More often than not, we as employees keep to ourselves radical ideas that would be beneficial to organizations. Our bosses ask us to “think outside the of the box,” but when coming up with the ideas after our personal brainstorming, we tone down our ideas, or adopt ideas from someone else, falling victims of groupthink or worse, adopting HIPPO’s (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion).
“Psychological safety is a culture of respect, trust, and openness where it's not risky to raise ideas and concerns,” mentions Adam Grant in this LinkedIn post, and that is great. As organizations, managers that strive towards developing this psychological safety, add to the greater good of the organization, where these radical ideas that push the boundaries can flourish.
I identified that when the organization provides psychological safety, it’s reducing the risk of consequences employees may experience when expressing their opinions, but you as an employee can’t count on this. What if your manager isn’t into Management Development and that fact collides with your professional aspirations? Should you tone down your ideals or break the glass ceiling?
Take the initiative! Introducing: Self-provided Psychological Safety. What if you had the mental strength to stomach the consequences of expressing your wildest ideas at meetings?
How does Self-provided Psychological Safety look?
That mental strength is provided by having a counterweight to the possible consequences of your actions. You can raise the stakes by being transparent, sincere, and honest. Adopting something like Radical Candor, where you are helpful to your coworkers, by sometimes paying a little upfront price for the greater good of the organization.
This counterweight is whatever empowers you to freely open the idea box. For the most part, this is going to be money. It’s a risk to raise ideas and concerns because we think we are going to burn brownie/star points with our bosses, and in the worst-case scenario, get fired. It’s worth mentioning I’m talking about being assertive, not about being confrontational at the workplace.
Bear in mind that hiding your head in the sand with your ideas is not the very best you can provide to the organization, it's in fact mediocre behavior. You need to muster the courage to be assertive, and one way is to de-risk yourself.
What are some actions to build this counterweight?
- Have a side income that covers your living expenses: If the worst-case scenario executes, you have the psychological safety to still be able to provide for you and your family. Consult with a lawyer to check if this is not a breach of your current contract or if the Intellectual Property of your work outside business hours belongs to them, as sometimes it happens.
- Have at least 6 months of expenses saved: The second best option is to have enough money to find another job in case the worst-case scenario executes.
- Get used to the idea that you can be fired or laid off for anything else, not just by expressing your ideas: Sometimes markets experience downturns that make the company do a personnel reduction or the company, unfortunately, goes bankrupt entirely, and this means you can lose your job by any other factor you weren’t prepared for.
I discovered this effect by purchasing a top-end computer back when I was a manager at my previous employer. Surfing the web, I became obsessed with the idea of having a high-end computer, the very best computer I could have. I have always had a computer “I could afford” but this time I wanted to have “the very best.”
I saw some tweets of Aryeh Goretsky reviewing the Lenovo ThinkPad P51. I said to myself: “I gotta get me one of those.” The COVID-19 pandemic came in, and the lockdown enabled me to consistently save money, as I couldn’t go out and spend money as much as I was doing. I admit I was lucky to remain gainfully employed during the entire pandemic.
Long story short, after a year and a half, I had enough money saved to purchase a Lenovo ThinkPad P53, fully maxed out to the specs. I’ll spare you the details, just go to the Lenovo P Series Mobile Workstations website, click on the “Build Your Own” button and select the top specs for every row of the build configuration. I didn’t care about the final purchase amount, I just wanted the very best. That’s all I did, no dollar was forgiven.
With the purchase done, I noticed what started happening to me. Since I didn’t have any spare money anymore, I couldn’t offer my strongest ideas at work. I was underperforming because I feared the consequences. My boss back then appreciated my good ideas, but I couldn’t just open my mouth at meetings. What suddenly happened? My counterweight was gone.
Was I regretful of my purchase? Hell no! Two years in with this computer and I’m still very happy with it. So what’s going on then? I only recovered my counterweight by slowly saving money. In the forthcoming months, I was in full force again. Would I make this purchase again? Yes, with the lesson learned of having a dedicated fund for it, not jeopardizing my position by spending my counterweight.
A good boss will always appreciate your integrity and transparency, but that comes with the psychological safety implied. Whether the organization provides it or you provide it for yourself.
But wait, doesn’t this miss the point of having a job in the first place? Do you need money to have a job?
I argue that a job is a business relationship where value is exchanged. Nothing else.
I don’t expect you to not work for money, that is the situation where most people are in, but it’s not what you do, but why you do things in the first place. It’s not the same “work to get paid” to “work to professionally grow and better deliver value.” It’s just another league of thinking. It’s just not affordable to everyone to think like this. But if it’s within your reach, please do.
The company has a contract in place for you to deliver specific results or execute well-defined tasks, in exchange for support for your professional life. A company that doesn’t make you grow professionally in a consistent manner, is not a good fit for you. A good functioning business relationship naturally takes the shape of a win-win relationship. You win professional growth, the company wins results that push the boundaries of growth. In fewer words, a win-win employer-employee relationship is one where both parties are growing.
Whenever this win-win delicate balance is broken, you’ll almost always be at the losing end. You can lose your job to underperformance, or if you’re delivering value in return and the company is mismanaged, that leads to losses for you as well (inhibited promotions, low morale, toxic culture, high cost of opportunity, among other horror stories).
If your profession doesn’t allow you to grow financially, be honest with yourself: Do I need to move on to another company that is in better shape? Have you chosen a career path that doesn’t allow you to consistently grow your income? Have you mismanaged your personal finances? You can start with this last question.
This also implies that some professional careers are financially decimated by the inherent limits of the job market. Especially the ones that don’t scale, because it requires you to “perform work” to “get paid.” In this case, the psychological safety only comes from the company where you’re currently working for and that if it pays you the very least to support you, as the career’s own structure doesn’t allow you to build that counterweight.
Some of these “market speeds” can be bent into better structures that allow you to perceive a better income, but that’s a topic of another post.
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