“Curiosity and Psychological Safety together can be somewhat challenging”.
That’s what someone remarked last week as a reaction to one of my articles and it made me wonder why they would perceive it as such.
We measure six different parameters in our work tool solution to see how teams are doing in terms of Psychological Safety:
To do so, we look at self-reporting, peer validation and behavioural cues, and we added “curiosity” because we simply couldn’t justify having a measurement of team health that didn’t involve learning. What we measure is primarily the appetite not the result of ingesting and filtering new information, but it’s a good indication and it plays an essential role in the overall picture of the health and wellbeing of the team.
Continuous learning is essential to the life of any knowledge worker in this day and age, but the way the workplace has traditionally viewed betterment is nowhere near conducive to where the need and practice of learning are the norm.
We don’t have to look any further back than a few short tens of years, and employees were expected to have been selected based on the amount of knowledge they possessed at a certain point in time and that knowledge was expected to grow by “on the job experience” only. Learning and development as a function only appeared later in the life of the organisation and it is far from a permanent and omnipresent fixture with many companies placing them as an afterthought addendum to the HR function with budgets and priorities reflecting that second rate citizen status.
As a result, even enterprises having an L&D function, team or department, barely have any learning practice to speak of across the board with allowances per employee at ludicrous levels that, in many cases, offer a yearly “learning opportunity” in the form of a training or even a webinar or a couple of books. In some other organisations, immensely valuable and intelligent professionals who could reshape the way we think about acquiring and using new information at levels that would spark innovation far beyond the Google-like day a week, are stuck in an L&D department and they become glorified PAs tasked with sourced days away for executives which are labelled as “leadership development” as there’s some inspirational speaker booked together with the activities du jour, but are incidentally never called “team-building” anymore, as the term has fallen out of corporate grace some time ago.
The problem is greater than mere organisational un-development as it reflects a generalised lack of appetite for learning as a protectionist measure and I believe, this is what the commentator was referring to – a lack of curiosity is perceived as safe and necessary for a climate of unchallenged compliance. When employees continuously want to learn, they may uncover things that will shake the status quo. Open dialogue can be challenging. Eternally wanting to know more, requires a degree of openness towards the world around you, which is utterly unhelpful and potentially dangerous and unproductive in a command and control climate where one is required not to think for themselves, but merely execute.
Ludicrous as it may sound when put into words, and much as it may be painful to admit, critical thinking and an appetite for learning are not by default welcomed in knowledge organisations today.
If they were, they would be the primary KPI to drive any performance appraisals – “How much more have you learned this year?”/ “How many times have you been intensely curious?”/ “What ignited your imagination and what made you creatively progress?”/ “Have you opened dialogue that challenged the status quo?”/ “How much have you shared from what you read/viewed/etc?” and so many more would be the questions we ask before people deserve their bonuses in lieu of “Have you done as told?” and “Have you applied whatever you already remembered from 20 years ago in grad school?”
There isn’t anyone who would argue that modern organisations could survive let alone progress, in the absence of innovation and thus learning, and yet we fail to redesign around it. It isn’t any more surprising than the fact that none of the elements above isn’t exactly held at purposeful and intentional value either – how many organisations really revolve around flexibility and resilience, dialogue and bravery or the morale of their employees?
All of us reading this agree, to a degree or other, that organisations today are not fit for purpose in this VUCA day and age and are unable to employ technology and the new ways of work and deliver what the customer wants at the speed they want it in the state they are in, and could do with a complete shake-up to see their very core redesigned around their employees in the fashion of the big cultural winners out of Silicon Valley. We all advocate for that big change to happen and we can all feel it in our jaded bones that it is near, we’re just not perfectly sure how.
We at PeopleNotTech think we have the answer as to that big “how”, we believe that organisational change at a macro level -cultural transformation as a whole-, while sorely and urgently necessary, is a fishing story fit for powerpoints of big consultancies and beyond fodder for general oped lamentations, the only way to really affect change is by seeing how all of these, curiosity and learning included, are structural pillars of Psychological Safety and how, if we tend to them individually in the context of each magical family-like bubble, shifting the focus from the nebulous overall organisation to the actual unit of work – the team, then we will start seeing change spread.