The Silicon Valley Secret Sauce You Can Dip In: Psychological Safety And The Bottomline

When I first heard of the “Psychological Safety” construct and had no clue what it meant, I immediately shuddered with the idea of yet another fluffy “for the good of the employee” concept offered by misguided unions.It immediately evoked images of forced job security at all cost in the style of the Nordics where performance and effort are superfluous as everyone is a permanent fixture.These days I forget so many people may still make that automatic mental connection when they hear it and I mustn’t forget, or I’ll stop mitigating against it.If some will believe it is about automated job security, more still will think it belongs in the same bucket as the mental wellness conversation as it applies to employees. These days the topic of mental health is -thankfully- on everyone’s agenda and so that’s a natural association to make.A few others will tell us they’ve heard about Google’s efforts and it’s all about trusting your teammates.The fact is that of course, in as far as it is about humans experiencing a healthy environment, there is a connection between all of the above, but none of these is the actual definition and the concept is far more complex and a lot more -thankfully- mercantile. And that makes it all the more important and sustainable.Personally, I don’t believe in business concepts done in the name of higher moral ground. Not exclusively. At the very least some part of the motivation needs to be of a commercial nature where the business can immediately see the connected value.Before Psychological Safety, despite the efforts of scholars and specialists who could show the negative impact on turnover or the positive impact in hands-on KPIs of employee satisfaction, the topic of keeping your workforce happy was viewed as a “nice to think of after we do the real stuff if there’s any time and budget left”. Psychological Safety changes the game on that - it has such a clear connection to productivity that for the first time, here’s this concept that -incidentally- means employees are happier at work while lo and behold they are very evidently more productive and useful to the business in being so.Speaking of said happiness - when it comes to Psychological Safety it isn’t a goal but a blessed by-product. It’s not that it’s a method to intentionally increase it - it’s an aim to have so that people can be vulnerable therefore courageous, flexible therefore resilient, open and therefore connected.Psychologically Safe teams are happy. Substantially happier that is (respondents of studies say they feel the change in a work environment when this becomes a priority and there is focus on feedback and transparency but this article is intentionally devoid of statistics so that they are researched independently). And therefore yes, they stay and they develop, but more importantly, they work harder and smarter.At Google, at Amazon and even at smaller but recognizable names such as Spotify and Airbnb and others I’m dying to tell you about but are not yet ready to share, there is a number on Psychological Safety. Not only a number on employee happiness, although that exists too, but a specific measurement and bottom-line correlation to Psychological Safety. The number is not a public one and in some cases, not even one that’s known to employees as heaven knows political correctness works in mysterious ways, but it exists and it informs more actions and decisions than surprisingly many of the traditional other business KPIs.This is why they do well. This is why they can employ technology to react fast to what the consumer needs and build addictive experiences making them win. This is why they have “culture” that is envied across the board. This is their secret sauce.An investor asked me the other day if I would be happy for our solution to be exclusively sold to enterprises on the premise of it being useful from a pure old-school HR point of view- that it obviously increases retention and reduced turn-over to have people be part of a strongly bonded team that can rely on each other and be their honest, open self in without any of this hard, measurable business impact and I said “no”.Someone else suggested insurers should help enterprise HR get it as part of their employee wellness packages. That would be nice but not good enough for my purpose.I hope we never have to make the choice but pushing the agenda of showing the hard, cold, business number value in having connected, satisfied employees is the bigger part of our mission. If we want to take the recipe of the secret sauce and make it public so that everyone can make their own then we have to unequivocally shout about its cold, hard, numbers value from the rooftops. Hence the connection to Agile where that number is on display and those results are expected to be hard and fast. That’s where we can show that people matter.It is also an undeniable poetic justice bonus that of a new way of work, designed to showcase the speed of technology, is what we will use to show the evident advantage of having happy people, just as it is admittedly an anomaly that technologists-come-CTOs-or-CIOs etc will be the ones to find ways for their people to be a real team before HR or CEOs, but it doesn’t ultimately matter how we arrive at this as long as we stop thinking it’s fluffy and start showing its numbers.There is a chance here for some organisations to make history because the first ones who will roll out sustained programs to focus on Psychological Safety and return to humanity while showing the connection to the bottom line be it through Agile or other strong, recognisable KPIs that connect to hard cash will be the ones who will start the boulder of adoption of people practices that matter, solve culture crisis and can bring big enterprise giants from the brink of extinction but ironically this fact is what is slowing us down because the organizations who have comprehended the value regard their efforts in Psychological Safety as part of their secret sauce and aren’t too forthcoming in sharing it.They say money can’t buy you happiness but in the case of your employees, their happiness can increase both your money and the time you have left in the game, so only ignore it if you can afford to.Related: The Future Of Work Starts With Questioning Everything