The human cost of not speaking up. Psychological safety – not just nice but necessary! Naomi Armitage
Discover how leaders not only embrace, but also set themselves up for success in a landscape that is constantly changing.
Good day everyone, welcome to our last Short Talk for Safe Work Month 2021. I'm Chris Bombolas, I'll be your MC for today.
Can I begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet today and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.
I'd like to extend that respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples watching today. I would also like to thank our Safe Work Month Short Talks sponsor, No More Pain Ergonomics. No More Pain Ergonomics is one of Australia's leading suppliers of ergonomic equipment and solutions. They work with a wide range of business customers to assist them with their ergonomic needs. No More Pain Ergonomics has an extensive range of ergonomic equipment to support any ergonomic related issue.
Now, in this thought provoking presentation, we have Naomi Armitage looking at how fostering a culture of health and safety is no longer seen as just nice to have but a necessity, and foundation for the overall performance of a business. And in this current climate now more than ever, it's critical for organisations to manage health and safety risk by designing psychologically safe work environments.
With over 20 years experience, owning and operating a nationwide employee assistance and fitness for work company, Naomi will look at what psychological safety is, the benefits your work environment can achieve, and the key correlation it has to individual wellbeing, safety performance, productivity, and innovation. She will also share some recent applications of psychological safety in the workplace and the power it has in action, along with the implications for future health and safety organisational interventions.
And before I hand over to Naomi, we do have a Q&A session at the end of her presentation. If you'd like to ask a question, you can do that anytime during the presentation, simply use the chat box and send us your question, we'll get to as many as we can. You can also use that chat box to report any technical difficulties, or you can also contact us via email at email@example.com, and our technical experts will try and help you through any little problems that you may have.
Well, after that introduction, it's time to welcome in Naomi. And the good news is she can join us in the studio. We've had so many guests this year who've had to join us via Teams or through video, but today Naomi is in the studio, so welcome, Naomi.
Thanks Chris. Thank you for the invitation.
So for the next 50 minutes, the first thing I want you to do is tune in your curious scientist. I want you to think deeply and ponder this dilemma we have, the human cost of not speaking up. We have a problem. Every day we're met with a headline due to someone not speaking up. This is not just a problem in high-risk industries, this is a problem that exists everywhere, from parliament house, construction companies to the retail sector.
These headlines are due to people not speaking up. If we just take a recent review into the fatalities in the mining sector for a moment, 20% of those fatalities are due to people not speaking up. People not feeling safe to ask for help or being unsure of what to do. Think about the headlines about mental illness. Someone takes their life, a young man, because it's not safe to speak up because he can't tell his employer, his family, that he's not coping and needs help.
Take workplace bullying harassment, decades long abuse, being experienced by people in the workplace, only emerging now, maybe they'd never felt safe to speak up or maybe they did speak up, and those words of concern and requests for help were met with, oh, that's just such and such. There can be a little bit of bracing sometimes.
The cost of not speaking up is everywhere.
So what are we doing about it? I imagine that lots of you have what you would term a speak up workplace, and it's one of the top headlines, one of the imperatives that you have in your business. We want people to speak up here, it's a safe place. We're investing more than ever before in creating safe places, procreating speak-up workplaces, but it's not working. In fact, there's more cases of bullying harassment than ever before, there's more psychological injury than ever before, and all this is happening, despite the huge investment employers are making in creating safe workplaces, psychologically safe workplaces.
So what is going wrong? What are we doing? Where is that money going? I recently met with a large employer who asked me to come and look at a wellbeing strategy for their business. And when I looked at the strategy, I had to look at what were they doing currently to help make people feel safe, to speak up. They had an EAP, they had a complaints line, they had a digital wellbeing line. They had resilience training, mental health training, EEO programs, investing inclusion programs, yet despite all of that, they had more psychological injuries occurring than before.
We have people who are actually leaving at mass rates because they actually weren't happy with what they were doing or being in that workplace. When I asked the manager, the Director of Health and Safety, "What's happening here, are these investments "that you're making actually working?" They looked at me blankly. I said, "How do you know all of this money "that you've turned into improve the workplace, "making it safer, making it greater for wellbeing? "How do you know that's actually, "if that investment's paying off?" They didn't know.
They had no way of measuring the effectiveness of the interventions. They simply were adding more and more and more, and getting worse and worse results. So we need to stop and rethink this. What is holding us back? Why is our investment not working? Why is it that we're investing time, effort, energy, and we're not seeing the results? We need help, we need to look at what's stopping people in your workplace speaking up?
A good place to start looking is where there's silence and then the good news. You often won't know what the cost of not speaking up is in your organisation, until something really bad happens, til a safety event happens, til someone takes their life, til a case of bullying harassment emerges, that's so enormous that you think, how could this have existed under my watch?
Silence in your organisation is deadly, only good news is deadly. If we can actually get this working, if people were safe to speak up, they'd actually report an issue, we'd be able to address the issue, make the workplace safer and emit actually that hazard. If people were safe to speak up, they can ask for help. They could seek the assistance they need for their mental health issue. You could support them in getting back on the right track.
If we're safe to speak up, you can actually challenge the status quo, pushback, suggest a new idea, which would lead to innovation. So how do we achieve this? How do we go about creating a speak-up culture?
So I bet you just, before I tell you how we go about doing this, I want you to think a little bit about what your perception of the speak-up culture in your workplace is like. Chances are lots of you who are actually listening and probably senior leaders in your business, and you probably think it's quite safe to speak up, but that's because you're at the top of the tree. Maybe that experience is quite different for people down the bottom of the tree.
You have power and power makes it safer for you to speak up. Could this experience be different to others? Do you know if it's different for others and how will you find out? So let's have a look at actually, what are some of the things we can do to actually start to create the speak-up culture and break this barrier?
Some of you may think you're doing this now, and if you have, please let us know, we'd love to know, we can learn from you. But I believe the key to actually unlocking this is understanding what psychological safety is. Psychological safety is a key enabler to creating safe spaces, to speak up. Have you heard of it? Some of you may, but it's often a very misunderstood concept. And often we'll spend time to clients about psychological safety and walk away and they make a comment as you're walking out the door and think, oh gosh, you still don't get it.
So this concept called psychological safety, it's actually been around since 1965. It's nothing new, Edgar Schein and Bennis and early psychologists had actually discovered this. And then Kahn back in the 1990s had actually done work on this, but it wasn't until Amy Edmondson who actually really brought it to the fore, and a settled project by Google, Aristotle made it sort of more mainstream. Essentially what it is, it's a team construct, which is the first really important point to understand.
So it only exists in teams, not necessarily across an entire organisation. And when you have a psychologically safe environment in a team, there's a shared understanding in the team that it's safe to take an interpersonal risk. So what is an interpersonal risk? Well, interpersonal risk is something that might actually lead for you to be vulnerable.
So an interpersonal risk might be when you ask a silly idea or when you challenge the status quo, or you say you need help, or when you report a fault or a problem. Interpersonal risks, where we take a step out of our safe space and actually share something new. Psychological safety exists in a team environment, and you'll notice that that space where it's safe to share and speak up and challenge the status quo may exist in your team, but when you go and work in another team where you have to present a concept to another team, that may not be the case, it may be unsafe in that environment. The dynamics might be very, very different.
So Amy Edmondson, her work really started in hospitals and hospitals are great environment to look at this. And she really wanted to look at what was happening in hospital teams that had better patient outcomes. Why when someone went to hospital, did they actually have better patient outcomes than others? And what she found was that the reporting behaviours really shaped those outcomes. Teams that were safe to actually report an error or mistake or a problem, we're more likely to have that discussion despite the hierarchy of a doctor or a nurse, a surgeon in the room and resolve that issue.
Those teams who are not safe to do that, didn't have those discussions, so errors were made, errors were not reported, things were left to slide. Now this has a cost obviously. Think about in a hospital, if you're the nurse and you noticed that on the doctor's written on the chart, that the medication to provide to the patient, you think, oh gosh, that looks way too high for this patient. But you remember the last time when you actually questioned the doctor about one of his notes or a decision he made, you might have been met with disdain, you might've been chastised, and you remember that time. So you think, "You know what, I'm not going to ask "the doctor or question him about this note he made, "I'll just, it's on the chart here, "I'm just gonna give the patient that dose." And you draw up the syringe and you give the dose to the patient. That patient becomes very unwell. That patient has catastrophic outcomes. And all of that happens because the nurse was afraid to challenge the doctor and ask if the doctor had made a mistake because the nurse remembered last time that interaction happened, what was the consequence? So when people don't feel safe to speak up, they stay silent. And this is really due to a biological programming in our brain, and this thing called impression management.
So this is why Instagram, Facebook are so popular because they actually tap into this biological need to impression manage. So think about it, who sees the real you down the bottom? Who sees the you, that's not your best self, that has crazy ideas, that pushes back, that makes inappropriate statements that says, I need help, I'm not coping. Who feels like a fraud, probably only the people who are close to you actually do you show the real you to. Most of the world probably see the Instagram version of yourself.
And the Instagram version probably looks fit, strong, smart, competent, because we know as pack animals, when we're the Instagram version of ourselves, we're more likely to be kept in the pack. We're pack animals at heart, and when we look at pack animals, pack animals want people in their team who actually are gonna be good players who are gonna help hunt down dinner, help them be successful. They don't want someone who's vulnerable, who's weak, who's got a problem, they want the best of the best.
So we have this programming that makes us need to be the best version of ourselves in environments, where we don't feel safe. Unfortunately, there's a cost for this. So when we don't feel safe, we don't wanna appear ignorant incompetent, intrusive, negative. These are some common interpersonal risks or factors that we don't wanna appear, 'cause we know when we look like this, then the pack will kick us out. So what we start to do is we start to change our behaviour. So if we don't wanna appear ignorant, so we're in a new role, and we think, what's the acronym for this.
We don't ask the question because we don't wanna feel stupid. We're programmed with this from a young age. My youngest is in grade two, and the other day I went to pick him up from school and he burst into tears and he was crying. I said, "Mate, what's wrong, what happened?" And he said, "Mum, I feel so silly, "I put my hand up and asked the teacher, "what's the capital of Australia, Sydney or Canberra. "And she said to me, "Are you serious? "You don't know, we've been studying this all year. "Oh my gosh, that's ridiculous, seriously." And chastised him, he was so embarrassed. What does that program him to do from a young age? Don't ask silly questions, stay quiet if you don't know, just look around and get clues from other people.
We don't wanna appear incompetent, so we don't wanna admit a weakness or a mistake. You get promoted into a new role and you think, oh my gosh, I don't know how to do this. This is well outside my pay grade, yet you don't admit that because you got the job, so you've got to prove that you're worth it. You don't wanna appear intrusive so you don't offer up ideas. You don't wanna step on anyone's toes, you can see someone's been working on a project for years, all year, and when you look at the presentation, when they presented the project, you think, oh my gosh, they've missed step A, this is gonna be a disaster, but you don't wanna be the one to break the bad news. You don't wanna appear negative, so you don't criticize the status quo. You don't wanna be the black hat in the room that's constantly pointing out of the programs.
So you don't point out the potential impacts of the decision that the business is about to make, you stay silent, because you don't wanna be the naysayer again. The business makes that decision, it costs the business. When we start to ask questions, when we start to hide our vulnerabilities, our fears, our weaknesses, this is when we start to get into trouble. The psychological safety is a basic human instinct that we have to override, so we want to actually present to the world, the Instagram version of ourself, but we have to create the right environment for us to do, to present our real self to the world. Now, please, don't hear me saying that psychological safety is all about being nice because it's not.
And Amy Edmondson has done some fabulous work in this space and linking psychological safety to accountability. What happens when we're working with teams is most times, teams get stuck in what they call the comfort zone. So in these teams, you have high psychological safety. So it's really nice, we can speak up, share ideas, challenge the boss, ask silly questions, say, I need help, but there's low accountability, so nothing ever gets done. The team leader might say, "Oh, great idea, that's fabulous, yeah, good one." Then no one ever follows through, no one ever executes on that great idea. We might say, oh, that we never hold our team members to account. It's just nice, we just cruise, we're like the B team. We don't cause any ruffles, it's safe, we chat, but we never really have any hard conversations. There's no performance discussions here. There's no difficult conversations, no difficult feedback given here. We slip down into the apathy zone.
This is when there's low psychological safety and low accountability. So in the apathy zone, this is where care factor is zero. It's not safe to speak up, so there's a culture of silence. Also no one's held accountable because no one really cares. So people will literally rock up to work, sit on their seat, do their job and go home again. If the workplace asked for input, people think, you know what, I wouldn't dare because it's not safe talk here, and you know what, they're not gonna do anything about it anyway. So that safety issue over there, why bother bringing that up? The apathy zone is dangerous and it's often very silent. The anxiety zone, lower psychological safety and high accountability.
Teams often get into this, as soon as there's some sort of cost cutting measure. As soon as there's some sort of restructure. In this zone, people are scared, there's high accountability, but there's no safety. You think, how can I get the monkey off my back? How can I not be the one that they target? So there's blame pointing, there's arrows, it's not me, it's them. This hiding information, it's about protecting myself. You start to see silos forming in these teams and literally it's about survival. There's no speaking up, you just do as you're say, decisions are made that are stupid decisions, or do you think later on why was that decision made? The decision was made to get monkey off the back, you just do what you're told to do. And finally, if we can get to there, the ultimate zone to really work in is the learning zone. In the learning zone, this is where there's high psychological safety. So it's a great place to speak up, share an idea, but there's high accountability too. So you know what, if you think there's a better way of doing something or if you're not coping, then you also have a responsibility to go and do something about that.
To follow that idea through, to seek the support that you need, to take up that support, to take action, to do the homework that you're given by those people who are trying to mentor you and assist you through that difficult zone. The learning zone, this is where you actually start to get the real stretch and performance and innovation in a business. But you also get people who are really energized and motivated, 'cause it's exciting, they're doing some fun stuff. So psychological safety is not just about being nice and it's not just speaking up without accountability, it's more than that. Now Google was the one that really made psychological safety famous and put it on the front page of the paper. And Google wasn't doing it to actually improve worker's well being or reduce the psychological injuries in the workplace, oh no, Google was doing it for a commercial reason.
So Google wanted to know, is it possible to build the ultimate team, the perfect team, perfect top performing team. And they studied it for two years on this project called Project Aristotle. Over 250 variables, and they kept plugging these variables in tenure of service, experience, nationality, race, gender, education, every variable we could think of, found nothing, until they plugged in the variable of psychological safety, which is a measurable construct. As soon as they plugged that variability in, it accounted for 70% of the variance between their high performing teams and their low performing teams. It was the secret sauce, the key factor that differentiated them because the other factors you can see there on the screen, dependability, structure, meaning, impact are things that also contribute, but psychological safety was four times more powerful.
This shifted the way that Google started to run their business. This shifted the metrics that Google started to measure in their business. Psychological safety now became a key behavioural metric that they were looking for, that they were looking for in their teams and their leaders to actually bring to their teams. But psychological safety isn't just about performance, it also underpins every one of your other key business leaders, diversity and inclusion. When there's psychological safety, you actually add the inclusion piece, because without it, you just have diversity. People don't feel safe to belong, they don't feel that they can contribute.
So all of these diverse minds, backgrounds, suddenly become silenced and that inclusion piece is missed. We've talked about productivity and performance, we know that that's attributed to high-performance. 70% of that variance is psychological safety. We know that it also underpins mental health and wellbeing. When people are psychologically safe, they're more likely in those teams to be healthy and happy. We know it underpins safety outcomes. We know that reporting behaviours improve when there's psychological safety, so hazards identified early and learning innovation occurs.
I just wanna share with you some specifics, relevant to this group of this sort of journey and the impact that psychological safety has. For those of you in the safety profession, this is some data and reporting behaviours. And this was actually looked at reporting behaviours in hospital. And what they found is teams with high psychological safety, they reported had a reporting behaviours that around 90%, so 90% of errors were reported in those teams, leaving only 10% unreported. Teams that had low psychological safety actually only reported 70% of the errors, that leaves a third of things being left not identified, not managed, unable to be actioned. That's huge, that's a huge number.
So we knew what the psychological safety of the team was, we'd be able to implement the appropriate interventions. Those teams had low psychological safety, we would know that they're less likely to report an error or a hazard, so we need to do some investment on the front end there, improve the psychological safety of those teams so that we can actually get that hazard reporting occurring so we can pick up those hazards, take the appropriate action. Something else I wanted to share with you was this fabulous data that we've been collecting in our work with organisations. And it was really where we started.
So our passion or our interests particularly was around wellbeing in the workplace and looking at what are the organisational factors that influence wellbeing. And so what we've been doing is measuring the level of psychological safety in teams, but also measuring the wellbeing of those individuals in those teams. And this is our data set. The teams with higher psychological safety, so they're on the right-hand side, the right-hand, and high wellbeing, teams, so sorry, teams with high psychological safety had individuals in those teams with high mental health and wellbeing scores. Those individuals and teams with lower psychological safety were more unwell, unhappy.
So this is an organisational construct, a lead indicator. If we can identify teams with low psychological safety, we know that those are the pockets or the teams that will be likely to have individuals who are not as well, not as happy, not as productive. And if we can improve the level of psychological safety in those teams, we can also make them better. So why aren't we doing something about this? Why are we actually spending money on actually investing on individual interventions, not just team interventions? We can influence a workplace here. If we can influence a work environment that people are working in, we can actually improve wellbeing and that's totally within an organisation's control.
So, sorry, I'm just, so how do you go about doing this and how do you actually go about measuring this? So when we've and our experience of working with organisations, the concept of psychological safety is so broad and it's difficult to actually understand and unpack. So we developed a model and it's a hierarchical model that we work through with organisations and it allows us to actually target the aspects of psychological safety that may be missing from the team. So the first foundation of psychological safety is this dimension of being safe to belong. In this dimension of safe to belong, it's about, do I belong in this pack? Do I feel like I'm part of this team? Do I feel supported by this team? Do I trust people in this team? And if you don't have that, then you actually can't get through to the highest level of psychological safety as being safe to speak up.
And this is probably one of the biggest hurdles that organisations we work with have encountered, they're striving for a speak-up culture, yet they haven't actually established the foundation. You cannot ask someone to speak up if they actually are feeling unsafe, that they may be kicked out of the pack for being vulnerable for saying the unpopular thought. So first of all, you have to start with a sense of belonging in the pack. Do I feel like I belong and I'm safe here. The second dimension once you've established that is, do I feel safe to contribute? Does the team value me for what I do? Do they understand my strengths and weaknesses? Do they actually appreciate what value I add? Did they seek my input? And when I feel safe to contribute, then I feel safe to belong, then I can move up to being safe to learn.
This again, goes back to our pack mentality. However, the safety contribute is if we think back to that pack mentality and our wiring and our brain, if we didn't show the team that we were valuable to have around and weren't contributing to the team, then that pack would kick us out, because we're just another mouth to feed. So this is really deeply wired, and this is where bullies target. Bullies make us feel like we're excluded from the group, they forget to invite us to drink on Friday. They make us look incompetent by actually pulling on us in a meeting and saying, "Hey, what are the numbers on that?" And full well knowing we don't have that data in front of us. They wanna see us stumble and trip so that we look incompetent. They wanna try and make us look like we shouldn't be in the pack, that the pack needs to get rid of us.
So these two are real key foundations to establishing psychologically safe teens. The next level is being safe to learn. So being safe to learn is actually the team's relationship to failure, which is a lot about vulnerability. Is it safe to actually try new ideas out here? Is it safe to admit mistakes here? Is it safe to actually develop those mistakes, admit the mistake and then learn from them and try again? If that isn't the case, then we get stuck in a loop. We start getting stuck doing the same thing over and over again, we don't actually innovate and evolve.
And the last one is, do we feel safe to speak up? And if we've got these foundations of safe to belong, safe to contribute, safe to learn in place, then we can start to speak up freely. Then we can freely start to challenge the status quo, say, I'm not coping, saying I need help, but without those three, you cannot expect people to speak up, it just will not work.
So looking at psychological safety, what we are doing is we're starting to measure these across these four dimensions in organisations and identifying high risk teams. So we know that teams with low levels of psychological safety, this is just a data set here. This is just the team's overall score. And in November they had very low levels of psychological safety, they would be considered an at-risk team.
So this team was quite a broken team, very much there are dimensions in that team that were segregated from each other. There was lots of inter-team conflict. They were known in the business as underperforming teams, they never got anything done, they couldn't execute. But over a six month period through just some targeted interventions, the level of psychological safety improved significantly, and this is not a magic one, this is just targeted specific strategies to improve the psychological safety of the team. That team was actually one of these teams, it's just team nine, I don't know if you can see that detail sitting down here on the matrix, this application of targeted interventions was carried out in all those teams in that high-risk area on the scatterplot.
In the business, there were teams that were sitting in that yellow and green zone, were actually were fine, they didn't require any further input, but the teams and the red did. Some further mapping of the data in those teams, and you started to look at the absenteeism rate in those teams, start to look at the safety performance in those teams. Those are the metrics in the business, started to align with this team being a high risk team.
So basically what we did is, oops, well, you develop their first overall score. And then we actually start to look at the different aspects of the psychological safety. So belonging, contribute learning, and speak up. And you can see there that over a six month period, they escalated the last one to actually increase the safe to speak up, which is what you would expect. The interventions, like I said, were very, very simple interventions. They were looking at how their meetings were occurring. They were looking at actually how the communications between team members, looking at how much contribution they were actually, how much time they opening up to allow people to contribute to meetings.
Basically it was working through with the team to target specific strategies to address the factors that were contributing to these results. But that wasn't all that we do when we start to look at this. So the levels of psychological safety in the team is very important to identify, which is what we did through this process. But it's also then starting to shift the mindsets of people within that team and how they think and operate in that team, which is really what we did when we look at interventions and that learning and speak up space. And a part of this next sort of part of this journey when developing a speak-up workplace is actually looking at people's mindset in relationship to failure because often a big barrier to getting people to speak up is actually about getting them to talk about failure or things that are unpopular or unpleasant.
So looking at how we do that is quite an interesting approach. And I came across some work by Mike Rober who articulates this beautifully. So he was quite curious about the impact of our relationship with failure and being and our behaviours that followed that. And he developed this concept called the Super Mario Effect. Now Mike Rober is actually an ex-NASA scientist, super smart, but loves bringing science to the real world. He now has a YouTube channel that I'd suggest you check out. But what he wanted to do was look at how do people start to view failure and vulnerability. And he set up a challenge and he had 50,000 of his YouTube followers actually complete an activity.
And what he asked them to do was he said, look, I wanna show the world that anybody can code. So I'm gonna ask you to participate and follow the instructions below and code. Use some coding here to get the car from one side of the maze to the other and let's see what happens. What he discovered or what people didn't know is that he actually had separated those people who are gonna participate into two groups. The first group, when they were setting up the code to get the car through the maze, when they made a mistake, they were met with the words, "That didn't work, please try again." The second group, however, when they were trying to code, they couldn't get the code through, they made a mistake, they were met with the word, "That didn't work, you lost five points. "You now have 195 points, please try again." So these five points that's come up on this message actually costs nothing. Remember this is a once in a time, he's put it on his YouTube channel, he's asked everyone to log in, trying to have a go at coding.
So there's no gain, there's no losing five points, they're meaningless, nothing points, right? They're just words on the screen. But those simple words changed the success of people's ability to code. Those people who actually were docked five points, meaningless points, fictional points actually only succeeded in getting the car through the maze, 52% of the time. However, those who had no penalty were just told, please try again, actually succeeded in getting the car through the maze 68% of the time. What is going on here? What is it counting for the difference? It's the learning behaviour. People who actually there was a cost for their failure of five fictional points only tried to get to the maze five times, they gave up early. People who actually had no costs actually tried for longer and were more likely to succeed. And they tried 12 times on average and obviously succeeded in getting through the may 68% of the time. So how failure is met or the consequences of failure really shapes our learning behaviours, which is actually a key part of developing psychological safety, being safe to actually fail, being safe to speak up about those failures and keep trying and have a learning mindset.
So this Super Mario Effect, I want you to think about in your business, how do you respond to failure? Is failure rewarded or is there a cost for failure? Now I know that often in businesses, there's a cost because KPIs are based on success in business, not failure in business. Listening to a general manager talk about an experience they had, they were in a safety sensitive industry and there were bonuses paid on how many safety incidents they had in that industry. This particular general manager had a high number of incidents. All the incidents were classified appropriately, accurately, and unfortunately he didn't get paid the bonus to his neighbour. His neighbour managed a similar plant, and unfortunately that neighbour was powered, was very motivated by actually getting that bonus money. So he'd argue with the safety personnel, would ask for incidents to be reclassified so that they look good, the metrics that look good, the business, they wouldn't look like they are failing. And so that he would get his money, his bonus payment.
At the end of the financial year, the bonuses were paid, the person who reclassified the incidents since sort of hid them, they got their bonus, the other manager didn't. Yet when an auditing team came through the business, an internal audit team came through and actually the general manager who had actually reclassified the incidents, who'd actually covered them up and made them look better than they were, those incidents were reviewed and it was shown that they were actually classified as high potential incidents and that they were actually, that that site was actually worse performing than the other site. When this disparity was identified within business and questions are asked, the business said, look, you know, we've already paid the money, let's just leave it as it is, it's no good. So the business was in fact rewarding people for hiding those incidents, for not reporting the failure. Those people who actually did report the failure or the mistake were actually penalised and penalised financially. So thinking that in your business, if you wanna change people's attitude to learning and mistakes, you need to think about how you're awarding them. What's the cost for them when they do that, are they docked five points? Carol Dweck is a person who actually has done most of the work here. And like I said, psychological safety is the first part of creating that safe space, but it's also then looking at people's mindsets in that environment, making them safe to be, to learn, to challenge the status quo.
And Carol Dweck actually did this and this behaviour that we're asking people to do really having a learning mindset is what we call a growth mindset and Carol's work started in schools. And she wanted to look at what was the difference in learning behaviours within children. And why do some kids keep persevering, keep trying, like Mike Rober demonstrated, versus other kids gave up early? Was it because of the cost or was it because of their mindset?
So a growth mindset is a skill we can actually teach. People with a growth mindset are able to view challenges as a learning opportunity, they don't see failure as bad, they actually see failure as a chance to get better, an opportunity to grow, they love getting feedback. They're responsive for it, they ask for it. People with a fixed mindset, they view failure as a negative, as a consequence, they give up easily. They tend to stick to their knitting. They don't like being in situations where they're actually challenged. They don't accept feedback, it's always someone else's fault. Those mindsets will really shape how they develop and how they evolve in the workplace.
We know that companies are starting to use this growth mindset concept in the way that they work. So businesses with the growth mindset mentality, 47% of them actually view the company as more trustworthy. And we know that that's also linked to this foundation of psychological safety that need to belong to build safe, to be trusted. They're more likely to have more ownership and they're more likely to feel that the company fosters innovation.
So having a growth mindset actually has business outcomes. And a business that actually channeled this has been Microsoft. Satya Nadella, when he took over in the seven years, that in his tenure, the share price has grown from 300 billion to 1.9 trillion and a large part of his mentality or his mantra around running the business as applying a growth mindset to the business and being a learn-it-all business, versus a know-it-all business. Leaders in this business are asked to be vulnerable, are asked to seek input from others. They create a speak-up environment because they're always seeking, they're always asking questions, they're always curious scientists. They're always curious about what could be better, what could be different? What might they be doing that's not great? How could they improve?
And that shift in mindset has led to significant innovation in Microsoft, because Microsoft is all about innovation, it's about failing and getting better and working in a better way, a faster way, a smarter way to do things which is demonstrated here in their business performance. We also know that this growth mindset or this obsession with failure and this obsession was seeing failure as actually an opportunity, has possibly been one of the key parts to our research is in looking for a COVID vaccine. People in research are obsessed with failure. People in research don't give up when they fail, they keep going. There's people who've been studying and looking for a cure for cancer for over 30, 40 years, and they haven't given up yet. They continue to go in every day because they know that every failure that they have, leads to a possible opportunity, a possible opportunity to get closer to finding things and understanding and learning from what went wrong so that they can become closer to the solution.
So growth mindset is key to a business for business performance and how we start to operate in environments. I wanna show you another little example about cardiac surgeons, because this is a great, little research project around what's the impact on psychological safety is on cardiac, on performance in a surgery. Basically what this team were asked to do was implement a strategy with a headshot to perform a procedure to insert some new, oh my gosh, insert some new minimally-invasive procedure inserting a new machinery into a person.
And that new piece of technology that they were inserting was never done before and they had two groups. They had a growth mindset team and a fixed mindset team, and they wanted to look at the difference in performance and the way that they measured the performance of completing this procedure successfully was by looking at how much time a patient was on the table, because obviously the more efficient that the procedure is completed in more efficient time, then more likely that person is able to recover quickly.
And what they found was this, teams that had a growth mindset, where there was very limited hierarchy in those teams, so people were safe to speak up, share ideas, identify mistakes, and errors, point out opportunities to the lead surgeon, there was lots of back and forth. They continually got better and better and faster and faster at improving the surgery. Those were part of a fixed mindset team, where there is very much a hierarchy. The surgeon was the one that was telling everyone else what to do, there was no feedback, there was no two-way communication, it was just tell and do, their performance really stagnated, and they didn't get better at performing that task, they didn't get faster or quicker. Their outcomes remained relatively stable to a point.
So the ability for teams to have a growth mindset will really shape their performance as well in the outcome. So psychological safety in a speak-up culture requires not just a safe environment, but a shift in mindset and people being happy to embrace failure and seeing it as a learning opportunity. When those things start to happen, we then start to see a shift into team performance. So where to from here? I asked you to think about, have a curious mindset.
I wanna give you two takeaways today about what you might be able to do to create a psychologically safe workplace. The first thing is to ask, have you got one? And a good way to test if you've got one is to look for pockets of silence. If there's silence, there's a good chance that you may be having a non-speak up culture. What you can do about that is to assign a dissenter to meetings, assign someone in those meetings to be the one to challenge the status quo.
We make this like a job card. In each meeting, someone's job in that meeting is actually the challenge the status quo, to push back, to ask the difficult questions. By assigning that as a job in each meeting, you're actually taking away people sitting there thinking, Ooh, should I say that, should I not? If it's their job today, you take away that decision, you take away that interpersonal risk because everyone in the meeting expects them to ask the difficult questions. What's your organisation doing about its relationship with fear failure? Are you awarding failure? Do you thank people for bad news?
You as an individual, the next time someone comes and tells you about a problem, think about how you respond. Smile sweetly, you might think, I don't wanna know that. I don't wanna hear it, I don't have the capacity, but smile and thank them for the bad news. That'll be the first step to you starting to change their relationship to failure. Thank you for your time.
Thanks Naomi, if you wanna come and join me now, it's time for some questions and we have a number of those already. Can I just quickly off the back of your presentation, ask you, and it's probably pertinent to the last few slides. How do micromanagers fit into something like this? You know, the ones that are always right and are leading by a dictatorship or authoritarianism, how do they fall into this model?
They create a culture of silence because they take away that need for people to contribute. They become know-it-alls, not learn-at-alls. So they'll actually erode the foundation of psychological safety and those leaders, when they ask for input or feedback, they're often met with silence, cause people think, why bother? Why bother contributing?
It's not healthy, is it? No.
It's no fun either if you're working in that team.
No, and the problem with that too, and this will happen in organisations in various sectors is that creativity and ingenuity and all that sort of stuff is probably then lifting Pandora's box because they're not game to actually say anything because, well, the thought process is, well, no one ever listens or they don't care anyway.
Exactly, and it's really ironic, isn't it? Because lots of organisations, a big target is innovation, adaptability, agility, yet they never going to achieve that if they can't shift this first.
All right, let's get into the questions that everybody has sent through to us. And we thank your involvement in today's a Short Talk presentation. If you do have a question, please go to the chat box, put it in there and we'll get to it as soon as we can, or you can send it through firstname.lastname@example.org. Now, Naomi, Chris asks as a measurable construct, I'm interested to know how psychological safety is measured and if there is an agreed set of measures.
So most of Amy Edmondson's work actually has been establishing just that. And so it's been researched and over 20 years in Harvard, and there has been a development of that particular metric. So it's a validated tool agreed way of measuring it, which is really exciting because it really is an opportunity for organisations to think about what metrics they are using, a lot of them aren't using this. That's very valuable.
And are they being widely used by organisations now?
Lots of the organisations who are really looking for lead indicators, particularly in that safety space, this is where they're starting to look. This is where they're starting to focus. And I do suggest that organisations like the Google's of the world, the Microsoft, they've shifted away from typical culture surveys to this type of metric, so there will be a change here in the near future I suggest too.
Okay, all right, Nicole has our second question, Naomi. And she asks, from your experience with organisations, can you provide examples of some innovative ways of creating the speaker up culture, the speak up culture?
Yeah, so I think the simplest one is actually the biggest, the two biggest accelerators are the dissenter is probably one of the most successful and simple one was I just elaborated before on. And that is actually setting up in your structured meetings or interactions, basically a job card. And we have a job card, it's got a job description on it, and in the role of the person with that card in that meeting is to be the dissenter, is their role to speak up and challenge questions, to ask difficult questions, to point out something that may be missed, to actually point out the unpopular point of view. That is something really, really simple structural thing that can be put in on a daily basis. And what that does, it starts to build up this momentum. The key though, is that when that person takes that role is watching how we respond to those comments. Are those comments and thoughts and feedback, and when they push back, are they actually welcomed and accepted?
Because as soon as you'll shut this down, as soon as you have a bad reaction, if you actually challenges that happen to someone, you say, look, come and tell me your feedback, I'd love to know. And then as soon as you actually respond negatively and say, "Look, I don't agree with you, no, that's not right." Or you shut them down, they'll never do that again. And everyone else will see that happened. So it's A, giving them the space to contribute, but also then responding productively.
Do you have to be careful that it doesn't get out of control and I'm not suggesting this as a draconian approach, but you know, surely we need guidance, parameters, that sort of thing, so that they don't become someone who is then unruly and unsettling.
And I think that's the other key piece. That's that accountability piece. So if you have safety, you've also had accountability. So if you actually ask supposing suggesting something or proposing another opportunity, you have to be responsible for following that through and helping that be achieved. So you can't just throw grenades. I mean that accountability piece is really important with it.
We have a question from Christine, she asks, do you have any advice or strategies on what to do if you do have any individual in the team who makes the rest of the unit feel unsafe?
Good question. So it's really interesting, so it depends on where you are in that team. If you're the leader of that team, that's really your responsibility to actually address that behaviour with that individual. But if you're not the leader, the first thing you can do is what we call closing the intent impact gap. So if that person is having a negative impact on you, the first step is actually to check, is that their intended impact? When they actually called you out in a meeting and put you on the spot, was it because they actually wanted to make you look silly or was it because they just didn't think, and you don't know that at that stage.
So the first step would be actually to go, to actually provide them that feedback. Hey, when you actually put me on the spot there, was that because after that information, was that because you were trying to call me out or was that because you genuinely needed that information. And of course watching their response. And if they're repeat that again, then the impact of that was on me that I actually felt uncertain and uncomfortable. So that sort of discussion or closing that intent impact gap would be the first step I would suggest.
Thanks for that, Naomi. All right, let's move on to Chloe's question. And she asks, how does personality type and team dynamics impact silence and psychological safety?
Yeah, so another really good one, so it's interesting because in a team you might have, so a personality trait like introversion, extroversion. And interestingly, when we do some work with teams, I had a fabulous team we're working with and we're looking at conversational turn-taking, which is another strategy of actually increasing speak-up culture. And we did a time in motion study and measured the amount of time people were speaking in those meetings.
And two people were speaking 80% of the time, the rest were silent. And when we actually unpacked that, the people who were speaking all the time, they felt that they were always carrying the load because the others in the team were always solid and never actually suggested or spoke up. But those people who are silent, they're actually introverts and they spend much more time processing, thinking through the conversation. And by the time they actually thought, you know what, I've listened to everyone's point of view, I'd like to contribute, the extroverts had moved on and actually moved to the next point of view, actually taking that opportunity away from the introvert.
So having that understanding each other and their styles allows you to actually have those conversations and then put in strategies to manage that. And that's where we applied the conversational turn-taking so that we actually could cater for everyone's different styles and those sort of meeting environments.
Loads of questions coming through Naomi, which is a good thing. We're gonna make you work hard this morning. And Martin asks, have you found that there is value in having an anonymous way to report errors hazard in teams where there is low psychological safety?
So I think that's about, I think here, so you obviously don't want to strive for that, but if there's low psychological, the anonymous reporting could be a way of building the foundation of trust with amongst the team. So if those things are anonymously reported or identified, and then the people who have reported them, then see action taken on those, that may build the confidence in the team that, you know what, people do listen around here, my contribution is valued and they will be more likely to speak up without the need for that anonymous sort of blanket over them. But I don't think that should be something that you strive for.
Let's take it one step further. Would you recommend then that perhaps we keep it in the open and it's how you manage and communicate around that reporting and the issue?
Yeah, definitely, so it's around how you engage that information, there's another little strategy we use called 2-4-8. And if you wanna actually seek information, don't ask an entire group, do it as a pair first. So it'd be you and me, I'd say, "Hey, I just wanna have a chat to you about this. "What are your thoughts on this?" Because people will be safer to have a one-on-one conversation.
And then he might build that courage a little bit more, and you might have a group of four people. So you might ask them for some input and then you might do eight or all. So it's a little strategy of actually psychological safety, it's always safe to speak up in small groups. So that would be another strategy you could use.
Naomi, here is one on silence. Introverts generally don't speak up as much, how do you know if the issue is psychological safety or just their personality? How would you encourage introverts to speak up? This is from Lisa and we've seen this in a lot of team meetings. The extroverts tend to ask all the questions and the introverts, you rarely hear from.
And I think this is really gets to the foundation of psychological safety. Psychological safety is not just about speaking up and everyone talking all the time, it's actually about, do I feel like I belong as part of this team? Does my contribution feel valued? Do I feel like it's safe to make mistakes?
And so an introvert, they may not speak up in that meeting, but they may not feel psychologically unsafe. They might feel very valued. You know what, they might speak up in one-on-one environment. So before they get into the meeting, someone comes to them and says, "Hey, look, I really value your opinion, "you're a real expert on this, tell us your thoughts here." And you might have that conversation with them prior to the meeting, or you might specifically invite them into that conversation on the spot.
But if that's not what they're comfortable in doing, being put on the spot in the meeting, you might actually ask them to contribute beforehand. And that invitation to contribute actually is a foundation of psychological safety, it's not just the act of speaking up.
So you give him an opportunity to participate, even if it's not in the event itself, but you can still be part of the issue or the matter or the problem solving.
Yeah, yeah, because then making them feel like they're valued and they're contributing to the journey of the team.
Melissa would like to know, how could you foster psychological safety in a volunteer-type situation, like a sporting club, where the head honchos tend to just take over? Are there any ways to help the smaller voices be heard?
Oh, good question. And that's an interesting environment, isn't it? That environment, because that does tend to happen. So look, I think this is times that you'd have like little focus groups. So you might have little working groups on something where you actually might get those smaller voices together and seek out and ask their opinion and then take it to the head honchos because chances are, if you don't gather it in those small pokers, then they'll be met with a culture of silence.
Unfortunately that's quite difficult because you cannot sack anyone in there. You know, the head honchos will be, if that their style and that's the way they wanna lead that volunteer organisation, then you're quite powerless in a way.
All right, let's move on to the next question. And Louise says some of the best innovations come from crazy ideas and feeling safe to try things and make mistakes. How do you suggest people manage up where there is a significant culture of anti-speaking up or speaking up is met with recrimination, blame for mistakes, et cetera.
So looking for make people who may not be leaders who may not be the boss that influences. So looking in the organisation on, are there actually other people who actually could help advocate or table the issues or the concerns that I have specifically if the leader isn't listening. So I'll be searching out those influences in the organisation.
Lisa says, "I really liked the practical things you did "to create more psychologically safe team, "looking at how the group discusses ideas, "give feedback, et cetera, do you have any other?" So she's looking to.
Yes, we do lots. So, like we do a lot in that foundational piece around the team, really understanding how each other work and operate. And so we look at people's mindsets and one particular activity you look at is mindset triggers. So what are particular things that we do to make each other sad, mad, and glad?
Having those conversations and understanding what those environments and those situations are helps build a bond between each other and helps us actually close that intent impact gap. So the sad, mad, glad strategy is a really good way of actually understanding how to best work with each other.
Cool, let's have a look at Helaine and she says she appreciates the information around the constructive feedback to avoid the situation when you never provide feedback for situations that require adjustment and avoids that belief, that the workplace is a perfect situation with no issues.
I was in a, had a really fabulous involved in a really fabulous situation where I didn't know anyone in a meeting yesterday and the person who chaired that meeting set it up beautifully and we call it framing. And said, look, you know, this is a safe place, we all come from different backgrounds, situations on this project, it's gonna be quite challenging because we haven't worked together before.
But if there's those challenges, let's identify them and work out how to resolve them early on, which is a really nice frame, 'cause it is gonna be a difficult project. I don't know anyone else working on this project, so actually just acknowledging that, yep, there'll be times where there's issues, but let's talk about it was a really good way of setting up the culture.
Naomi, this is a big question, I've had a quick look while you were answering the last one. And this is quite possibly our last question unless somebody rushes one really zinger rod at the end and Michelle would like to know how do you change culture when you are not the leader, you're not at the top of the tree, you are not a key influencer, how do you help change?
Well, I've seen this happen and it's been the power of the teams. The teams start to manage the leader. And I think the first part is actually literacy, them knowing what this even is. So this concept of psychological safety, what we've found when people actually, and teams start to know what it is and know what it looks like and know what makes it up, they start to go, you know what, this isn't happening here. This isn't working here.
And so then they actually start to manage each other and start to potentially manage that leader. And it becomes the power of the team versus the leader, controlling them because it actually becomes quite obvious that the leader actually isn't aspiring to these things. So it's a bit of a pack mentality, hard one though.
All right, we'll leave the questions there. Naomi just I've asked most of our presenters during our sessions to come up with one final take home message that everyone who's with us needs to remember.
Silence is deadly. So if you're met with silence, go and ask more questions.
I'm gonna just sneak back over here, right behind you, which is probably not the most elegant move I've ever made. But Naomi Armitage, thank you for joining us today, loved your presentation. And clearly with the number of questions that kept coming in, very popular out there too, thank you very much.
Ladies and gentlemen, thanks for joining us. I hope that you've enjoyed today's presentation and you are able to take Naomi's information and implement it at your workplace. It is the last of our four Short Talks for this year, hope you've enjoyed all of those. If you've been able to tune in for today's presentation or one of the three others. Today's presentation recording will be available through the portal in the next week or so.
Keep an eye out for the link that our team will be sending to you in your email inbox. I would encourage you to visit our website, and of course that is worksafe.qld.gov.au to check out the full range of industry and topic-specific video case studies, podcasts, speaker recordings, webinars, and films, to help you take action to improve your WHS and return to work outcomes.
These resources are free to download and share, so I encourage you to share them with your staff and your networks, and of course your friends and colleagues. Have a good day everyone, I'll now leave you with a word from our event sponsor, No More Pain Ergonomics, work safe, home safe.
Are you looking for the best ergonomic office equipment for you and your staff? Change the way you work with No More Pain Ergonomics. We've stocked the complete range of affordable ergonomic office equipment, including furniture, mice, keyboards, and more.
Our team of health professionals, hand-select products to solve your aches and pains. Then with our 30-day guarantee, if the product doesn't help simply exchange or return it for a refund, you are full range at nomorepainergonomics.com.au.