Leaders: improving psychological safety should be at the top of your to-do list

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Employees in all industries are burnt out. Hustle culture issues have been bubbling for years. Now people are quitting their jobs in droves and demanding more balance from their employers.

As the world becomes increasingly digitally powered, business leaders face the challenge of piloting new innovations that customers urgently need while managing transformational risks.

Some of these risks, such as breakdowns, can be catastrophic for businesses. Events like the British Airways computer failure, for example, grounded all of the airline’s planes and left thousands of passengers stranded. These turbulent events can be so disruptive that many companies have adopted aggressive policies to avoid even the remote possibility of an outage. But this extreme caution and risk aversion puts a lot of weight on employees’ shoulders and severely hampers their ability to solve problems creatively.

My team recently conducted a developer survey that provides important insight into how a healthy relationship with risk, with forward-looking policies and processes, can dramatically increase a team’s performance and value. overall company. To sum up the findings: having a culture with sensible safeguards to make employees feel psychologically safe is the only way to sustain innovation and retain top talent, especially in a software-driven world.


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What exactly is “psychological safety”?

Psychological safety is the notion that team members are free to make mistakes and freely communicate their thoughts in the workplace without fear of being punished or humiliated. To create a psychologically safe environment, business leaders must recognize that each team member is more than their job title and create a culture that encourages innovation and recognizes that success can be measured in different ways.

Psychological safety is key to job performance and happiness, especially for tech workers

Within developer teams, in particular, operating from a place of error avoidance rather than fostering innovation leads to an environment built on fear and stress. It’s not just an unsustainable workplace, it’s also bad for business. Software developers report high levels of stress and pressure, with 67% saying they or someone they know left a company due to pressure to minimize errors. In a field that lacks skilled labor, developers need to feel able to do their job and innovate effectively, without the constant fear of failure, or teams will scramble to replace them.

The loss of talent due to increased pressure and stress has a domino effect throughout the organization, leading to recurring cost losses due to less productive and motivated teams and additional operational costs for recruitment and development. retention. As many organizations seek to dramatically increase their developer workforce, these costs are only accelerating, creating an urgency to address these issues before they explode.

By creating an environment of psychological safety, you’ll foster innovation and creativity and encourage team members to feel more inspired to achieve their goals and produce quality work, while being happier and more fulfilled in their lives. professional.

How to Create a Psychologically Safe Work Environment

Realizing that there is a need for change is the first step in creating a psychologically safe work environment. While there is no one approach to psychological safety that works for all organizations, there are things you can do as a leader to create a more productive and creative workplace that responds to unique needs of your team.

Take a close look at your processes

Management teams often revert to the way things have always been done. While there is merit in “doing what works,” internal processes should be regularly evaluated to ensure they are the most effective and efficient for your current team.

When processes are outdated or don’t reflect team needs, they can actually act as roadblocks to success, causing teams to move less efficiently to achieve their goals. It’s incredibly frustrating for teams trying to work creatively. For example, we found that a majority of software developers (61%) believe that their company’s processes hinder their ability to innovate.

As a leader, if you want to create a healthier, more efficient work environment for teams, consider how updated processes can both support overall business goals and give teams the freedom to resolve issues quickly. . New approaches and technologies can help your teams manage the risks of high-speed software development. These advances provide new opportunities to re-evaluate the policies and processes that are holding back your teams’ engagement and productivity.

Reassess your expectations of what constitutes great work

Another piece of the puzzle is to reevaluate your expectations. Asking your teams to never fail and create perfect work that requires absolutely no change is unrealistic at best and destructive to your company culture at worst.

True success is the result of many mini-failures, and taking risks is a requirement of innovation. If your team takes risks, there’s a chance they’ll fail, and that should be encouraged. Only 11% of developers said they felt encouraged by leadership to take risks. The absence of such encouragement has a huge negative impact on developers’ ability to innovate.

If you want to innovate, you need to build trust with your teams and encourage them to take risks. This will not only improve your company culture, but lead to more creativity at all levels. Trust that your team is skilled enough not only to innovate, but also to learn from their mistakes and find a positive outcome to any mistakes that occur.

For too long, workers – especially those in technical teams across industries – have been burdened with pressure to work quickly without making mistakes. But it’s not sustainable.

By focusing on creating a psychologically safe environment where tech workers are encouraged to test their limits and innovate comfortably, you’ll create happier teams and, in the long run, your entire company will reap the benefits.

Ravi Tharisayi is senior director of product marketing at Launch Darkly.


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