How OHS can drive high performance through psychological safety

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Thursday, 16 June, 2022 - 12:15
Industry news
National News

There are several key pillars or principles that underpin the delivery of high performance beyond training within organisations, and without these, it is almost impossible to ensure quality, accuracy and safety in working practices, according to a recent discussion paper.

Learning is a continuous process that mainly consists of experiences, interaction with others and reflection, and it needs to be supported and encouraged as part of all work processes and throughout the work environment, according to the paper, Performing beyond the skills obsession: What high performing organisations do that others don’t.

“Psychological safety is the bedrock for continuous learning and for a culture of continuous improvement. Without high levels of psychological safety, it is impossible to create a culture and embed practices of continuous improvement,” the paper said.

“Without high levels of psychological safety and trust, it is impossible to create a learning culture.”

The paper, which was co-authored by David Broadhurst, co-founder and CRO of CodeSafe, together with Charles Jennings, co-founder of Duntroon Consultants based out of the UK and co-founder of Tulser, said asking questions, seeking help, experimenting with unproven actions, or seeking feedback are common and almost daily occurrences in the workplace when facing change, uncertainty, or ambiguity.

“These activities carry a risk for the individual or team as being seen as ignorant or incompetent,” the paper said.

“Accommodation of these risks and using the outcomes for learning themselves is a good indication of the level of psychological safety within an organisation.”

Broadhurst, who co-founded CodeSafe Solutions in 2011 to transform how critical information is communicated to remote workers, said there are a number of areas organisations struggle with when it comes to high-performance workforces.

“Sadly, a lot of organisations often struggle to develop high-performing teams due to a number of factors, one that would be very relevant to safety professionals is the issue around ‘work as imagined and work as performed’,” he said.

“A second and growing concern that influences peoples’ ‘at risk’ behaviour would be how psychologically safe they are made to feel by their team leaders, other team members and what human factors influence their decision making when performing a task.”

Broadhurst said the most common challenges for organisations in the above is knowing how to create psychologically safe environments for their people to operate in, and also how information, instruction and training are provided in a comprehendible manner across sometimes very diverse and remote workforces.

This point was reinforced in the paper, which said there are many positive business benefits for an organisation and workforce that know how to create a psychologically safe environment – and, “with that in mind, the learning, development, tools and support that is required for their team leaders who ultimately either underpin or undermine the development of both psychologically safe and high performing environment,” the paper said.

“Psychological safety, directly and indirectly, impacts productivity, right through to individuals’ state of mental health; as a result of the covid pandemic, this is a primary focus across all workplace environments and industry sectors around the world.”

There are important implications and opportunities for OHS professionals in the process, according to Broadhurst.

Most organisations are now looking for knowledgeable people and innovative solutions who can assist them to address these issues across many workplaces, which Broadhurst said would reduce current and future risks around legal duties in relation to psychosocial risk and human factors.

In the process, organisations would also recognise how OHS professionals can significantly contribute to the development of high-performing teams who can contribute to minimising rework and improve productivity and organisational profit, he said.

“The advice to OHS professionals would be to look at people and organisations more holistically and position yourself as an operational improvement professional, not just OHS, which by default is improved inside an operational improvement strategy, then the profession will offer a better ROI on the vital services the profession provides across industry and society,” said Broadhurst.

You can read the full discussion paper 'Performing beyond the skills obsession: What high-performing organisations do that others don’t' here.

Broadhurst will be speaking on the topic at a webinar, being held on Thursday 28 July from 15:30 to 16:30 AEST.  For more information please call (03) 8336 1995, email or visit the event website.