Have you ever gotten mixed messages from someone at work? You know, like when your boss says:
"Hey, bring your ideas! We really want to innovate and get some new initiatives going here!"
Then . . . when you share your ideas, they're dismissed or ignored. Talk about mixed signals!
That doesn't feel good. And it certainly doesn't create an environment where people feel inspired to bring more of their ideas.
There’s been a lot of talk about Google's study on psychological safety - a term coined by Amy Edmondson - but most people don’t fully understand what psychological safety is. Sometimes the best way to show what something is, is to show what it isn't. So when you bring your ideas, these responses are NOT psychological safety:
"Yeah, but…. that's not really the direction we need to go."
"Yeah, but, ugh, we just don't have the budget for that.”
"I've tried that somewhere else. It flopped.”
“That's not going to work here.”
"Not really what we're looking for. Anybody else have an idea?"
What do you think when you hear things like this? After hearing all of this, how likely are you to share your ideas next time? And most importantly, who loses in this scenario?
You do, sure. But the company does too. With leaders actively discouraging ideas, innovation comes to a standstill. Employees don’t feel like what they have to offer is valued. And eventually, they leave or disengage.
On a scale of 1-10, if you have to be operating at a 6 (at minimum) to not get fired? Well, this kind of environment leaves you with people working at a 6.1, just barely enough to stay under the radar.
Does this sound familiar to you?
What if the manager reacted differently to all those ideas he’d asked for?
“That's really an interesting idea.”
"Tell me more about that.”
"How did you come to that conclusion?”
"How do you think that would impact these other parts of the organization?"
"Oh, what if we took that idea and added this to it?"
Reactions like this, that honor the contributions people have made, spark an inspiring conversation that encourages new thinking.
What are the things you're doing in your organization to create trust and safety for other people, so that they want to be invested in their work? Because at the end of the day people want to feel excited about what they're doing and to know that what they're doing makes a difference.
If you want to talk more about how to create a psychologically safe workplace, let’s talk.
A while back, I was talking to a client, Peter, and he had been experiencing a lot of stress. He was telling me that he was feeling the weight of the organization, like he was having to hold the whole organization together.
That's a lot of stress for one person to feel.
As we were exploring it further, Peter shared a recent interaction with his manager. His manager was reflecting on a project and told Peter that he really appreciated the quality of his work and the effort he put in – that he had done a great job.
It was nothing more than a one-on-one, heartfelt conversation recognizing Peter for work that mattered.
Peter said to me:
"That felt so good. It felt great for somebody to know what I was doing and to appreciate it, because I think a lot of the work I do is behind the scenes, invisible. People don't really know about it. So to hear my manager say that he saw it and he appreciated it felt incredible."
These moments of recognition matter.
When was the last time that someone recognized you for your efforts? Can you remember someone sharing genuine gratitude and appreciation for your contributions?
If you can remember that moment, you remember how it felt. And how important it was to you.
In general, we don’t recognize people enough. We have a tendency to point out the things that people can do better in an effort to help them grow, but not to highlight all the things that are going well.
Regular recognition and appreciation is just as crucial to growth. It gives us confidence that we’re on the right track, and motivation to continue taking on challenging tasks that push us to expand our skills and abilities.
More motivating than money?
When I was talking to Peter about how great he felt about the recognition he received, he was sure to add, “You know, if they want to give me more money, I'm not going to say no!"
But the money wasn't the driving force behind his motivation.
Daniel Pink says you just need to pay people enough money to take the money conversation off the table. What motivates them to stay, grow, contribute and add value? It’s the intangibles, like gratitude, appreciation and recognition.
Finding out how to recognize your people
Shortly after working with Peter, I had the opportunity to have a conversation with his manager. When his manager asked me what motivated Peter, I was able to tell him about how much recognition and appreciation for his efforts meant to him.
The manager was so relieved to hear this because he had no idea how to support Peter in staying motivated.
The truth is that most people don't know what motivates others unless they do some very intentional trial and error to figure it out. So what can you do if you’re not lucky enough to just have me walk in and tell you how to motivate your people?
Ask during onboarding. Ask during one on ones. Ask after you’ve given recognition. Make it clear that you care about giving them what they most need.
I have a list I've created of 10 great questions to ask your direct reports in your one-on-ones. Just shoot me an email and I’ll be glad to send you a copy.
Katie is a Certified Dare to Lead™ Facilitator and Executive Coach.