Why managers should drop the macho attitude and make work a 'psychologically safe' place

Unhealthy pressure leads to low levels of trust and poor performances.

By Chris Ciauri Salesforce EMEA

FOR YEARS, PEOPLE have operated in ultra-competitive business environments where they have been told that the harder they work, the bigger the reward.

We’ve all heard cliched management slogans like “lunch is for wimps” and “if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen”. Macho phrases from a bygone era that were designed to motivate through guilt or fear – a sense that if you weren’t careful you’d look like you just weren’t up to the job.

I’ve been through this myself. In the early part of my career, I worked long hours. No lunch break. Incredible stress. A constant sense of pressure building up.

It was tough, sometimes demotivating and often left me feeling like I had so much more to give – despite the fact I’d already given so much of myself.

Over time and through both learning and experience, I realised that such environments can not only put people under unhealthy pressure to get things done, but can lead to muted collaboration, low levels of trust and, in the end, poorer performance.

Today, I like to think we live in more enlightened times.

Source: Shutterstock/BaanTaksinStudio

Psychological safety and high performance

I am a firm believer in psychological safety and I am very deliberate in the way I foster a psychologically safe working environment for my teams.

Psychological safety is about creating a working environment in which employees can be their true selves, feel secure in speaking up and in taking risks and where trust and respect form the foundation of high-performance teams. This is a world away from the ultra-aggressive traditional business environment, but delivers stronger results.

It’s very important to note that this is not about getting rid of tough business goals and targets – it’s about providing the environment that allows teams to thrive and deliver their best work. This is a robust and realisable concept, backed up by research.

How to lead the charge

As a leader, how do you start to create this type of environment?

For me it starts with my values – I share them with my team. I want them to understand what matters to me as an individual and what I’m striving for both inside and outside work. I tell them about my career goals, the legacy I want to leave behind, my financial plan and how I think about my own well-being.

Ultimately, I describe to them what enables me to be at my peak performance. I encourage my team to understand the same thing about themselves and to discuss it with their teams. This creates permission for everyone to explore what peak performance looks like for them and those around them.

This can be a new experience for employees but it is one that speaks directly to the culture of an entire organisation. It’s sometimes daunting, but I strive for our people to be free to share as little or as much as they want to.

Source: Shutterstock/GaudiLab

I know I have a similar set of values to most of my colleagues, and they map closely to our company values too: trust, customer success, innovation and equality. This serves to drive a joined up and values-led approach to the way that we make decisions and take risks.

Take a value like “customer success” as an example. When our employees embody this value they are empowered to be brave and make decisions based on what’s right for the customer, even if it affects our business in some negative, short-term way.

That’s the thinking I aim to drive within my teams. Solve for the company and solve for the long-term whenever possible.

And we’ve found teams are responding to this approach. As openness, transparency and authenticity are adopted more prevalently, coupled with a clear set of values, there is a direct positive correlation with employee engagement survey results.

Get ready for a competitive future

In the future, businesses will change and competition will increase. Companies built on the power of democratising services like the cloud are more able than ever to disrupt and transform industries and to challenge the status quo.

At the same time, employees are looking for more than financial remuneration – they’re looking for meaningful work that supports their values and provides purpose.

To build thriving companies with high-performance environments, leaders must be prepared to be vulnerable and open, fostering psychologically safe working environments and driving values-based cultures.

This is how organisations will innovate, compete and attract and retain the best talent. And lunch? Lunch is for winners.

Chris Ciauri is executive vice president of Salesforce in the EMEA market.

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