness, just like me.
I honestly can’t wait to try a simple variation of it in one of my upcoming meetings.
Suster often takes an extreme position on matters, and this one is no different. His advice for what you should do when you disagree with the direction that your company is taking is — quit.
I’m not sure that I’m all the way there with him. To me, the most useful part of this piece is the way that he so accurately describes an organizational challenge that many of us have faced — unconstructive dissent:
Dissent is fine. Dissent actually makes groups stronger. I love being challenged because it forces me to think harder about what my convictions are. I love when people come with ideas that conflict with my world view because the conflict either ends up giving me more confidence in my convictions or helps me to evolve. Sometimes it even causes me to consider revolution.
But dissenters need ideas of their own. Dissenters need facts and logic. Dissenters need to be willing to roll up their sleeves and help do the work. Dissenters need to be willing to have their own necks on the chopping block and admit that they were wrong in the end.
Dissenters don’t get to be “back benchers.” They don’t get to yell from the peanut gallery but never own results or the consequences of decisions. Dissenters don’t get to second guess but never lead.
Throughout life I’ve realized that many people are back benchers. “That will never work” is their motto. They like to criticize but they don’t have strong ideas of their own. They “know” what’s wrong but they never do anything about it. They never lead. Yet they don’t follow.
From my perspective, I don’t assign blame to those who have expressed unconstructive dissent by default.
Constructive dissent is not something that comes naturally to many of us, myself included. If you were never taught or never experienced what constructive dissent looks like, it’s not unreasonable that we’ll default to the unconstructive form.
Constructive dissent must be taught. And Peter Senge in his seminal book The 5th Discipline gave us a quick cheat-sheet that can jump-start our efforts:
I’d advocate for patience in dealing with unconstructive dissent, but not endless patience. Unconstructive dissent is debilitating and demotivating, not just to the person expressing it, but more importantly to everyone around them. Once someone was given the benefit of the doubt, was given the feedback that they must change their ways, was given the tools to do so and the time to do so — and still no change. Then, it may be time to part ways…
I recently came across an interesting whitepaper by the folks at the Institute for Enterprise Excellence and upon some further digging around, I learned that it’s part of a longer series of 10 whitepapers on driving organizational transformation.
Most of their work is heavily inspired by the seminal work of W. Edwards Deming, which is always a good reminder for how many good decades-old insights are hiding in plain sight. But it also includes some good synthesis of other resources and some interesting fresh thinking of their own.
It’s worth skimming through the whole series, if you can spare the time, but each whitepaper also stands quite well on its own.
Here’s a slightly paraphrased and hyperlinked list of the IEX folks explaining in their own words what each whitepaper is all about:
Our first white paper “Foundations For Transformation: Linking Purpose, People and Process” describes the common patterns that we have observed as executives and managers have attempted to create a culture of continuous improvement in their organization. Many find themselves trapped in a cycle of “program of the month” approaches that never seem to produce the sustainable transformation of management that is necessary. However, there are some who desire to break away from this pattern, and wish to switch the direction of their efforts by understanding the power of purpose, as well as learning and practicing new principles of management.
Our second white paper “Evolving World View: Implications for All Industries, Including Healthcare” describes the sources of knowledge that will be needed to manage effectively in the twenty-first century. We described how the world view is changing from the “machine age” mindset that has driven the traditional “plan, command and control” approach, to a “systems view.” We explain the evolution of thinking that is the foundation for the principles of enterprise excellence.
Our third white paper “Practical Wisdom for Addressing Problems” describes the practical benefits of understanding the difference between convergent and divergent problems, including what we can reasonably expect from ourselves and from others when attempting to address the important problems of management. The tendency for most executives and managers is to look to recipes and formulas to tell us what to do — a prescription for how to deploy a lean management system. There is no recipe, formula or prescriptions. But there is knowledge that can guide our actions.
Our fourth white paper “One Approach to Deploying a Purpose and Principle-Driven Transformation” shares our current thinking about “deploying a cultural transformation” based on the knowledge and contributions of many thought leaders, as well as observing patterns in organizations from many industries that are attempting and succeeding at a cultural and management transformation.
Our fifth white paper “Principles for Personal and Organizational Transformation — Align” describes the principles behind the IEX model, specifically those principles primarily focused on aligning the improvement efforts so that individuals can have a clear “line of sight” between the work they do every day and how it connects to and supports the organization’s purpose.
Our eighth white paper “Systems By Design” describes the importance of design and redesign of key systems, in particular supporting systems of alignment, enabling and improvement. We describe a method, including a “system standard” that can help any executive and manager design and redesign key systems that will help them contribute to their organization’s purpose.
Our ninth white paper “True, True North” describes the benefits of more fully understanding True, True North and how this can avoid the trap of the narrow definition of True North only as measures. This matters, because without this understanding the pursuit of true north can merely be “management by results” in disguise.
Our tenth paper “Side (by Side) Management” describes a more useful view of the traditional hierarchy model, and the implications for connecting strategy deployment to daily management in order to provide value to customers, as well as facilitating true knowledge creation in the organization.