e029. Psychological Safety with Sacha Thompson

Sacha Thompson (she/her) is the Inclusive Culture Curator and Coach of The Equity Equation. The Equity Equation helps organizations design and curate inclusive environments where all team members and populations feel valued, seen, heard, and connected.


#IncludingYouPodcast Interview with Sacha Thompson

Interview Transcript

[00:00:48] Amy: Welcome back to Including You. I’m your host, Amy Waninger my guest today is Sacha Thompson. She’s the inclusive culture curator and coach of The Equity Equation. The equity equation helps organizations design and curate inclusive environments where all team members and populations feel valued, seen, heard, and connected.

[00:01:09] Amy: Sasha, I am so excited to have you on the show. Welcome.

[00:01:13] Sacha: Thank you, Amy. I’m so happy to be here. Excited to be here as well, too.

[00:01:17] Amy: I always like when I know somebody at, before we talk on the on the podcast, I always like to explain how we met because networking is such an important part of what I do, and what I teach other people to do.

[00:01:28] Amy: So, Sasha and I are actually, you and I are actually part of the same mentorship group, and we just spent a weekend together in DC learning all the things, and we got to meet each other for the first time in person, and so now we get to do this, which is great. I wanna talk to you specifically today about psychological safety because I know that’s an important component of the work that you do for your clients in corporate spaces, and I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about, first just what is psychological safety? What does that mean?

[00:01:59] Sacha: Right, so psychological safety is really being able to speak up, share without fear of retribution, fear of getting pushback.

[00:02:12] Sacha: Not necessarily pushback, but being punished for speaking up, right? You can speak up and share and challenge the status quo, and that’s welcome, right? And so, you wanna make sure that you’re in an environment where there’s no fear of being yourself, being unique, that’s built in, right? You want to remove those barriers for people.

[00:02:35] Amy: So it sounds like psychological safety means if we show up in a space where we’re psychologically safe, we’re not afraid to be excellent, we’re not afraid to make mistakes and we’re not afraid to be vulnerable. Is that true?

[00:02:49] Sacha: Absolutely, absolutely right, all of those things are removed.

[00:02:55] Sacha: And so, what’s very interesting about psychological safety is we talk about it as this kind of abstract thing, but it’s very measurable, and so what I use, I actually have been part of the leader factor program for a while and using their assessments, and so there are four stages of psychological safety.

[00:03:16] Sacha: So, the first stage is inclusion safety, so, do I feel included? Do I, am I a part of the team? The second stage is learner safety, am I able to learn? not just my job but about where I am and who’s going on and what’s the, who are the folks you avoid in the hallway kind of thing.

[00:03:35] Sacha: Like those types of things that are very nuanced to the culture. The third one is contributor safety, okay, so now that I’ve learned kind the environment of where I am, do I feel, does it feel safe to contribute? Can I share my thoughts and share my ideas and be a part of the conversation? And then the fourth one is challenger safety.

[00:03:57] Sacha: Do I feel comfortable and safe to challenge the status quo? if everyone’s going right and I think we should go left, do I feel comfortable speaking up and saying that? Or do I see something that could be detrimental to the company, and do I hold onto that because of fear, or do I speak up?

[00:04:15] Sacha: Because I see the bigger picture, I understand how that could impact not only our employees, but also our customers and clients as well too, so those are the four stages.

[00:04:26] Amy: So, let me ask this cuz it sounded like when you said stages, that you meant a sequential order, that if I don’t feel like I’m included and I don’t feel like I can learn, then I don’t feel like I can contribute, those things have to come first, is that true?

[00:04:39] Sacha: To some degree, yes, but because they’re teams are dynamic, it’s always moving, right? So, for example, we’ve been in this pandemic for a while now, and what I’ve seen with some of my clients has been, they’re great at inclusion safety for some people that have been there pre pandemic.

[00:05:03] Sacha: But if you were hired during the pandemic, that inclusion safety is much lower, right? Because yes, they were onboarded, but they’re not connected to anyone, they’re still, at home, they don’t know what the company culture is like, and so it can change, so it, one team could have their scores all over the place because of the dynamics of how people move and how just work happens.

[00:05:31] Amy: And one more question about this, cause I really do wanna get into some of the work that you’re doing, but I just, I find this topic so fascinating and it’s psychological safety has almost become a buzzword that people use without really knowing what it means or where it comes from.

[00:05:44] Amy: People talk about it without really understanding it. So, I’m diving in a little deeper cuz I wanna make sure that we really understand what we’re talking about. How much of psychological safety is deter of an individual psychological safety in an environment is a function of the environment versus a function of that person’s own confidence and kind of grounding.

[00:06:03] Sacha: It’s a combination, and so this is where the beauty of the work that I do comes in because this is where my coaching hat comes in for managers and for people managers, I should say. So, let’s say yes, it’s the environment, right? How am I brought in, but if I have some challenges that I’m trying to overcome.

[00:06:25] Sacha: Imposter syndrome, I hate using that term, that’s why I paused a little bit, imposter syndrome, then the manager can actually do his part or her part to help break you out of that. So yes, some of it is internal to ourselves, but as people, managers, how can you coach your employees to get out of their own way, right?

[00:06:46] Sacha: To help feel, help them feel more comfortable in those spaces where they can say, I just don’t feel comfortable with public speaking, right? I have to do this presentation, I just, whereas if you’re in a psychologically unsafe environ, you may totally shut down, you might not share that with anyone, or you may do the presentation and be shaking and feel like no one has your back.

[00:07:09] Sacha: So, it’s really about how do you feel comfortable sharing things enough with your manager so that they can help you be successful in this as well too.

[00:07:20] Amy: And so, as we’re talking about this, we’re talking about the personal experience of psychological safety, there are real implications for companies and for teams that don’t have the right environment for psychological safety. Can you talk a little bit about what companies are missing out on if this isn’t in place?

[00:07:37] Sacha: Ooh, there’s so many things, especially right now that are happening. So first, I wanna use an example of a client that brought me in to do psychological safety. They had a people manager, team leader that was very much a micromanager.

[00:07:53] Sacha: And what ended up happening was that management style then became the management style of her direct reports, and people started leaving. It was just too toxic, people did not have the opportunity to learn or grow, everything that was taking place or happening was just in this very tense environment, and so the folks that left, that was part of that great resignation.

[00:08:21] Sacha: That’s some of the implications of this. When there is no psychological safety in place, the other things that you’ll start to see is, again, some of these phenomenon that are coming out in the workplace, like quiet, quitting. I was talking to a manager the other day about that, and he’s just if I actually take the time to find out what’s happening with my team, they’ll think that I’m invested in them.

[00:08:46] Sacha: He’s, I really am, and so they’ll actually be more invested in the work that’s happening as well too, and I was like, yeah, it’s that simple, right? It’s not like you’re, it is not rocket science. It’s taking the time to truly be invested. When that doesn’t happen, that’s when you see folks resign.

[00:09:06] Sacha: That’s when you see folks only doing just enough of the job to get by, right? To get the paycheck, you don’t want. Particularly now in hybrid environments, it’s very important that psychological safety is a part of the conversation, right? Inclusion is a part of the conversation because you want people to stay connected, stay valued.

[00:09:28] Sacha: They wanna feel valued, seen and heard, and so it’s the organization’s responsibility to be intentional in how they create these environments.

[00:09:41] Amy: And organizations are just collections of people.

[00:09:41] Sacha: Absolutely.

[00:09:45] Amy: So when we, when we say an organization needs to do this, we mean everybody in the organization needs to make this their job.

[00:09:52] Amy: It’s not the CEO’s job alone, it’s not HR’s job alone, it’s not the diversity and inclusion office’s job alone, right? It’s every manager, every team member.

[00:10:01] Sacha: And that’s why I truly focus on people managers. Because what I find is these conversations happen at the executive level or the complaints happen frontline, but people managers are the ones that are doing this work and they have not been equipped with the tools and resources to be successful in this space.

[00:10:20] Sacha: So when we’re talking about diversity and inclusion, okay, yeah, we’re talking about it, but what does that mean in the day-to-day, they don’t know, no one’s giving them a roadmap of how to do this, and so with the work that I do with psychological safety, not only do I come in and provide your team and assessment, but I work with you one-on-one to help you operationalize, right?

[00:10:44] Sacha: Make it personal for you, the small things that you can do as a people manager to really make big change.

[00:10:51] Amy: You and I are so aligned in this because I always talk about, we don’t want diversity and inclusion to be something that we bolt onto leadership.

[00:11:00] Amy: It needs to be a shift, just a slight shift in how we do the work of leadership.

[00:11:05] Amy: So that it’s inclusive for all of our team members and for diverse teams, and it sounds like you’re doing exactly that.

[00:11:11] Sacha: That’s it, right? The program that I offer, the offering that I provide is inclusive leadership management or inclusive leadership development.

[00:11:28] Sacha: And the foundation of that is psychological safety. So, it’s not abstract, I’m like, this is your score, this is what your team has said that their experience has been, right? And so, you’re seeing a graph of psychologically safe, neutral, or, okay, wait a minute, there’s problems over here, and how do we start to change this?

[00:11:50] Sacha: So, it gives them something very tangible to work with, but me as a coach, it allows me to say, okay, what do you wanna focus on today? What are the challenges? And so, we really start to work on how can you become a more inclusive leader? How can I provide you with different options or opportunities to look at things from different perspectives? so that you’re not just saying, okay, this is how I’ve done it, and this is what worked for me.

[00:12:20] Sacha: You’re the only you, that’s not gonna always work for your team, and so how do we get leaders, people leaders out of that mindset into truly being more inclusive and understanding of their entire team?

[00:12:35] Amy: I absolutely love this, and we have so much more to discuss offline about, about how we’re gonna marry coaching and training together to make this happen in places.

[00:12:45] Amy: But, real quick, just the companies that you’re working with, what kinds of results are they seeing after you’ve done these interventions, after you’ve coached these leaders, what are you seeing that’s different?

[00:12:56] Sacha: You know what, I had a call, actually a couple of calls this week with some leaders just to follow up, hey, you know what’s going on?

[00:13:02] Sacha: This is our monthly call, and one person said, Sacha, you, just, you didn’t tell me a lot to do. I was like, no, cause that’s not my job, it’s to tell you what to do. He’s but I made one small tweak, and it has changed everything. He’s rather than me coming in and saying, hey team, this is what we’re gonna do.

[00:13:23] Sacha: He’s I actually asked them what they need, and I’m like, what about that? Okay, so tell me more, and so he said he’s not only doing it with his team, he’s doing it with his clients, he’s doing it with artists, he has just that one shift in asking people what they need, has totally changed how he interacts with them, how they started opening up to him, changed the conversations that they’re having.

[00:13:50] Sacha: So that’s how this works, right? It’s not massive changes that we’re making, it’s small tweaks of ways to think about how to increase psychological safety for your team so that they open up, so that there’s trust, right? You’re trying to increase trust. I have another client that we’re now on our third round of psychological safety assessments with them, and for them it’s, we want to get a perfect score.

[00:14:19] Sacha: And I’m like, okay things change, dynamics change, but their mindset is we want to continue to be one of the best employers in our region, and in order to do that, we have to make sure that this score stays high, and so they have invested company-wide in doing the psychological safety assessment. Like I said, this is their third round of doing this.

[00:14:44] Sacha: And so, for them it’s how do we stay attuned to what’s happening with our employees? How do we partner this with our other culture work that we’re doing? How do we see some gaps? So, for example, with that particular client, they did some culture work with another consultant, but between the work that I was doing, and they were doing, they saw, okay, there’s a challenge around generational diversity here.

[00:15:07] Sacha: It’s like some of these other aspects of diversity are a challenge, but generation is the big one. So, it allowed them to be able to be very specific and fine tune what education they needed for their company, right? So that’s the change, that’s the work. It’s been amazing, I’ve absolutely loved doing this because It’s truly changing people, how they show up as managers in this space, which is truly impacting their employees and how they show up at work.

[00:15:39] Amy: So if companies, if somebody is listening and they work for a company where they feel like this is needed, let’s say they’re a frontline manager, they’re an executive what’s the best way for them to get in touch with you to learn more about the tools and the services that you offer?

[00:15:51] Sacha: Yeah, so you can actually go to tinyurl.com/eepsysafety

[00:16:00] Sacha: right? Or you can go to the equityequationllc.com, my website, or just follow me on LinkedIn, Sacha Thompson, s a c h a t h o m p s o n, and any of those places will get you to me and I can get more, get you more information.

[00:16:18] Amy: That sounds great. We will put all of those links in the show notes, so you don’t have to stop driving to write it all down.

[00:16:23] Amy: Just, go to the show notes later and we’ll have it all there for you. Sacha Thompson, I wanna thank you so much for your time today, for your expertise and for your friendship. Thank you.

[00:16:34] Sacha: Thank you, Amy. It’s been such a pleasure, looking forward to having more of these conversations with you.

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Amy C. Waninger Author Bio

Amy C. Waninger is the Founder & CEO of Lead at Any Level, where she improves employee engagement and retention for companies that promote from within. Amy offers assessments, advisory services, and training on essential skills for inclusive leaders. She is the author of eight books. Learn more at www.LeadAtAnyLevel.com

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