By Rachel Brown
Why its important your new starters feel “safe”.
For many years I have been working with leaders to support them in creating psychologically safe work environments. Employees who feel psychologically safe are more engaged, less fearful, more innovative, and perform better (the list goes on – if you want to know more, I highly recommend “The fearless organization” by Amy C. Edmondson.)
10 weeks ago, I started a new role and was plunged into a completely new type of organization with a very different culture. It got me thinking of the importance of psychological safety for new recruits, something I have never really considered before.
Every time I start a new role, I prepare myself to deal with the huge dollop of imposter syndrome that seems to come my way. It can be a paralysing (a glorious combination of fear, hesitancy and wondering how long it’s going to be before you are “found out”!). That, coupled with the fact that all the systems and processes are different, you are trying to build new relationships, and you really want to show them that they made the right choice in recruiting you….the first few weeks can be tough!
Let’s look at it from the point of view of the employer. You want someone who is quick to learn, asks the right questions, brings a fresh perspective and is able to ‘get stuck in’ as soon as possible. It takes, on average, 8 months for a new recruit to feel they can carry out the role effectively (Glassdoor, Harvard Business Review). Surely if you can reduce that time, it’s a good thing.
My new colleagues at Gradconsult have created a psychologically safe working environment and that has made such a difference to me as a new starter.
That sense of competition or the feeling of “not being good enough” is massively reduced. The fear of making a mistake decreases (I made a biggy in my third week! I genuinely experienced it as a learning opportunity rather than a point of blame or shame). There is more confidence and opportunity to make suggestions for improvements. I can be myself and feel included.
This sense of psychological safety is organisation wide. I think is has to be. A wonderfully supportive line manager is not enough.
So, what can you do to make your place of work more psychologically safe and enable your new starters to flourish, faster?
Edmondson suggests there are 3 things you need to do to create a psychologically safe environment:
- Setting the stage and framing the work (my mistake wasn’t a mistake, it was an opportunity to learn)
- Inviting participation (helping people to engage and pulling down the bar - which is often way too high - for what is considered ‘appropriate participation’)
- Responding productively (if someone does take the risk to suggest an idea or ask a question, they are met with appreciation and they know that failure - a bad idea, a stupid question - is ok).
For me, I think the last one is the most important. As a newbie, I feel like I am taking a risk on practically everything I do! It’s nice to be able to do this with much less fear.
I know that in this role I have been far more productive, far more quickly. I am adding value to the organisation. Yes, I still have a lot to learn…yes, I still rely on my colleagues’ willingness to help (one of the four dimensions of psychological safety) and no doubt there are more mistakes (sorry, learning opportunities!) on the horizon…but so far, so good.
Historically I have worked in internal L&D roles to build leadership and culture capability. In my new role I am now working with leaders and managers in a range of different organisations to do this. If you are looking at how to develop your leadership capability, create high trust cultures underpinned by psychological safety and optimise performance from your teams, please do get in touch. It’s a subject I am always happy to chat about!
First published on LinkedIn on 22 September 2021