Psychologically safe leader organizational action planning

Support all leaders to ensure a psychologically safe work environment for employees. There are free resources for continual improvement below.

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Organizations can support all leaders to develop and refine strategies that ensure a psychologically safe work environment. This can have a positive impact on both the bottom line and the organization’s reputation. 

Since this is a self-assessment, leaders could potentially mark themselves perfect on each strategy. Let leaders know their employees will later be asked to give feedback on the same strategies. For this reason, the results will be most helpful if the leaders are honest about which strategies they do only some of the time. This will flag potential opportunities for improvement before the employee feedback is collected.

The assessment is just the first step. Resources that support continual improvement are key to making sustainable change in leadership approaches.

After administering the assessments to leaders, the focus should be on supporting the development of realistic action plans to implement or improve identified strategies. Also consider whether you’ll work with leaders as a group or individually.

Micro-changes integrated with existing leadership responsibilities can be more effective and sustainable than trying to make many changes at once. Start with those that will be easy for leaders to implement or those that may have the greatest positive impact and therefore worth the added effort.

Identify strategies  

Compare leadership assessment results and consider leadership strategies the organization would like to incorporate for all leaders.

Each of the strategies in the Psychologically Safe Leader Assessment can contribute to a psychologically healthy and safe work environment. Leaders may not currently be implementing them for any of the following reasons:

  • Unaware of the strategy
  • Never instructed to do it
  • Lack of time or resources
  • Lack of ability or skill
  • Lack of actual or perceived authority
  • Ineffective approach to implementation
  • Uncomfortable with the approach

There may be cases where leaders are implementing a strategy, but the employee feedback doesn’t confirm or recognize this. The reasons for this discrepancy might include:

  • A workplace incident like violence or harassment
  • Changes in team dynamic
  • Current conflict
  • Current organizational changes that are difficult for employees
  • Personal health or family issues that impact judgment or observations
  • A previous leader who wasn’t psychologically safe
  • Work overload
  • Lack of clarity about demands 
  • Fear or anxiety about job retention
  • Lack of awareness about what the leader does in confidence

This isn’t a personality or character assessment. It focuses only on the extent to which strategies known to support psychologically safe work are being implemented.

The employee feedback is intended to capture perceptions to allow for an open dialogue about effective leadership strategies. In many cases, the dialogue alone supports improved psychological safety.

Create leader action plans

Once the leaders complete their report, have them bring their results to a workshop where you’ll help them create an action plan.

You’ll be soliciting input from leaders on the resources, time, expenses, skills or training they need to adopt psychologically safer strategies. The following questions also help create an accountability process that supports reasonable and sustainable leadership development. Capture the answers in aggregate to share with decision makers to help them consider organization-wide changes.

1. What are the most important strategies you as a leader currently use to positively support the psychological health and safety of your employees?

Facilitator note: continue to ask, “And what else?” to expand on the initial answers. Capture these answers without attribution so they can be referred to during the next question. Reinforce that it’s important to continue doing things they know already work.

2. What are the most challenging parts of using these strategies in your current role?

Facilitator note: be mindful to avoid dismissing or questioning any challenges shared as you may silence useful responses. Take a stance of open curiosity and record all the answers without comment. This helps you ensure the leaders feel supported to begin taking positive action. You may want to share the challenges with those who have the authority to address them, but without disclosing who shared which challenges. As you look for patterns in challenges among your leaders, you can include those that are most common or most distressing in your organization-wide strategies.

3. Which of the leadership strategies identified in your assessment do you believe will be most beneficial for you to adopt at this time and why? Please choose only one to 3 strategies for now and ensure they can reasonably be integrated into your existing responsibilities.

Facilitator note: Each leadership strategy listed in the assessment is known to contribute to psychological health and safety based on the research cited in the National Standard. Most are easily integrated into unique, busy and demanding workloads. Improvement is more achievable and sustainable when you work with one to 3 strategies at a time.  

4. What supports, resources, time, expenses, skills or training might you need to successfully adopt these new strategies?

Facilitator note: whatever’s offered here should be considered from a broader perspective – are there resources, time, expenses, skills or training that all leaders might need or that should become a regular part of leadership development? If you’ll be unable to provide what’s requested, be honest and work with the leaders to consider alternative ways to achieve similar results.

5. How and when will you measure positive change or improvement within your team?

Facilitator note: record the ways the leaders would identify improvements. Use these measures to reinforce positive change before the organization’s formal evaluation. Recognizing efforts and outcomes is important to keep motivation high.

6. When will you reassess and create a new action plan?

Facilitator note: in addition to individual leader reassessment, the organization can evaluate success by administering or re-administering the employee feedback version of the Psychologically Safe Leader Assessment. Be sure to give leaders new to this process at least 6 months to integrate the strategies before seeking employee feedback for the first time. After that, you may want to get employee feedback every other year or so. Make sure the leaders know well in advance when this will be done. The intent is to support the leaders’ success rather than make them feel judged.  

Address any organizational barriers

Using the information gathered from leaders about the challenges and barriers to leading in a psychologically safe way, work with decision makers to create change. The On the agenda creating change workshop series can help you do this for each psychosocial factor. You can also can approach it from a broader policy perspective.

Psychological health and safety policy recommendations provides a framework to help you consider which policies could benefit from modifications. Strike a committee to compare your existing approaches to those recommended. Choose members of the committee that represent all levels of employees and the different departments within your organization. Include diverse opinions to help you consider unintended consequences or unexpected perspectives from any planned changes.

You can do this work as a single intense project or over time in shorter meeting increments. The objective is to have those familiar with your unique organization comparing the recommended approaches with what’s practical and optimal for your setting. The group’s final recommendations would be passed on to senior leadership for approval or refinement.

Support leaders to implement action plans

Schedule one-to-one meetings with each leader to follow up after your initial workshop. Support the implementation of their action plan and any specific training or development needs. This could include:

  • Communication
  • Inter-personal skills
  • Conflict resolution
  • Team building skills

The action planning worksheet can help you identify leader needs and the following provides strategy-specific resources. 

  • Click relevant domain(s) that include the strategies the leader wishes to implement. Choose the relevant strategy statement. You’ll be directed to information or given a link to a free resource that can help leaders develop their action plan.
  • Establish concrete timelines and follow-up plans for leaders to develop realistic and attainable action plans.
  • You could also distribute or set up a working group of leaders to go through each of the ideas in Strengthening leaderships skills.

Communication and collaboration

Effective communication involves the clear, timely, and transparent exchange of information that supports employees’ success at work. Respectful and inclusive collaboration engages every team member in ongoing conversations related to their work.  Learn more about communication and collaboration.

Social intelligence

Effective social intelligence involves demonstrating and facilitating supportive, safe and inclusive interactions in the workplace, particularly during times of stress or high demand. Learn more about social intelligence.

Problem solving and conflict management

Effective problem solving involves supporting and requiring respectful, solution-focused approaches to challenges. Effective conflict management is conducted in a timely, inclusive and safe manner.   Learn more about problem solving and conflict management.

Security and safety

Security and safety require proactive, prompt and supportive responses to all threats to psychological and physical safety in the workplace. Learn more about security and safety.

Fairness and integrity

Fairness and integrity are core components of psychologically safe leadership. Communication and decision making must take into account diversity of employee needs, yet be consistently unbiased and respectful. Learn more about fairness and integrity.

Strategies relevant to fairness and integrity were drawn from the other domains: communication and collaboration, social intelligence, security and safety, problem solving and conflict management. This is intended to highlight fairness and integrity as a critical component of psychologically safe leadership.

Monitor outcomes and reassess

If the leader’s plan was successful recognize both the effort and the outcome. If it wasn’t successful, help determine why not. This could be due to factors such as staff shortages, downsizing, technology changes or budget constraints. Refine the plan while considering if there are additional skills or training needed.  

Once a strategy has been successfully incorporated into the leader’s approach, you can reassess using the Psychologically Safe Leader Assessment and repeat for continual improvement. For most leaders, this should not be more than once a year to keep the process manageable.

Contributors include.articlesDr. Joti SamraMary Ann Baynton

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