Psychological safety : we have a choice

Psychological safety was researched for many years before it hit the headlines with Google’s Project Aristotle. In asking “what makes an effective team?” the key enabling factor was psychological safety. But we have a choice — we can create psychologically safe environments with or without effort. What do you choose?

HT for the image :

Definition : Psychological safety is “a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.”

I’m sure you’ll have been in a conversation or a meeting at some point in your life where you wondered whether to speak up, whether to ask the question, whether to offer the idea you had, whether to say I don’t know, or whether to say it didn’t work. read more

What do you value really? 

I write this as an imperfect human being. Some of this I’m doing better at than others. I’ll never be perfect, none of us will. So I’m noticing, challenging myself and practicing different beliefs….. My personal development areas are at the end and I hope this might generate some thoughts for you.


In work we value :

Money. Being right. Long hours. Seniority. Intelligence. Data & facts. Work over anything else.

This means we strive for more money, to climb the ladder, and to work long hours, always protecting ourselves by not letting others see our mistakes and flaws – which leads to errors and unethical behaviour.  Because it means we compete to win above all else which puts us in an ‘I’ instead of ‘we’ mindset.

It means we think people with degrees are better than others. That what those people say is more valid.

It means we make decisions from bullet points & spreadsheets, ignoring what it might mean for the employees/customers/suppliers at the other end of the decision.

It means we sacrifice time with friends, family & loved ones because work is the thing the world values – if you tell someone you can’t do something because you’ve got a big presentation to finish – then ‘oh yes, very important, you must do that’. Tell someone you can’t do something because you need to look after the kids – then ‘oh, that’s disappointing. Those kids are a bit inconvenient’.

It means we believe we’re only ‘good enough’ if this is how we live. It means that who we are is judged by ourselves and others based on what we do, how much we earn, how much fancy stuff we have, how many qualifications we have, how senior we are.


What if we valued :

Equity. Learning from mistakes. Outputs. Diversity of thought. Emotion & feelings. The whole person.

We would do the work we’re great at & that we enjoy (no matter what that job is) because we don’t need to earn more / climb the ladder to become a worthy human being / gain respect.  With less ‘winning’ needed to be ‘good enough’ our mindset would be more often in the ‘we’ space.

Instead of only wanting to hear good news and glossy ‘managed’ messages we’d be open to hearing the dark side too, the ‘what’s not working’ which means we learn and which makes for improved services and greater satisfaction for all.

We’d give people responsibility to get their work done on time to deliver our products & services to our customers. Developing them and then trusting them to think for themselves about how they do that.

We’d really listen and value a variety of perspectives. No matter what the person’s background, seniority or education.

We’d care about people beyond our own needs when making decisions and we’d listen to our own hearts and guts as well as our heads. Accessing all our information. Borrowing from Roger Steare – is the decision logical, does it follow the rules / law and is it the right thing for others?

We wouldn’t be afraid of our own or others’ discomfort or emotional responses to something. We’d see that as great information and go towards it to inquire into it, learning more about it to enable more conscious choices in what we do and how we do it. Also then enabling change to happen more easily by acknowledging where we, or others, really are instead of squashing those feelings deep down and ignoring them. However good we think we are at doing that it shows up somewhere, leaks out in a different way or a different part of our life.

We’d value people having variety in their life and see that being able to fulfil their outside interests or commitments would help them to be at their best more of the time in everything they do. Aspects of them which aren’t met through work being met elsewhere. Priorities of the other people for whom they’re responsible being valued as an important contribution to the future of this thing we call society.

So for me……I see in myself a pull towards work instead of my kids – I’m practising to shift that. I feel in myself a little buzz when a senior leader follows me – I’m noticing and challenging myself on what I’m making that mean. I hear myself talking about the big businesses I work with because it makes me feel important and think it will impress – I can’t influence what others will think as important, I can notice how I feel and challenge my thoughts. Work in progress – always learning.

[Photo credit –]

This is me…

WFS Tree

#barefootwinterconf Reflections

Last week I attended the Barefoot Winter Conference at Prestwold Hall (beautiful location – and yes I’m slightly biased because it’s where I got married!).  This post is a collation of my thoughts and reflections from the day which I know will help me learn and absorb, and which I hope will have some nuggets of interest and insight for you.

On the practical conference front, it was a brilliantly run event with good amounts of time for each workshop – all of which were interactive, learning sessions – no sages on stages chalking & talking.  And a good long lunch for quality network time.  A definite focus on quality not quantity all day.

Keynote – Prof Roger Steare – on values-driven orgs, leadership and ethics

Since the 2008 crash stories have continued to emerge of unethical practice in organisations.  Read about Roger’s keynote in my Storify and how we helps organisations back to ethical decision-making.


Workshop 1 – Clean Language – Revealing Mental Models through Metaphor 

This session was with Sue Sharp and Tamsin Hartley from Clean Learning.

I chose this session for what might seem odd reasons.  I’d once been coached by someone who’d just done a Clean Language course and I really hated it.  So, because I believe it’s good to challenge our assumptions, I went along with the intent to learn more and open my mind to the possibilities of how I could use it in my practice.

What was great was that the session was involving and interactive from the start.  Lots of play with the approach, group discussion and conversation.

To give some context, the purpose of Clean Language is to find out how people work and think to raise their awareness to that and understand themselves (and others if a team thing) better.  Its purpose is also to remove assumptions from our own language which could (inadvertently) influence a client’s response.

A (made up) example of a clean language interaction could follow this flow –

  • For this meeting to go as you would like, it will be like what? > It will be fun and interactive and we’ll get through everything on the agenda.
  • And you will be like what? > I’ll need to keep an eye on the time while also checking everyone’s OK, and I’ll need plenty of energy.
  • What kind of [energy] is that [energy]? > It’s the kind of energy that bubbles away. It doesn’t spike up and drop down, it’s infectious and consistent.
  • Bubbles. Infectious. Consistent.  And is there anything else about that [energy]? > It’s natural.  It’s not forced.  It’s a natural result of wanting to be there in that conversation with those people.
  • Natural. Not forced. And where is that energy? > It’s in my heart and my head.  A sense of happiness and a buzz.
  • read more

    #CIPDOD15 Aligning Org Capability and Culture to the Org Plan

    Inji Duducu, Group People Director of Benenden.

    Talking about using Appreciative Inquiry to identify the org’s true values, and developing engagement and comms strategy to sustain commitment across the org.

    Benenden is a healthcare provider (mutual, not-for-profit) – they’re a single product, single price healthcare provider.  80% of spending member funds is finding a fast route to diagnosis via private.  Do lots of cataracts, varicose veins,… and offer helplines at a single flat rate at £8.45 a month with no restrictions – the most under-priced product ever!  And available for corporate schemes 🙂

    Their challenge?  Used to only be able to join if in public sector or civil service (started for the Post Office originally) people would sign up and they easily got to a million members.  More recently had a decline in members so now about 900k – and aging.  First answer was that anyone could join Benenden.  Concern at the time was that they’d be swamped with interest.  But of course nobody had heard of them and their product was unusual.

    2 years ago, new CEO, acknowledgement that open access hasn’t worked.  Talked about partnerships, new channels, new products…. In 10 years time we’ll be unrecognisable.

    Inji joined for that reason – 108 year old business, average length of service 25 years  how do you take that org through that level of change?

    When started, the strategy had been put in a bullet point list & left on people’s desks – it didn’t work! (Building blocks, New IT system, New product launch underway, First acquisition strategy underway, Hospital redevelopment signed off, Digital channel being built).

    All this started or happening – and no thought to the people and how they fitted into this plan!

    When Inji joined her challenge was to do 12 mths change in 6 – with an org that had never really changed.

    Split the change into 3 buckets – 1 bucket of ‘how we do stuff’, shared services, structure.  1 of capability, roadmap (what you’ll need for your team in next 3-5 yrs), behaviours & l’ship capability (much more needed than technical knowledge).  And 1 of culture, values, action plan.

    A very friendly helpful culture.  If in 2024 we’ve become just another insurance company then we’ve failed.  Our culture is special.  Understanding what really makes us special was essential to future success.

    There was low leadership visibility – e.g. the leadership team hadn’t been involved at all in the launch of new insurance at the time when Inji joined.  They’re now front & centre, quarterly update on progress from CEO, any chance to get them visible & approachable – servant leadership e.g. a summer party with leaders welcoming people, handing out drinks, etc.  Recognised & appreciated by the team.

    Big focus on celebrating successes – much to celebrate.  They’ve won Most Trusted Healthcare Provider 5 years in a row!  Entirely down to the people.  Don’t take it for granted.  Really want to be that & strive for it.

    These things don’t have to take a lot of money – the symbolism of directors handing out pizza and saying thank you to people face to face has a big impact.

    Values has always been evident as the heart of the business.  But they didn’t feel special – Integrity, Respect, Professional Service Excellence, Respond flexibly and positively to change, Fair & supportive employer of staff.

    To capture the ‘specialness’ they did workshops with volunteers to explore the future culture they want – and the values that are fixed in their heritage.  Used Appreciative Inquiry to understand the values – talked about why people joined, what their high points have been, what their most audacious dreams are for the org.  Never fail to be surprised at the power of focussing on the positive.

    AI – a change methodology used to focus on the positive rather than problem solve.  And believing the system has the knowledge, insights, resources needed to create what’s needed.

    AI > Discovery – Dream – Design – Destiny.

    Their values are now – Care, Mutuality, Sustainability, Wellbeing.

    Nobody needs to be convinced of these.  They recognise them as what Benenden stand for.  They don’t need ‘selling in’.

    As part of review of Performance Mgmt they’ve created a Behavioural Framework – How we work with each other, How we honour our heritage, How we work through change, How we deliver results.  Each has a summary statement e.g. We respect, trust & value the contribution from everyone and we inspire others through great leadership.  Then 4 statements below that e.g. We communicate openly & honestly & have a positive impact on others.

    When thinking about alignment, not sure you can get everything absolutely aligned, but can gradually shift one part at a time.  Inji’s experience is that it takes about a year to have people realise things have shifted.  And that at the point you are so bored hearing yourself say the same thing, is about the time that it’s really filtered out into the org.

    There’s been huge change in nearly all people practices & policies in the last 18 months including making the call centre like an actual call centre – knowing when calls are coming in, flexing staff, knowing how much cover you need & have at any time… etc.  Rather than drip feed they waited and packaged it up into a picture (co-created by people, not briefed by Inji) to communicate it – people respond better to images than words.  Gave facilitators of the story some training (just an hour) so they could take others through it.  Part of that role was about listening to what these things meant to them, to ask questions, to share concerns.

    Achieved a 5% uplift in survey results like understanding the business plan and where I fit in it.

    In the CEOs ‘town hall meetings’ people now ask how we’re doing in certain areas rather than waiting to be told.

    Learnings > Communication + Co-creation + Celebration = More capacity for change than you might ever have thought!

    This post has been live-blogged from #CIPDOD15.  I’ve done my best to represent the content accurately and fairly but some errors may exist.  Most of it is the speakers’ content and I aim to show the bits that are my opinion.

    #CIPDCoach14 – A Peer Coaching Network

    Final session for the day! Biba Binotti (Red Hat People) and Gillian Dore (Cisco)…..

    Cisco have a PEER COACHING CULTURE – who, what and why?

    Their definition (Robbins ’99) is what I know as ‘buddy coaching’ but with some added bits around solving workplace challenges together which almost makes it feel like it borders onto mentoring.

    In Cisco VUCCA is making work so fast & unpredictable and they’re losing time as peer coaches to take that time to reflect….this sounds interesting…how they make this peer coaching stuff work in an agile space…..

    It’s about relationship with process and ourselves – do you start your day driven by your emails? Do you even stop to check in with yourself, let alone check in with those around you? How do you make relationships work in these organisations.

    Cisco’s 30 years old but was only 7 when Robbins wrote his Peer Coaching definition – things have changed! Cisco’s now one of the key players in tech – aspirational. When you look inside, it’s a matrix org with low hierarchy and high span of control with an informal culture but formal processes – incredible paradoxical space!

    They develop managers to be able to coach in a moment when the need demands it. It’s a fluid approach but with development sessions to start them off with the skills they need. But now, how can peer to peer coaching support this fast business?

    3 ingredients for them to create the culture and mindset they want in the business….their SECRET SAUCE!…..
    1. Co-creative relationships – the whole is greater than the sum of the parts
    2. Go-Giving – not like the Go-Getting of the 80’s. People want to leave a legacy of something they’ve done or given instead of wealth – attitude of more generosity. Having an ‘in service of’ mindset – working with others with a positive intent.
    3. All Potential – what if you don’t have the best ideas, what if you stop your ego and be open to anything & believe that anyone can contribute.

    This stuff applies to anything – skills don’t.

    To build on 1:1 peer to peer they’re developing people to take a ‘1 to many’ coaching approach.

    Real life examples from managers in Cisco…..

    – A group of managers together on a ‘conscious leader’ development programme now continue to work together to support each other – even to the extent of working together with ideas about going for a promotion – each of them wanting the same job. Egos stripped away. The stuff they shared in the group grew relationships beyond what’s normally seen in business – stuff they might not have even told their husbands and wives.

    – Creation of new content by working with others around you – develops bravery by working together.

    – The attitude is spreading beyond boundaries and gaining momentum.

    – Working with other teams who might have challenges to see how things can be moved on, or where you might have had similar examples you can share with your peer to support them.

    – ‘Conscious leaders’ are being invited into other countries and teams to bring new thinking and generate innovation.

    Taking us to an example of how this can work….a bit of NLP here for the room to try…..
    Close your eyes
    Think of a colleague you’d like to give some feedback to
    Now feel yourself giving that feedback to them
    Notice how you’re feeling
    Have you avoided giving that feedback and started to think about something else

    Now open your eyes and look again at the 3 secret sauce ingredients
    Imagine you’re co-creating – neither of you has the answer but by starting the conversation you believe that something greater will come of it.
    Imagine you’re go-giving – what’s going on for them, what do they really need, what would you really want for them
    Now imagine anything’s possible

    Close your eyes again
    Recall those 3 channels
    Say the feedback, out loud if you want, in answer to these questions…
    – where do they succeed?
    – where do they fail?
    – what is their unintended impact?

    Did you notice a difference between those two?
    Give yourself a couple of words for what that difference was – ‘collaborative’ ‘structured’ ‘supportive’.

    A simple mindset shift to change your attitude to others and the impact you can have on them.

    Saying that the ‘conscious leader’ development process starts with ‘I’ where you get clear on what’s important to you. Then layer on with those around you. Up to the point where they have a symbolic session of stepping across a line in response to challenging questions to test their commitment to the change.  Going deep with this stuff through searching questions.  And demanding significant commitment from the leaders on the programme – no sessions can be missed. There’s no option on that.

    “Peer coaching is a powerful co-creative relationship that enables an expansive environment for reflection, refinement, building, sharing, development, experimentation and innovation  in service of the whole” (Red Hat People & Cisco)

    CIPD NAP 14 – Do you need to get out of your own way??

    First session for me at the CIPD Northern Area Partnership Event with Lynda Holt, Director of Way Ahead is going to talk to us about whether we need to get out of our own way.  My own coaching practice is grounded in unblocking and unlocking people from the limiting beliefs they hold that get in their way so I’m really interested to hear what Lynda’s perspective is on how we stop ourselves being amazing!

    Lynda starts by helping the audience notice that we can all be our own worst enemies.  We spend so much time at work – for ourselves or our our employer – that we need to make this time a ferocious adventure to avoid it becoming ‘same old, same old’.

    Challenges make life interesting – they can also be scary, overwhelming, exhausting even.  But if they’re not that then we’re just existing, not living.

    As human beings we all have fabulous ideas but we don’t always make them happen because our brain’s say ‘what I did yesterday kept me alive, so better do the same again tomorrow’ – and that’s our brain’s job to keep us alive!

    Lynda has a belief that everyone has a unique purpose in life – none are better or worse than any other – the main thing is that it’s an important purpose for us.

    Lynda has some myths to dispel –

    1. Business leaders / owners succeed or fail – nope – we mostly settle and stay on our comfort zone and try and maintain that position.

    2. If you are the best at your craft you’ll succeed – rubbish! – engaging clients and then selling (your products/services, yourself, your new policy!) will make you succeed.

    3. I don’t have enough time / money. I’m not as well known / lucky – rubbish again! – it’s our brain deceiving us to keep us safe.  Daniel Goleman – “Man as an infinite capacity for self deception”.

    Lynda knew her purpose – to help people shine brighter – when she was a young girl.  But then she got carried along on the treadmill of life – university, job……get married, have a child.  The final straw was that someone burnt some toast at the hospital and she got called in because they had to have a senior member of team on site to turn the fire alarm off.  Crazy bureaucracy!  Missing her child growing up. So she resigned.  And started doing what matters to her, what she cares about – her purpose.

    So what excuses are you making for yourself?

    Lynda’s KNOTS model –

    Know what needs to be done but never quite get round to it.

    ot enough money, not the right clients and always chasing work

    Overwhelm, the running of your business and the enormity of your task has you paralyzed, simple jobs become huge tasks – this drains emotional energy and makes you feel…..

    Tired and lack the passion and commitment to the business you once loved

    ecretly you believe you should be doing better

    Recognise any of this? How does this relate to your excuses you make to yourself?  Is there one or more that you recognise more than others?

    Lynda believes there are only 2 reasons we get to this place –

    LACK OF CLARITY about what matters and FEAR.

    LACK OF CLARITY – as a baby we know exactly what we need – food, safety, love, to learn. And babies tell us – at 2 am!!  As we get older we can lose that clarity, chasing the wrong milestones – ‘I need to earn to pay the mortgage’.  If your house was burning, with nobody inside – are you clear on what you would save?  If not, the house will burn down around you while you figure out what to rescue.  What about with your life?  Are you absolutely clear about what matters to you?  What do you stand for?  What are you about?  What is it that happens when you believe someone’s over-stepped the line for you?  What triggers you into not being at your best?  Sometimes we need to track this right back to the source as we sometimes hide these things deep down.  And our discomfort comes from a mismatch between what’s going on in your life and what you really believe in; what you really care about.

    Even once you’ve got ‘what’ matters to you.  Go deeper to ask ‘but why’.  And ask ‘why’ again.  Ask yourself ‘why’ 5 times to really get to the depths of what matters to you.  These are your values.

    Once you’ve got there – raise your expectations and make a stand!

    FEAR – it reduces creativity, it impairs decision making, it reduces flexibility – and millions of people are affected by it.  What are you scared of?  Don’t forget the things you don’t even like to admit to yourself.  Research in the 50’s shows that, even from early childhood, there’s an even split between those who are driven by fear of failure and those who are driven by achievement and success.  People like Richard Branson and Donald Trump are motivated by a fear of failure.  The directors of big orgs tend to be those who are motivated by achieving and who, now they’ve got there, can settle in a groove.

    We have basic needs that drive our fears – we want to feel safe, loved, part of a pack.

    Top fears of very successful entrepreneurs – not bright enough, not pushy enough, not as good as their competition, not enough money to start, preconceived idea of failure.

    And remember if you try and say positive things, when really you’re afraid, others’ brains will notice this, won’t feel safe and will stop them connecting with you.

    Have you seen a failure spiral before?  I’ll get a picture in here….. but we convince ourselves we’re not good enough, not going to succeed – we imagine it going wrong – we plan for that ‘oh it’ll be OK because….’ – we then project that negativity into the world – and guess what… comes true!!  Self fulfilling prophecy.

    Think instead about times when you’ve felt amazing – you can do it.  Make that your reality you refer back to.

    Lynda links all this through to 5 E’s –

    Exclusivity – be clear about what matters to you and work to that, you’ll be at your best more

    Expertise – not about lots of courses.  Sometimes we need to learn ‘stuff’ but most of what we need is within us – how we communicate and engage with others.  What do you have to offer to people you want to make a difference for?  What problem can you solve for them?

    Exposure – how do you find those people you want to make a difference for/with – where do they hang out?  Is it networking – outside of HR events.

    Engaging – connect with others and be useful to them before you try and ‘sell’ what you need them for

    Everlasting – long-term constructive relationships with people who will pass in and out of your life, build the relationship so you become their go-to person

    Maximise these E’s so the Excuses disappear and don’t get a look in.


    1. Know your own values – really, really your’s. Not anyone else’s and not what you think they SHOULD be – and work by those

    2. Accept responsibility for your fears – they’re your’s, you own them – you can do what you like with them.  Not necessarily easy but your’s to do something about

    3. Do things that matter to you – can just be a little thing once a week

    4. Mess up – even if you have a fear of failure, go for it because you’ll learn, you’ll realise nothing horrendous happens, and it’ll reduce your fear the next time.  But maybe don’t make mistakes on irreversible things like selling your house on a whim!  But give it a go.  Try new things. Rock the boat.  Turn negatives into positives and opportunities.

    5. Take action – even if you’re scared stiff!!

    Great session by Lynda.  And relaxed enough that the audience go involved as well as getting the chance for some self coaching.  Brilliant!