Do you ever feel like work is an environment ruled by fear, and you and your co-workers are walking on egg shells and constantly looking over your shoulders? Does this affect your work performance?
Freedom is what leads to psychological safety — the optimum condition for high performance. This is the most threatening word that makes top-down, command-and-control bosses cringe. It’s also one of the most revered workplace values you’ll find for attracting top performers.
Leaders at companies like Zappos, Glassdoor, Hulu, Groupon, and Boost have cracked the code on removing fear from work. They have become democratic workplaces where people feel a sense of community, citizenship, and see themselves as stewards of the culture and the company.
Fear is detrimental to achieving a company’s full potential. We just can’t be engaged or innovative when we are afraid. Some subscribe to the notion that “fear is a motivator,” but what fear does is kill trust — the ultimate demotivator.
Research on freedom and psychological safety by Amy Edmondson of Harvard indicates that when encouraging leaders foster a “culture of safety” — where employees are free to speak up, experiment, give feedback, or ask for help — it leads to better learning and performance outcomes.
Killing fear is also good for your bottom line. In a Worldblu study, freedom-centered companies had better returns than the S&P 500 — even during the last recession.
Boost, a technology company that builds web and mobile apps out of New Zealand, is one of those Wordblu freedom-certified companies. Nathan Donaldson, CEO of Boost, writes about how they practice freedom:
“Once a year we devote half a day to strategic planning. The entire company sits in a meeting room and workshop ideas for goals for the coming year. Everyone contributes and we all get to vote on the ideas we’d most like to commit to. We then decide who should drive the tasks associated with each goal and when they should be done by. We all agree on our shared goals as a company.”
If the idea of more freedom at work sounds promising, the first order of priority for leaders is to ensure more psychological safety in how the business operates.
Julie Winkle Giulioni, a prominent consultant and co-author of Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go, urges leaders to employ the “SAFE” method to boost psychological safety. She explains the concepts in a SmartBrief article:
When leaders are authentic, demonstrate vulnerability, and are willing to admit to not knowing everything or to making mistakes, the door is open for others to take more risks of putting themselves out there.
Inclusion is at the core of psychological safety, says Giulioni. Leaders can amplify inclusion by setting the expectation that respect is non-negotiable and routinely asking followers for input and ideas. Giulioni says the more opportunities people have to contribute their thoughts will build their confidence and confidence in others, promote safety, and contribute to a virtuous upward cycle of involvement and inclusions.
Leaders must work hard to encourage and model open and honest communication, and for differences of opinion and healthy debates to be freely expressed, without making issues personal.
As part of the learning and growing process, Giulioni says, “This means elevating the role and value of curiosity and making sure that falling short is consistently an opportunity for dialogue, problem-solving and understanding, rather than punishment.”
When freedom and psychological safety are routinely demonstrated in collaborative work cultures, such practices will support the framework for what every CEO is after at the end of the day — business results.
Originally published at www.inc.com.