Developing a Psychologically Safe Organisation

I’ve spent most of the last 2 weeks in London meeting CEO’s across a whole raft of different sectors – hospitality, software development, retailers, FMCG manufacturers, wholesales. When I asked them each the question of what their biggest challenge was, pretty much every one of them said recruitment and retention. Covid has lead to people asking bigger questions about life and where work fits into this – saying no to commuting, no to high pressure, yes to more time at home. People are making broader life choices, changing sectors and retiring/taking career breaks. In this and many other areas, Covid has concertinaed  ten or twenty years of change into a year or two.  The UK has the added presume of that thing that is done and shouldn’t be talked about (Brexit).

At a seminar I was at on Tuesday, the CEO of a global Foodservice organisation felt these factors were not enough to explain the pressure and humorously suggested Aliens had abducted 3m people people from Europe! And I know this isn’t just a European issue.

So, what to do? I think the single biggest thing you can do to help ease this burden is to create Psychological Safety in your organisation. Defined as “being able to show and employ oneself without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career”, in a 2015 study it found by Google to be the biggest single factor in differentiating how their teams performed. Easy, to say, hard to do!

The creation of Psychological Safety takes time to create, needs to be lead/modelled by the leaders of the business and needs to be nurtured. It allows people be fully themselves and to avoid the need to leave parts of themselves (that they feel will be unwelcome) at home, and it allows them to slowly and cautiously open their hearts. This was the core of what we did in my North London Supermarket, Thornton’s Budgens. With a clear purpose to unite us all (“We are the community Supermarket who really Care about People and Planet”) and using a mix of coaching and training, we created a culture where it was safe for people to fully be themselves. It looked like learning to really listen to people, to make the time and space to do this; it looked like trusting people to make decisions without approval and appreciating them at every stage. It looked like encouraging people to make mistakes, to better understand why they behave like the do and to own the sides of themselves they were less proud of. We used the supermarket as a laboratory to develop the principles of being an Authentic Leader, which we share in our soon to be published book, “Putting the Heart back into Business” – namely: 1. Be your purpose; 2. Be in flow; 3. Be of integrity; 4. Be clear and consistent; 5. Be organised; 6. Be appreciative; 7. Be humble; 8. Be vulnerable; 9. Be present; 10. Be trusting.

This is not about money, as every study I have ever read shows that once you get beyond the basic amount you need to pay for a roof over your head, clothes on your back and food in your belly (the base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs), money doesn’t make that much difference to your levels of happiness. If you look at studies about what people appreciate about their jobs, money rarely makes it into the top three. Factors such as being appreciated by your manager or colleagues, doing a job that makes a difference and working with people you like all tend to beat money every time.

To show this at work, a quick story from the book – in 2016, the UK Government replaced the minimum wage with the living wage and set a four-year timeline to move the hourly rate from £6.70 in stages to £9.00. This was absolutely the right thing to do – you try living on £6.70 per hour. As a store owner, it posed a challenge for me, as we were already paying above the minimum wage. Then Lidl made a bold move – they immediately raised everyone to the £9.00 level (versus stage one, which was £7.20), four years ahead of schedule. I know other independent retailers in London who lost plenty of people as a result, but we didn’t lose a single person. Despite the attraction of £1.80 extra per hour (which at 25 percent more is not inconsiderable), each of my team felt that the benefits of staying at Thornton’s Budgens outweighed the extra cash. This is psychological safety in action. And with this, we managed to achieve an average length of service of 8.5 years (unheard of in a London supermarket), rising to 15 years for managers and supervisors. So, maybe we should pay more attention to March 4th – which in case you didn’t know, was Employee Appreciation Day!


It’s Our Mission

Discover the Purpose in Everyone

Our Mission is to equip leaders to discover the purpose in everyone, to inspire the company to honour its reason for being, so that everyone can be in flow through unknotting and live at their full potential. The Stepping into Authentic Leadership programmes are a key part of achieving this. We act as advisors to business leaders and boards, we facilitate team workshops and open training programmes. We coach business leaders, and help companies measure and track how much of their human potential they are accessing. We do this through our global team of specialist facilitators and coaches.


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Take a moment for yourself

In Heart in Business we work with individuals and companies to help them discover their purpose, their direction. What is it that gets you up in the morning? Where do you want to be on 21 January 2023 as one lunar year ends and another begins?

Happiness is defined by having a clear purpose and doing what you love doing. How will you create a prosperous year that brings you happiness?


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