In today’s article, we lift the veil on some of the “Yes, but…” responses we have heard from organisations and teams that act as objections, and contribute to the resistance that we previously spoke about.
“Yes this is important, and we would love to use your Dashboard but it’s too early for us, maybe next year”
What this typically means, is that the top management hasn’t yet understood the concept of Psychological Safety and the organisation is still low on their awareness curve regarding ways to raise the performance and wellbeing of their teams. While it is painful for their employees and detrimental to their likelihood to succeed, it is likely a valid objection that simply speaks volumes about the amount of HumanDebt™ they have to deal with before they can truly do the people work.
“Yes, but we are busy with other priorities”
Maybe the most shocking of all objections and still the most common one. If we were to be brutally honest we’d have to counter with “You need to check those priorities! What in the world matters more than your people, and how taking care of them and ensuring they have healthy team dynamics translates directly into performance and productivity and ultimately into $?”
“Yes, but we already have something for people”
This particular objection is the most insidious and painful one to hear. So many organisations implemented a rudimentary “give each other kudos” system at great pains, or introduced a thumbs up/down widget in some workspace and they think they are “done”. They wash their hands of the people work. For every day that those “something” systems are considered sufficient and no human work is done on other topics such as trust, learning, resilience, engagement or courage, the HumanDebt™ accrues.
“Yes, but we’re not trained to do the human work”
No organisation has an army of mini Counsellor Troi’s who head teams and Google hasn’t sent every team lead to get a PhD in Psychology. Goodwill, EQ, empathy and the right tools can make any leader of a team into one, but realistically, the abilities of the team leader are irrelevant, as the work is done by the entire team starting with when they lay eyes on the data, to when they brainstorm what their next best action is, and then of course by closing the feedback loop with executing that human intervention and seeing the improvement next time they look at the data.
“Yes, but what if our team is different?”
In a sense this objection is lovely – it demonstrates trust in the individuality of the team or of the organisation. This can sometimes be the result of efficient internal branding. Unless it refers to cultural differences – and it often does – we do often hear “This could work here but we also have colleagues from X country”.
What we have seen from the very diverse set of companies and teams using our software, is no marked cultural variation irrespective of their location or provenance. Employees start at different points with different behaviours, some times more fearful than those in other places, and they go about the interventions in different ways. But once they see the magical effects of the people work at a bubble level, they all across the board improve in all the components of Psychological Safety just the same. “A team is a team, is a team” once you get back to basic positive behaviours.
“Yes, but our team doesn’t have that kind of people, they don’t believe in these things”
As if people need to be “into the fluffy things”. Quite insultingly towards one’s own employees really, this objection implicitly divides the world into people who do something practical and those who talk about and think about these topics. In reality it never takes “a special kind of person” as the question is never if they are able but always if they are willing.
“Yes, but our people are mostly technical/scientific/etc.”
This objection signifies the organisation doesn’t know their people very well because anyone who has worked closely with developers, researchers, scientists or engineers – not only at the surface level – knows that they are easy to bring along on any human journey and they are more than happy to apply themselves to the people work and thrive on connecting when that is facilitated for them.
“Yes, but our teams are tired of answering surveys”
Who can blame them? Long drawn-out stiff annual surveys, potentially punitive 360s, wooden language NPS measurements… who in their right mind would love those? The good news is that our solution is nothing like those in terms of language or presentation, and the even better news is that it isn’t a survey tool at all — and neither is it perceived as one by the teams using it. This is because in lieu of firing some answers into the unknown into what feels like a sterile exercise that they never see any action from, our feedback loop is closed and they see and affect the results through their own people work with human interventions.
“Yes, but this isn’t the right time, we are going through major restructuring”
This is precisely the right time! Your people will be more fearful than ever, a new dynamic is being established, new ways of working together are being negotiated. Putting in place a way to fundamentally do these right is paramount and will stand you in good stead. Whereas if you wait until “later” a lot of HumanDebt™ would have already accumulated at the team level; not to mention that the lack of willingness to speak up from a weary and fearful workforce, could have already translated into a loss in your bottom line. Stop putting it off.
“Yes, but we don’t have any budget for people topics”
What do you have a budget for? What can possibly be more important?
“Yes, but what if the team doesn’t want to do any of this work?”
AKA the team-level resistance we were mentioning. This can of course be valid but it is one that is easy to overcome quite rapidly when they get stuck in. Most teams who saw improvements through our solution started somewhat reluctant and became joyful and invested in applying themselves to it once they started seeing results.
“Yes of course, but what we also are dealing with is a need for culture change at the organisational level, that’s what we’re focusing on for now”
How is culture going to be changed on paper? As explained in other episodes, at PeopleNotTech we view “the organisation” as being as effective a concept as Santa Claus when it comes to the life of any enterprise — a mythical structure that is a by-product not a lever for change; whereas “the team” and “the individual” are the units that can and will affect change and result in better culture. If you want a healthy culture you need healthy teams. Start with Psychological Safety.
“Sure, but we have more fundamental challenges such as D&I in particular after last years”
Lately there have been a fair number of publications that go into great detail about the link between D&I and Psychological Safety. In short, they postulate that recruiting for diversity in environments with low Psychological Safety is nothing but a doomed exercise, as people can’t feel included in an unsafe culture. Sustainable D&I starts with Psychological Safety.
“Yes, but we’re struggling with leadership that is stuck in their old command & control ways”
True concern. Then again, it is worth remembering that it is not because leaders are unintelligent or unaware of the benefits of the new ways of work where the best teams are autonomous and they can relinquish that control and instead of it demonstrate courage, trust in the work of their people and a willingness to remove barriers, AKA true servant leadership. They know what it entails and they would most likely hurry to change and attempt it if they had enough Psychological Safety themselves.
We said this many times before: to have courageous, Agile, servant leaders 2.0 we need to remove their own tendency to impression manage and we need to transform leadership groups that function as a PR bulletin gathering into actual teams. To be a team they’ll need Psychological Safety at the top. Urgently.
“Yes, but we are already doing something about engagement, this isn’t new to us”
This one is maybe the most grating and worrying of all objections because Psychological Safety is so much more than just engagement. While it is undoubtedly an important component, you can have teams having apparently high levels of engagement who are not actually Psychologically Safe with each other and will therefore perform no better than those who are not in a good place.
In addition to this, classic engagement measurements ask silly questions about the NPS indicators and a sense of purpose before they find out how closely bonded a team is and what their morale, empathy and sense of relating to each other is like.
Engagement without Psychological Safety is insufficient but equally, it is a blessed by-product of happy and healthy teams with dynamics that have safety. Start with Psychological Safety and you’ll be increasing engagement too.
“Yes, but in this new world of remote or hybrid working, we have to set them up first and then when they settle we can see about performance and PS”
What is more important foundation-wise than instilling PS in the teams that need it? What we found after working with dozens of suddenly-remote teams, is that they struggle even more than usual to gel, to relate, to feel like a unit. In the absence of physical cues they find it harder to understand each other; being on endless Zoom calls may translate into reluctance to speak up and engage; and the burn-out we’re all starting to feel after the disastrous 2020 we all had is starting to show in increased Impression Management and so on.
By all means, give them the tools to feel comfortable working from home, but don’t stop at communication and project management. Ensure they have the human tools to keep an eye on their dynamic as a team and improve it. The only thing you’re setting them up for if you ignore Psychological Safety is a failure.
“Yes, but our people don’t like measurements”
What your people don’t like are punitive measures and potential negative consequences. It’s not being analysed they object to, but how that is a threat to their livelihood. You have to make them feel safe enough to both be willing to tell you and to show you who they are – authentically, honestly and without fear. It’s why you need Psychological Safety.
“Yes, but our primary preoccupation is with mental health now. I thought PS wasn’t about that”
While Psychological Safety is easily confused for psychological wellbeing at an individual level, it is not at all the same concept, as it refers instead to a team dynamic. Nonetheless, it stands to reason that individuals who come from teams that have a high degree of Psychological Safety – and who are therefore highly performant – will be happier, more resilient and by extension will struggle less with depression, burnout and stress. Team health reflects into more individual health. So if you want “mens sana” start with “teams sani”.
“Yes, but you can’t really grow Psychological Safety, it’s either there or it’s not”
Then all the Silicon Valley winners that are using their preoccupation with PS to propel them ahead of all the incumbent competition fast, are wrong.
Psychological Safety as a monolithic binary “there or not there” and immutable concept, is just an excuse some organisations allow themselves so that they don’t need to do the work to dissect the desirable and undesirable behaviours that go into PS and then the even more work, of stimulating the former and reducing the latter. Psychological Safety can and should be improved and that growth is at the team’s fingertips with the right tools and support.
“Yes, but our teams are made up of techies, they don’t know how to do this human work – interventions and such”
Some of the most talented humans when it comes to people and teams are former developers. Enable them with the knowledge and the tools and you’ll transform teams into self-healing entities. And once they start learning how to get better they’ll be continuously self-improving. Trust your own people with seeing and improving their Psychological Safety.
“Yes, but maybe we are truly out of the pandemic”
The pandemic redefined work. With the POC of Remote work now proven and a greater understanding of human topics, it will result in winners and losers in business. The former would have seized this opportunity to carve not only a better future for their employees but one for their company by having used it as a major change point to correct much of their existent HumanDebt™ as studies started showing, the rest will be part of the latter category but won’t know how much of a mistake ignoring the opportunity is before it will be too late. New policies and regulations that need to be “dealt with” will never ensure anyone is a winner in the absence of real human work. Psychologically Safe HR will help leadership see this.
None of these is a true objection. Oftentimes, the real fears are all about organisation-level impression management. The ones saying this are likely really just fearful. Afraid to lose their position by looking “too soft” or “too unprofessional” or “too concerned with the wrong things and not focused on the priorities”.
They know in their heart of hearts they shouldn’t have any of these objections and they know what’s right in terms of the people work, but they aren’t part of psychologically safe enough of a team to say so with conviction and see past them.
Part of these objections comes about because of the HumanDebt™ – there is simply so much left to demystify and rethink in the realm of humans at work that confusion on priorities reigns supreme, even in the shops with the best intentions.
Part comes from the fact that even if HR were crystal clear on its importance and not regarding it as a “nice to have” but as the urgent imperative that it is, in the absence of ways to measure and increase Psychological Safety as software solutions like ours that do exactly that, are new, there was no point agonising over it.
HR professionals instinctively always knew that change can only happen by affecting the dynamic of the team and that the positive behaviour of speaking up fearlessly is crucial, but there was precious little they could do about it.
Nowadays, none of those excuses still stand and nothing can be seen as more important. We know better. We need better.
Start with Psychological Safety. No “but”s.
Join us again next week where we further dissect “Psychological Safety in the new hybrid environment of work”
The 3 “commandments of Psychological Safety” to build high performing teams are: Understand, Measure and Improve.
Read more about our Team Dashboard that measures and improves Psychological Safety at peoplenottech.com, or reach out on our contact page and let’s help your teams become Psychologically Safe, healthy, happy and highly performant.
You can order the book People Before Tech: The Importance of Psychological Safety and Teamwork in the Digital Age on Amazon.