We've reached an important milestone in our quest for achieving Psychological Safety for the good of the business - we've decided to call our solution's functionality that looks at how well a team leader performs in understanding their team's well being and improving it, - "Emotional Intelligence Trainer". We started with softer approaches to the label -"suggestions" which appear in the reports then "regular suggestions and tips" for the subscriptions' dashboards then went through many working names internally "behavioural based ideas for improvement" and of course "AI enabled suggestions", "algorithm based learnings" and all under the recognisable umbrella of "leadership coaching" but as of last week we've decided sugar coating it is helping no one, and while all those things are true, what we do, once we gather data, is put it to use to help people have more emotional intelligence. Why do they need it?
If you're here reading this, chances are you don't need the definition for either of the concepts, but to be sure we are "working from the same backlog" as I call it, let's agree that, for simplicity's sake, Psychological Safety is a team's ability to be comfortable and safe enough with each other that they are open and honest and therefore learn, grow and perform together better, while Emotional Intelligence is, aside from how it relates to one's own emotions, the capacity to handle interpersonal relationships well.
Now let's look at how they are interconnected.
Geeks have feelings too!
While any team in any industry, performing any task, has a need for Psychological Safety, realistically, the environments where we can see its importance more clearly are knowledge based as that is where the need for productivity exists if we measure it in learning, capacity to innovate and grow. Office workers in any industry that are organised in teams, need the security of the right group dynamic but we see its results most clearly in environments such as software development, aviation, consulting or medical.
The leaders of teams in these industries are often professionals who are subject matter experts and have risen through the managerial ranks to now be in charge of people. It's rare that anyone is in a role that was exclusively managerial to begin with, and if they are, they are likely poorly equipped to empathise due to the lack of practical experience.
Let's be honest. The people that are most likely to see the benefits of Psychological Safety in a team at work, delivering the grandiose results we are hoping for, the ones that have to have the Emotional Intelligence needed to comprehend, react and guide the well being of others, are not the most likely candidates to be keeping an eye on this.
Who Knows How To Feel?
Our current educational system does nothing for soft skills and that is a major catastrophe waiting to happen for our kids. There are few schools out there that do anything at all to prepare future professionals and future leaders in particular for the task at hand by honing their Emotional Intelligence - certainly no 6 months course in Empathy or even week's long seminar in interpreting emotional states of yourself and others that I've ever heard of.
As a result, recruitment is utterly failing in selecting talented individuals on the matter. "Being good with people" or having "people skills" is a nebulous nice to have afterthought on job specs everywhere and, with such low entry standards and a complete focus on the matter that would at least enable people to develop, there is little progress on the way.
Whose Job Is It To Feel?
At the risk of upsetting many people I will be honest and say I squarely blame HR for this glaring omission, in a time where we are approaching the day of reckoning in terms of workplace value, where we will have to collectively demonstrate our worth through intensely human attributes leaving the rest of the jobs to automation and our friends the robots, one would think this is one of the exclusive tasks HR has: "re-enable humanity".
If we agreed on the urgency of the matter and the enormity of the task, one would expect every incumbent company to have major cultural transformation programs in place where traditional Recruitment based on nonsensical hard-skill acronym key-word-searches, has been replaced by say tests to determine if candidates can recognise emotions or navigate social conflict and assessments of how their personality or ethics fit with a particular team; Learning and Development has been completely refocused on soft skills and dedicates extensive amounts of every leader's time to rewire them towards empathy, enablement, collaboration; and in general, every part of the people function now focuses on what truly matters.
With minute -and wonderful!- exceptions none of that is in place and HR seems to be in deep denial.
Just Tell Me How To Feel
We assume everyone has the skillset to be a good leader and take care of their teams. We assume wrong. Some of you may be familiar with this anonymous piece of genius play on words that holds uncomfortable amounts of truth:
This is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was asked to do it. Everybody was sure Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody's job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn't do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.
The big job at hand, and it is one for all of us, including the numbers guys and the hardened programmer guys and the battle-scarred ops and security guys, is to increase Psychological Safety not because it's a nice thing to have, but because it's a mandatory element of success. To recognise and improve our own emotional state and that of our teams. To create wellbeing by being open and enabling others to open up. To reaffirm direction and purpose by holding transparency and inspiration dear. To keep learning and incite curiosity in our team. To seek, to create and innovate. To not cringe around nebulous, fluffy stuff. To excite. To carry. To ignite. To focus. To demand. To understand. To push and pull. To feel and let feel. To be intensely, comfortably and safely human.