Updated: Feb 2
The F-Word that’s short circuiting your profits.
Come with me on a little sojourn to La La Land.
In La La Land, there is a huge paperclip factory.
In fact, it’s the largest and most successful paperclip factory in the known-world.
Many other factories have tried to emulate their success by building their sales teams, buying the most expensive equipment, and leveraging for the most lucrative work. But despite their outlay being far in excess of the paperclips factory’s, they could never come close to matching its productivity, reputation, or profits.
After years of ruthless competition and trying to emulate the paperclip giant, the other companies experienced downturn after downturn, before finally returning to their default state of corporate mediocrity.
One of the last survivors, a doorbell factory, limping on a downhill slope toward corporate ruin, decided to do something unheard of. Something no one else had ever done. Something new.
They decided that, instead of trying to compete with the paperclip factory for supremacy, they would simply ask if they could learn from them.
The paperclip people welcomed this curiosity with open arms and threw open their doors to the doorbell mob, who arrived eager to soak up a week of trends, graphs and complicated productivity formulae were dumfounded when the paperclip leader conveyed, they’d only need an hour.
The time they spent together proved ground-breaking and, in the weeks and months that followed, the doorbell factory tripled its output, widened its reach, and saw profits that had previously only existed on a pie in the sky strategic plan.
So, what did the paperclip leader say that made such a huge shift possible?
It was this:
“Our focus is not on creating paperclips – our focus is on creating trust.”
The paperclip leader went on to explain that when employees feel a sense of psychological safety, they become committed to the bigger picture instead of just the scene in front of them.
So, what is this psychological safety, how do you get it for your own workplace and how do you know once you’ve got it?
OK, let’s break it down.
What is psychological safety?
According to leading Harvard Business School researcher, Amy Edmondson, who coined the phrase in 1999, psychological safety is “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.”
Or, let me put it another way. When a person feels psychological safe, they are comfortable to speak up, share ideas and admit to mistakes without any fear of judgement or recrimination.
How do you get it?
Feedback! The one F word that can either make or break your business.
From my own experience, the idea of asking for feedback in my early days had me doing a full sphincter-clenching workout. What if I heard things I didn’t want to hear? What if people didn’t like me. What if, what if, what if?
I heaved a big sigh of relief when, after requesting feedback, I was flooded with compliments, praise and stories of how my coaching had proved life changing. This feedback continued to, and still does, flow in and I am grateful for every single word my clients have offered.
It made me feel great, it confirmed my guilty suspicion that I’m bloody good at what I do, and it helped me build a reputation and a brand that I’m sensationally proud of.
But, the one thing it couldn’t do, is help me become better.
Once you uninstall the concept that negative feedback represents failure, you have an opportunity to learn, grow and expand.
But it doesn’t stop there.
As well as openly receiving feedback, you need to also need to deliver it.
There is an art to delivering feedback, one that I teach to visionary corporates but the most important premise behind it, is trust, after all, no matter how constructive the feedback, it’ll never be accepted if it’s delivered by someone who is not trusted.
So, how do you know when you have psychological safety in the workplace?
Your staff contribute ideas instead of withholding them out of fear of humiliation.
Your team is driven by self-accountability and people take ownership of finding a solution instead of investing their time trying to identify who is to blame.
When someone sees an error, they are comfortable to point it out, knowing it will be received with thanks instead of hostility.
Your workplace culture becomes one where staff are encouraged to question, respectfully challenge and have healthy debates that invigorate positive flow instead of increasing negative stagnancy.
Staff feel valued, appreciated and recognised and, as a result, return the favour by increasing productivity and offering innovation.
As Amy Edmondson says, “no one leaps out of bed each morning and heads to work excited about feeling humiliated, incompetent or ignorant”.
People only highlight concerns because they want to create change, not because they want to be persecuted. However, as most feedback is delivered in a way that has people’s amygdalas leaping to life or death conclusions, people stay quiet, hold back their ideas and tread water until it’s time to clock off.
But, once you have an understanding of how the human brain interprets feedback, you’ll have the tools to step out of threat and into growth you never knew was possible.
Just imagine the success you’ll experience when your playing field is built on a foundation of psychological safety and your team is motivated to play as one, kicking goals for your business.
It all depends on whether you see paperclips, or people.
If you’d like to assess the level of psychological safety in your workplace, let’s connect.
Reboot Mindset Coaching
Master Practitioner of Neuro Linguistic Programming
Master Practitioner of Time Line Therapy
Master Practitioner of Clinical Hypnotherapy
Master Practitioner of Life Coaching