P.S. Give them the WIIFM

There are more avenues to helping a leader realise they need to change to create psychological safety than I shared in my blog last week. While showing them what was happening is a good start, you also need to make sure they understand what they can have if they make changes. That is, answer the question “What’s In It For Me?” (WIIFM).

A good way to do that is to contrast what is happening now with the type of changes you are suggesting and the favourable outcomes they can expect. Here are three examples to get you started based on papers written by: Amy Edmondson (the Harvard academic that is widely attributed as having coined the phrase psychological safety)[i]; Bev Attfield, host of the People at Work podcast[ii] and Laura Delizonna, executive coach and instructor at Stanford University[iii].

Focus – Me to Them to Us

There are so many angles to this first one. In essence it is about shifting the focus from what the leader wants to what an individual in the team wants. In doing so, a leader might need to shift their thinking from wanting team members to respect them as the leader, to learning to respect team members more fully for their opinions and actions. Ultimately building a key outcome of trust in one another. An essential element for psychological safety to exist.

Purpose – Do to Why to What

Everyone, every team needs a purpose. However, if the leader’s focus is on “do your job” they are missing the point. The more the leader can explain why a team member’s job matters in the fulfilment of team and organisational purpose, the sooner the team can starting asking the question “What can I do differently to help fulfil our purpose?”. This is what Keegan Luiters calls a “questionable purpose.” in his book Team Up. That is, a purpose statement that can be turned into a powerful question. The example Luiters uses is the British rowing team for the Sydney 2000 Olympics. While their purpose was to win Gold, they translated it into “Will it make the boat go faster?” to guide actions and decisions in the lead up to their one chance to win Gold.

Conflict – Dissent to Collaborate to Innovate

Conflict is generally never easy. And if the leader you need to influence sees conflict as dissent, a big shift is needed fast. A shift to seeing team members who raise issues in a positive light will only happen if the team is seen to be collaborative on key issues. The WIIFM for your leader is that teams who collaborate and raise issues will trust each other more and will more likely take risks. And risk-taking leads to innovation.

There are many more great outcomes that a team leader can expect if they create psychological safety for their teams. I encourage you to delve into the papers by Edmondson, Attfield and Delizonna. As well as check out what my friend and colleague Dr Amy Silver has written on the topic in her blog Silverlinings. Amy is known as one of Australia’s leading experts on psychological safety.

Stay safe and influence leaders to build psychological safety!

[i] Edmondson, Amy: Psychological Safety and Learning Behavior in Work Teams, Administrative Science Quarterly, 44 (1999): 350-383

[ii] Attfield, Bev: 7 ways to create psychological safety in your workplaceJostle Blog, 2019.

[iii] Delizonna, Laura: High-Performing Teams Need Psychological Safety. Here’s How to Create It; HBR, August 24, 2017.