Mike Schneider

#51 PsychSafety – world’s #1 expert – Amy Edmondson, Harvard Novartis Professor (s03ep7) | Workplace Mental Health

Jul 28, 2023

Amy Edmondson, is a Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business school, a chair established to support the study of human interactions that lead to the creation of successful enterprises that contribute to the betterment of society. Her area of expertise is showing leaders how to increase team psychological safety which is a critical foundation of great teams.
"Care means passion about why we're together to work on the things that we have to do. It's about the purpose of the work we do."
- Amy Edmondson


  • Why Amy transitioned from an engineer to organisational psychology
  • What the leadership team can do to promote a culture of learning
  • Why a caring and supportive team is paramount for innovation and success
  • Why she encourages leaders to think like scientists in a volatile and uncertain world
  • The leadership lessons we can take away from Ted Lasso – and his cookie making


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Transcript from the interview

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Graeme Cowan, Amy Edmondson

Graeme Cowan 0:00  

It’s a real pleasure to welcome Amy Edmondson to The Caring CEO. Welcome, Amy. 

Amy Edmonson 0:16  

Glad to be here. 

Graeme Cowan 0:18  

Amy, what does care in the workplace mean to you?

Amy Edmonson 0:23  

Care means passion about why we’re together to work on the things that we have to do. So, it’s about the purpose, it’s about the purpose of the work we do. And then, and then also about the people and also about the future.

Graeme Cowan 0:44  

You talk very much about having a learning organization and the role that senior leaders can play in that. What do they do to really promote that?

Amy Edmonson 0:54  

Oh, they do so much. But I think it starts with how they show up. And are they– Are they genuinely excited about the work that lies ahead, you know, about whom we serve? And are they authentic and transparent about challenges that lie ahead. I really think leadership is about helping people navigate the very real hurdles in our path. And so, when leaders are both excited about it, but honest about it, and they understand they have that tremendous empathy, about what it’s going to take, and yet why we should be excited about doing it anyway. That to me is the kind of leadership that starts to generate the learning organization.

Graeme Cowan 1:43  

And it’s also a tolerance of mistakes, isn’t it? And you talk about different types of mistakes. So, you just talked through the different mistakes that occur and what are the good ones? 

Amy Edmonson 1:54  

Well, let me, let me give you an alternate term, which is failure. So, failure includes mistakes, but mistakes don’t necessarily include– I mean it doesn’t necessarily mean failure. Actually, I got that wrong. Can I say that again? 

Graeme Cowan 2:12  

Of course. 

Amy Edmonson 2:14  

So. So I want to; instead of talking about mistakes, I want to talk about failure. And mistakes often lead to failure, but they’re not synonymous terms. So, a mistake happens when in fact, there is solid knowledge about what we need to do. And for whatever reason, it wasn’t used, it wasn’t put to good use. We are never happy about that. But that doesn’t mean blame and shame. That just means it’s a wonderful learning opportunity. But failure covers a broader territory, and failures, I divide them into basic, complex and intelligent. Basic failures are those that are the result of a mistake, the knowledge existed, we didn’t use it, we got to failure, sometimes big, sometimes small, our job is to learn fast from that. Complex failures are the kinds where multiple factors line up and produce something, you know, a supply chain breakdown, for example, a very complex, very consequential failure, you can also have complex failures that, you know, just are small, but you leave the house in the morning and you forgot your phone, and you know, you’re late for a meeting. And all those little things sort of line up and create a failure. We don’t celebrate either of those kinds of failures, right? Again, we want to learn from them. And we want to make it psychologically safe for people to learn from them. But there’s another kind and I call them intelligent failures. And they are the undesired results of experiments, right? And so they are, they are what happens when we are trying to innovate or trying to solve a problem. And we’ve got a pretty good idea of what we think might work. And we tried it, and alas, we were wrong. So those are the kinds of failures, nothing to do with mistakes, because in fact, you were generating a very smart experiment. But it didn’t work out. Those are the kinds of failures we not only want to truly celebrate. We, in fact, want more of them, not fewer of them. And that’s where progress comes from.

Graeme Cowan 4:16  

Yep. So, it’s willing to make those intelligent guesses. It’s almost like a hypothesis and see if they work. 

Amy Edmonson 4:25  

It is a hypothesis. Absolutely. It’s like we want everyone in a way to be a little more comfortable thinking like a scientist. Now, I’m not 100% sure what’s going to work, but I think this will work. And it has to be in pursuit of a goal that matters, right? You’re not just randomly experimenting with things that you don’t see a way they’re going to push us toward a valued goal of some kind. It has to be thoughtful, you know, you really gotta hypothesis and it can’t be any bigger than necessary. To produce the result, which is learning and possibly progress.

Graeme Cowan 5:05  

My wife is a professor in cancer epidemiology. And I saw your post about how we need to lead like scientists, and you’ve talked about some of the elements there. Are there any other any other components that you didn’t mention about living like a scientist?

Amy Edmonson 5:23  

You know, one of the contrasts I like to make if I say, if you’ve got to lead like a scientist, it’s instead of sort of setting targets and having all the answers, it’s about creating the space for people to try things out. And helping people make sense of the results. Because as a leader, you may have more experience, you may have more probability to try to sort out, especially on unexpected or undesired results, but it’s a very different mindset, then I have the answers, here are the plans, your job is to execute on those plans. And people like your wife do this day in and day out, they do this for a living, they’re comfortable with it, they’re comfortable hypothesizing, and collecting data and making sense of data and helping others do the same. But too many managers are stuck in the old sort of industrial era model, that assumes that plans are going to be absolutely executable as first conceived, and don’t easily account for changes that happen in the environment.

Graeme Cowan 6:27  

The other thing that I like about scientists and I’ve had the opportunity to observe my wife in action is the capacity to work with a very diverse range of people, not just ethnically or gender, but also very much you know, cognitive diversity, you know, having people that are on the spectrum, but they do extraordinary work but wouldn’t be considered in traditional organizations because they don’t necessarily have the interpersonal skills. Do you think that could apply in our workplaces now our business workplace is having different cognitive diversity?

Amy Edmonson 7:07  

I do I think cognitive diversity is analogous to or an extension of expertise, diversity, we already know that in certain fields, say engineering fields and science fields, you’re more, more likely to have people who are really smart analytically, not always great. interpersonally sometimes they are as I suspect your wife is, my husband is but it’s in, in functional diversity or expertise, diversity, there’s already often a corresponding cognitive diversity that comes along with it. And I have data that shows that expertise and diversity is a predictor of innovation success, but only when psychological safety is high. So, it’s very hard to utilize that diversity of inputs and perspectives and, and backgrounds without an environment of psychological safety, where people feel very free to be candid, you know, very feel free to share their thinking and question and challenge each other’s thinking as well.

Graeme Cowan 8:17  

You started off as an engineer, a long while back, how did you evolve from that to now being the number one driver, think, leader, thought leader? What were some of the steps along the way?

Amy Edmonson 8:34  

Many, many steps. But engineers, somebody who studies engineering, like me is at heart a problem solver. I mean, you I have a strong desire to get things done right to sort of make sense of, of complexity and try to solve problems and achieve results. And what I discovered in my early career was that I could do that. But I was so much more fascinated by the problems that involved people. The problem solving was how do we get this team to work together? And what are, what are some of the things that managers and leaders can do to sort of make things work better in the organization and like it or not, those were the problems that started attracting me. But at the time, I didn’t have any, any background, any real expertise in psychology or management or anything like that. So, I ended up having to go back to school and get a PhD in organizational behavior and Master’s in psychology.

Graeme Cowan 9:37  

Well, funnily enough, my wife started off as an electrical engineer and she worked in the biotech area for probably about I think it’s about 12 years and worked all over the world with a couple of companies there that she came to her realization in early 30s and went to Oxford and did her PhD in in epidemiology, and yeah, so there’s some overlaps. Your husband, George, mainly is the Dean of Harvard Medical School. So, you obviously, both have very, very busy lives. How do you think of scientists to run your household?

Amy Edmonson 10:25  

Well, I’m not sure that we consistently do just to be fully honest with you. But one thing we do, I would say, is that we are not surprised when things don’t unfold exactly as hoped. I would say, and I think good scientific labs do this as well. We divide by expertise, so I’ve done a lot more of the management, he’s done a lot more of the cooking, he’s just an exquisite cook. He loves to grocery shop, and he loves to cook. And he’s very scientific about it, right. So, he’s very, very detail oriented and experimental. And when our children were young, now they’re, now they’re young adults, but when they were young, I did a lot of the management of the various schedules and helpers that we would need. And he overtimes, he’s pretty good at fixing things that break. So, he does those kinds of things. And I think sometimes as time goes on, especially since we don’t have the kids at home anymore, he’s doing more of the heavy lifting than I am.

Graeme Cowan 11:37  

Fair, fair enough. You’ve got a new book coming out? Can you just see that it’s called the ‘Right kind of Wrong’. And as I understand it, it’s coming out in September, so not too far away. Why did you think that book, that content was right for the times?

Amy Edmonson 11:58  

So right kind of wrong, which is really another way of saying intelligent failure. And then, the topic of failure seems to me one that doesn’t go away, right, it has remained quite popular, but also quite fraught. And I think part of the challenge is, is that people don’t do a good job of distinguishing among the types of failures. So, I thought, we almost have two camps, we have the camp that says, fail, fast, fail, fail off, and you know, the sort of innovators, tech company idea, move fast, break things, etc. And then we have the camp that says, hold on just a minute, I live in the real world, we can’t fail here, we gotta get it right. And they, they, they don’t see eye to eye clearly. And the truth is neither one of them neither, neither side is making the right distinction so that we in fact, can practice the science of failing well, so I wrote the book, to help people understand the good kind of failure, and the not so good kind, and to share best practices for preventing the preventable failures, you know, you teach your children not to run into the street, to catch a ball that just went out there in traffic, right? That’s because if they did that, and something, God forbid, were to happen, they’re hit by a car, that would not be a good kind of failure. And that is preventable. And similarly, you know, if a child is completely unwilling, or a manager or CEO, to try things that might not work, that company or that child will not be a lifelong learner will not be relevant for the long haul. So, I wanted to help people make very clear distinctions between the kind of failure we should have more of and celebrate the kinds of failures, we should work hard to prevent. And then dig kind of deeply into, what are the competencies that your organization needs to do this well, or what’s self-awareness that people I think, particularly people in leadership roles, need to have to understand the impact they’re having to create and help others create a real learning environment? And what is the situation awareness, you need to know whether this is too high risk a situation to experiment with, or exactly the right kind of situation where you should be experimenting and pushing the envelope out further? And then finally, what kinds of sort of systems thinking and systems understanding do we need, again, to be able to have innovation without preventable failures?

Graeme Cowan 14:51  

We’ve had the most extraordinary last four years, you know, with the pandemic, but also the last six months as well. It’s been lot of, a lot happening with artificial intelligence and Chat GPT. What do really good leadership teams do to stay on top of that?

Amy Edmonson 15:14  

You know, I think first of all, you declare, once and for all, we’ll never be, you know, fully up to speed on everything, right? The world is going to keep throwing us curveballs, the world is going to keep changing, you’re going to, we’re going to keep it sort of encountering new challenges, new technologies. And the best way to stay up to speed as is team is to, is to divide and conquer is to sort of make sure we really recognize and listen to the various experts in our domain. Be honest about the things we know and the things we don’t know, raise your hand and ask for help when you need it, right, that we’ve got to make sure those kinds of behaviors are truly seen as okay.

Graeme Cowan 16:10  

What– how does that translate, then to a weekly meeting, the weekly meeting of the leadership team?

Amy Edmonson 16:17  

I think a weekly meeting of the leadership team should be primarily focused on mutual help and problem solving. Right. And I think the least effective weekly leadership team meetings are those that are just reporting ends. And they’re essentially the underlying messages all as well here. Because we people are instinctively motivated to look good in the eyes of others. To report bad news, it’s like we learn that behavior quite early. We don’t, we don’t want to look bad, we don’t want to look weak, we interpret the idea that we might have mistakes or failures as, as, or problems, you know, as evidence of weakness, when in fact, it’s really evidence of honesty and alertness, right? If you’re, if you’re not aware of problems happening in your domain, your function, your business unit, you probably aren’t really on top of what’s happening. So, I think the best leadership team meetings are the ones where they use that precious time to counsel and help each other with ideas for the most important problems that have come up this week. It’s almost as if we should assume that most of the things are going as they shouldn’t waste our time reporting those. But let’s roll up our sleeves and help each other because the chances are good that each of us have some experiences or ideas that will help the others.

Graeme Cowan 17:49  

Thank you. I read that the term psychological safety was actually coined by a psychologist Carl Rogers in the 1950s. 1950s. Why do you think it’s taken so long to be now known as a critical element of teams?

Amy Edmonson 18:11  

I think there’s two big reasons for that. And one is Carl Rogers, who was in the clinical psychology field. And so, his work was on therapeutic relationships between the clinician, the psychologist and the patient. And he believed and had evidence to show that in less you have a psychologically safe context, in that relationship, your patient is less likely to learn and grow and heal and do the work you need to do because they have to feel safe to be honest, they have to feel safe to take risks. That’s not the same context that we’re talking about in when we talk about companies. So, it often will take a while for a concept that is, is important in one domain or field of expertise to find its way over to another so that I think that’s one reason. But then why it has the general notion, not just the term, but the general notion of what it takes to be successful. And which really means to learn, and innovate extremely well, in a changing world. Why has it taken us so long to recognize the importance of the climate for making that happen in companies? And I can only say, I think it’s, it’s because we didn’t fully take seriously the volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous world in which we operate until, you know, a couple of decades ago. You know, we kind of knew there was uncertainty and complexity out there. But we acted as if we could just have plans and schedules and targets and manage accordingly. is it’s kind of broken up, it’s especially broken up during the global pandemic caused by COVID-19. But I guess what I’m trying to say is, I think today, we finally get it like we get that we’re operating without a crystal ball. And then when you, when you suddenly take that to heart, you realize, we have got to have an environment of candor, we’ve got to have an environment where people are willing and able to share their ideas to ask for help to admit mistakes, to engage in experimentation, because that’s the only way we’re going to succeed in this changing world. So, it’s a wall of is just greater than it ever was before.

Graeme Cowan 20:45  

And I think people also fundamentally getters, and one of the things I do in my keynotes and workshops is ask people to reflect on their best team, you know, could have been this team, previous team when they worked at McDonald’s when they were in a sporting team. And what was it that made it really special, and, you know, use a tool called mente, where people can vote live and have about 10 different criteria. And that’s things like, you know, we had a compelling vision, we have complementary strengths, and a number of others. But in 95% of the cases, the top three, we had each other’s back, we enjoyed working together, and we cared about each other. And so, it’s a, it’s quite a compelling way for people to realize that experience psychological safety, you know, they’ve been in a really supportive environment. And, yeah, so I first read about the concepts in, and I was very excited to read this. In the New York Times article, Google’s quest for the perfect team. That’s where I first read about you as well. Was that a real landmark in terms of the discussion and psychological safety of the workplace?

Amy Edmonson 22:02  

It was a real landmark. Absolutely. So, in the, in the academic literature, in my field of organizational behavior, the psychological safety and a measure of psychological safety had achieved, you know, a fair amount of recognition, lots of citations, lots of people using the variable in the research literature and the research articles that only are really primarily read by academics and a few thoughtful practitioners. And so, the work I had done the first paper on, on this topic of psychological safety in teams was published in 1999. You know, it had been a successful paper and a reasonably successful academic career. But not until the New York Times article, publicizing the Google study project, Aristotle did the idea take off more broadly? Right. So, it was a real turning point. And got a lot of people talking about this in organizations around the world who had not been talking about it before. So, I couldn’t be more grateful about that article.

Graeme Cowan 23:11  

Yes. And I did as well mail it to me actually reaching out to you. And we collaborated on measuring the psychological safety of the Australian workplace through a charity called ‘Are you okay?’, though I was a founding board director of and that showed this was in 2018, I think it was, it showed that only 33% of Australians felt it was safe to take a risk at work, which is, which is a very, very low number. I’ve also asked that question more recently and done surveys with my database and LinkedIn. And it’s came to be much higher, it’s more like 50%. And I’m sure a lot of that has to do with a pandemic, when we just didn’t have the answers that we had to add to try. We had to learn and do things. Do you think that it’s like a leading question? That that’s really contributed to why psychological safety has become on the CEOs agenda?

Amy Edmonson 24:19  

I do. I think the pandemic taught us first of all, that we really did have to be able to experiment and solve problems in an unfamiliar situation. And I think many companies, many organizations, including my own at Harvard University, were in a funny way stunned at our ability to sort of turn on a dime and send everyone home, figure out how to teach classes virtually and, and all of them and we you know, we suddenly realized, we, we were capable of doing more than we thought in terms of innovating and problem solving. And we realized that part of that was people weren’t sort of pausing to say, oh, gee, I wonder if I’ll get in trouble for that. I mean, people were just free to take those risks and to know, and they knew everybody would forgive them for things that didn’t work, because we’d never been there before we were in brand new territory. And so automatically created more wiggle room for experimentation, which is kind of analogous to psychological safety. And also, I think we felt fragile. We felt vulnerable, which, and but, but it was discussable. Like, we talk to each other about it, like, oh, gosh, how’s this gonna work? And I’m nervous. And I don’t know how I’m going to teach effectively. In this way, for instance, so. So, there was more almost intimacy in our conversations, because we’re willing to admit that we didn’t know all the answers, because we hadn’t been here before. So, I think that both allowed the experimentation gave us a sense that, you know, when we try things that don’t work out perfectly, it’s not really all that bad, we’re still okay. And so maybe that did help. In a lot of cases.

Graeme Cowan 26:08  

There’s been some really interesting things play out hasn’t been with regards to whether they work from home or work from the office, or a combination of the two and all that seem to be landing on, you know, a hybrid sort of solution. But there’s that, there’s a big trend playing out in Australia, one of our largest companies, the Commonwealth Bank, they provide an edict that you had to be in the office half the time and work from home half the time. But it was such a big issue that the union that represents employees in the banking sector, have taken them to court to say that it is fine to work from home, you know, it hasn’t affected our productivity by working at home, how do leaders navigate something like that? Could you think of a better way that they could work out a solution that worked for all? 

Amy Edmonson 27:04  

Yes, so this is a very interesting topic. And one of the things that I’ve been observing in this discussion is these essentially two, I think, unhelpful and unnecessary, polarizing features of these discussions, right? So one is, they have been sort of turned into, you know, bosses versus employees or organizations versus employees. The truth is that’s people and people. And it’s not as stark as that, right? It isn’t as if there’s sort of the man and then everybody else, and one side wants one thing, and the other side wants something else, it’s just not nearly that stark, and yet, a lot of the dialogue has been carried out that way. The other way it’s been sort of polarizing is that it’s, it’s been about, you know, either, you know, remote work is good, or remote work is bad. And, of course, that’s overly simplistic to you know, remote work is complicated and different, and under some conditions is perfectly adequate, and under other conditions, is limiting. And so, real, the real conversation we should be having is a problem solving, or designing conversation, you know, how do we design work that works for the future, and what kinds of tasks are absolutely great to do by yourself, you know, in your kitchen, wherever, at home, and what kinds of tasks just absolutely fall short. And also, be a little bit more open and a little bit more compassionate, but the people whose job requires them to be there in person, and those are people who are taking care of patients, for example, or, or in, in retail environments, grocery stores, and the like, and not leave them out of, you know, of the conversation as we do. I believe we can and will or at least we can design effective ways to work that both allow people to spend more time working remotely, but also come together in the ways that recharge and re-enter and re-energize us and allow us to do the kind of collaborative generative work that is really best done together in person.

Graeme Cowan 29:43  

I am previously the director of the future work from Novartis in based in Switzerland, and I understand you’ve done some work with Novartis as well. But where he has learned and it recommends is that it shouldn’t be an edict. It shouldn’t be employees dictating things, it should be the team that decides how we work together to deliver the work. Does that align with what you think is in the right direction?

Amy Edmonson 30:16  

It does. I mean, it’s– I don’t want to oversimplify the challenge or downplay the challenge of a team deciding. But I do think that the team, it’s roughly right, right, and what that looks like will be different for different teams and different kinds of work. But of course, it doesn’t make sense to say, oh, everybody should go in, you know, three days a week, if we’re not going to go in the same three days a week, right? That would be almost the worst, the worst thing that can happen is you, you make your drive, and you go into work, and you get there and nobody’s there, and you’re working remotely with all your, you know, your colleagues on a screen. Right, that’s silly. But one of the things, you know, I had the experience as we started in 21, and 22, to come back together for various things work, you know, conferences, you know, as people started to come back together. And I suspect many of our listeners had this to where you had person after person saying, wow, it’s so great to be together, right? Or it was so great if you were at a little conference or meeting, you know, to hear the laughter or to read the body language again, and he does so we intuitively appreciate and understand the special energy of human-to-human presence. We also understand the joy of not having a five day a week commute, right? So, but these are designed problems that can be best solved, if we are honest with each other about both the advantages, for example of remote work and the disadvantages of remote work, the potential cost to relationships and culture if we’re never together, when it does this, certainly very real evidence that that that erodes some of our feelings of, of connection and caring, and compassion when we never are together in person. So, all of these things need to be part of the conversation, we need to be on the same side of the table, which is let’s design structures and processes and policies that work for all and not pit people against each other or oversimplify the costs and benefits.

Graeme Cowan 32:45  

I’m taking a guess here, but I think you may be a tad less out fan. And I saw a post on LinkedIn about his cookies. What, what prompted you to write that post? 

Amy Edmonson 33:02  

Well, it is such a delightful show. And he sort of exudes a kind of obviously he’s all about caring, right? He’s all about sort of caring about the team, caring about them as individuals, caring about them as a collective. He has a kind of, you know, disarming honesty, as he approaches as he talks to his boss, as he talks to them. And there are many, many elements of Ted lassos leadership style that are worthy of emulation. Right. So, I think it’s about the combination of good practice and humor makes it fun to talk about him and the show.

Graeme Cowan 33:50  

So, what was specifically about the cookies? What was the lesson learned from the cookies?

Amy Edmonson 33:57  

You know, I have to go. It’s so long ago, I have to go back to it. I mean, I remember he’s bringing, he’s bringing his bus the cookies. But I honestly have to go back to the post. Do you– do you? Can you finger my memory?

Graeme Cowan 34:14  

I should. I think it was the fact that he was using something like that to promote connection with his boss and in that group, but–

Amy Edmonson 34:28  

I should have kind of somehow prepared that in my– but I didn’t.

Graeme Cowan 34:36  

You come back to the– interesting, it is a really interesting area. What are the reasons?

Amy Edmonson 34:44  

–about it. I did, I’ll just I mean–

Graeme Cowan 34:48  

I know I can. I can. I can find and I will find it, I will find it. So let me just get that now because while we’re here.

Amy Edmonson 35:02  

Oh, managing up yeah biscuits with the boss. I mean, I guess, I guess the importance of that first of all he that he did have a fearlessness, right but the TED Lasso had a fearlessness. But the importance of that was in managing up, you know, here’s the ball in of course, in the beginning of the show, the boss was really the kind of prototypical television or movie boss who is lying, mean, sort of has her own agenda that she is not being honest with, with the, the her manager or you know, her employee or the team about and, and instead of just kind of saying, shielding yourself from the boss and not interacting with the boss, he takes that fearless approach of, of managing up, but not to just not to fool or trick the boss, but to kind of win her over, turn convert her into a caring, compassionate, learning oriented boss, cookie by cookie.

Graeme Cowan 36:20  

Yet the thing has happened, and I’m sure contributed to hugely by COVID. And also, AI is a real global mental health crisis in the workplace. You know, last year, I think it was Microsoft that came out and said that 62% of employees were vulnerable to burnout and 66% of managers were vulnerable to burnout. We’ve also had the World Health Organization estimate the lost productivity costs of $1 trillion globally to mental health, how can psychological safety play a role in improving and addressing that?

Amy Edmonson 37:05  

You know, I, I love to cite research done by Makayla Carosi, at the Harvard School of Public Health, that shows a negative relationship between psychological safety and burnout among healthcare providers in a hospital setting so that when, when psychological safety was higher, burnout tended to be lower. And in more recent data that we’ve collected together, what we have found is the burnout is protected. I mean, psychological safety is protective against burnout. So, we finally have data where it’s longitudinal. So, we can look at preexisting like pre pandemic psychological safety, and show that those with higher pre pandemic psychological safety, again, in healthcare delivery settings were burnout is just a hot topic, those with the higher pre existing psychological safety in their units in their work groups, who were less likely to suffer extreme burnout after the fact so and how do I interpret that? And you know, how do we explain that it’s psychological safety fundamentally, allows you to be more yourself, it allows you to ask for help when you need it, it allows you to be open when you’re feeling down or need help or are vulnerable. So, it’s, it’s okay to be vulnerable. We’re all vulnerable, right? What’s really hard for us is when we can’t acknowledge it, or we can’t be open about it. There’s a certain aspect of being all in it together, that psychological safety enables that protective against the worst of the, you know, the burnout challenge. And I think this is true for other mental health challenges as well. We are much more able to sort of endure hard things, when we feel where we are cared about and connected to our colleagues in a meaningful way.

Graeme Cowan 39:04  

The Gallup have what they call their Q12. Which measures engagement discretionary effort, but one of those questions and they found it to be the most predictive is a strongly agree with this statement, my supervisor or someone at work seems to care about me as a person. They have shown and because it’s been, I think, been answered about 60 million times and 135 countries, they have shown the more people that strongly agree with that the higher the productivity, profit, longevity of with the company and also customer service levels. So, it is wonderful, isn’t it to see those sort of things really being highlighted because it’s got to be the future of work is creating a place when we do feel cared for and supported.

Amy Edmonson 40:03  

Yes, yes. And, you know, it’s, I think sometimes people mistake that for some kind of Pollyanna no show, I could do whatever I want, or I wouldn’t have to work hard. You know, it’s like a be comfortable. But it’s actually not what it’s saying is? It’s what it’s saying is, so long as I genuinely believe that my supervisors and I’d had, it’s really great to when you believe your colleagues care, care about me as a person, then your data are saying, I’m more willing to exert effort, right, I am more engaged, I’m more willing to exert discretionary effort. It’s such a profound, and as you say, robust finding. And, you know, that would seem to be something that we can and should directly target, right, we need to develop caring managers, caring CEOs, yes, but all the way down, people whose first job is to learn how to care. So that you can sort of engage people in the, in the growth and development and contributions that they are there to, to experience.

Graeme Cowan 41:23  

You might notice on the screen behind me, weekend manager about leading mentally healthy and safe teams. And this really came about through trying to create a learning experience that showed them how to do it know what they actually need to do to create the right sort of environment where people feel supported, but also being able to identify those that are vulnerable, you know, those are what I call in the red zone, you know, that feeling stressed or anxious? Yes, and it is, it is really, you know, we talked about the red zone. It was based on my survey of over 4000 people, and I care framework, which is how we identify someone who’s struggling, how we show compassion, and have the ‘Are you okay?’ conversation, how we help them to access experts, how we incorporate that work is good for recovery, revitalizing work, and then these for exercise. And, you know, that’s this simple things to do. But they make a profound difference. If people do feel safe to admit that they’re not coping. The sooner that happens, the faster the turnaround, because often, the boss can make the changes that help facilitate that.

Amy Edmonson 42:49  

Yeah, I mean, the worst thing that people can do is keep hiding, you know, if they’re, if they’re hiding their distress, if they’re hiding their, their struggle, it takes longer, and sometimes even, you know, becomes a problem that it gets too difficult to recover from.

Graeme Cowan 43:07  

Absolutely, yeah. So, we’ve, we’ve got a 50-minute e-learning program, followed by 12 match videos where, you know, elements of psychological safety is shared, and it’s encouraged, they receive one email per week for 12 weeks, and it encourages him to put it into action, because it’s my experience that most managers want to be a good boss. And but they don’t necessarily realize that there’s little things that create that sense of connection, having each other’s back, you know, supporting each other make a really, really dramatic, dramatic difference.

Amy Edmonson 43:45  

It’s so true. And you know, a lot of people internalize the idea that the manager, they’re supposed to have the answers, they’re supposed to be tough, they’re supposed to be you know, you know, really, like not, not caring almost, well, that’s not what a manager does. And they’ve just internalized the wrong messages, you know, maybe from Hollywood, maybe from their own managers or parents, but when, you know, getting that message out that you’re trying so hard to do, and I try to do as well, that fundamentally good management is carrying, a good management is it’s about helping people get things done, yes, but also helping develop people to be all that they can be.

Graeme Cowan 44:31  

What some good ideas you’ve seen about how managers can promote that sense of connection and belonging, but in the hybrid world where some are physically the office, some are at home, if you’ve heard of any good ways that that can be done.

Amy Edmonson 44:47  

Well, I think there’s– I don’t have a sort of one size fits all answer, but the fundamental stance I think, is it starts with humility. It’s sort of a recognition that we’re in new ground, we’re in new territory. And so, there’s a hump humility about how this is gonna work and also humility to know that I need you, right? If this project, or this work unit is going to be a success, you are as a manager, very dependent on your employees, right, more than, more than most people are comfortable with. So being open and honest about that, that dependence and that interdependence, I think is a great start. Because what that saying is, I have some ideas, and I know you do as well, I need to hear the to sort of like, how are we going to make this new situation work as best as it can? And secondly, is approaching this with curiosity. Jen, what, what do you– what do you think might work? What do I think might work, but let’s try it and see what happens. Let’s be honest with each other about, about what we experienced as a result, and I think it boils down to doing everything we can to have the most productive learning oriented, forward facing conversations we have. And knowing there’ll be, you know, there’ll be mishaps and struggles along the way.

Graeme Cowan 46:16  

It’s really interesting to use that word humility, because one of the reasons we started The Caring CEO, and we just have to find a caring CEO is someone who champions a culture of care, and a culture of high performance goes for it. So, one of the reasons we did– we’ve done there is to show that this stuff isn’t theory, there are highly, highly successful people out there that are living this way of leadership. And, if I had to summarize one quality across all those people, it would be humility, it really would, you know, just very, very little ego and very open to admitting them vulnerable, asking to help even talking about their own struggles. You know, we, I interviewed CEO here in Australia called Mike Schneider. He’s the CEO of Bunnings, which is a 55,000-employee hardware group. And then he talked about they tried to launch in the UK and Ireland didn’t work out for a whole bunch of reasons. But, you know, he said, it was a huge setback in his career, and he had to get a mindset coach to help get him back on track. And when leaders admit that it just, it normalizes the conversation, doesn’t it?

Amy Edmonson 47:36  

It makes it possible for others, to be honest, for others to speak up as well. I really think if you want if you want candor from your team, you’ve got to be willing to be honest. And that includes honest about the setbacks, and honest about the struggles. And it’s, there’s probably nothing more important than that.

Graeme Cowan 47:58  

What do you do for self-care, Amy how do you have a good shape?

Amy Edmonson 48:03  

Well, like, you know, I’ve, I’m a almost lifelong runner, I started in my 20s. And I do, I do love to run, I don’t run fast anymore, but I just love to get out and, you know, be outside and just feeling that you know, wind and speed. And it’s lovely to be out there running. I’m also an avid sailor. That’s not something I can do in the winter. But I do enjoy doing it in the summer, when the stars align.

Graeme Cowan 48:36  

Very good. When relationships at work are obviously very important to end another, you know, the Gallup question is, and it was it’s been a controversial I have a best friend at work. And again, that’s been shown as very predictive and someone who’s highly engaged? How can we promote better friendships in the workplace?

Amy Edmonson 49:01  

I love that I. actually been a I’ve known about that item for years. And I think it’s, it’s such a beautiful item. And it doesn’t mean my best friend works where I work, right? It means that when I go to work, there’s someone I can go to. And I have to tell you, I interpret those data as just a proxy measure for psychological safety. If you can answer yes to or high score on, I have a best friend at work, what you’re really saying is there’s someone I can confide in, which is just a little bit more of I can be myself I have that psychological safety and at least one meaningful relationship in my, in my workplace. So, I think that is why it’s so predictive.

Graeme Cowan 49:44  

I often get approached with people who are experiencing depression or anxiety at work, because I’ve got real lived experience in that area. And that’s how I don’t you know, should I tell my boss and, and I said, well, just start off What telling someone you trust what’s going on?

Amy Edmonson 50:03  

Brilliant? Yeah. So, you know– And the question you asked, which I didn’t really answer before, of how do you promote or how do you nurture good relationships? To me, I think sometimes when people hear that they think I have to tell you my whole life story or bare my soul. And that isn’t actually, you know, I think the essence of a good relationship is one where fundamentally no three simple things when what is it that you are hoping to accomplish? Either in the small or in the large, right, what do you, what are you trying to do? And then what do you bring? Well, you know, I’m a good listener, I’m good at math, whatever, you know, and then, and then, what are you up against? Which, of course, is the most vulnerable of the three questions, which is, you know, what hurdles do you see in your path. And it’s not, it’s not deeply personal or intimate. It’s just, if I know those three things about you what you’re trying and hoping to get done what you think you bring, that’s, you know, that’s, that’s valuable, and what you’re worried about what you’re up against? That’s enough, right then, and you know, that about me, we have a relationship, and it’s a meaningful relationship. And I’m so happy to see you at, you know, on any given work day, feel connected to you because of that. So, I think, if more people just had the insight or opportunity to share those three things, we’d have stronger relationships at work.

Graeme Cowan 51:32  

You may be familiar with Bob Chapman; he is the author of everybody matters. And the chairman and CEO, Barry Wehmiller, a very successful manufacturing, group manufacturing services. And, you know, it’s been his reflection that you show you care by listening with empathy. And that is, you know, they put together their own course, in their own organization to improve that listening with empathy. And he attributes that to a huge part to the success of a business.

Amy Edmonson 52:07  

Yes, I wrote about them in the fearless organization. It’s a beautiful case study for creating psychologically safe environment that really nurtures the learning and growth of its employees and has had tremendous success as a result.

Graeme Cowan 52:23  

Happily, how quickly the time has gone, Amy, it’s almost up. But I always finish by asking the guess what– knowing what you know, now, what advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?

Amy Edmonson 52:40  

Stress less. It so I can’t tell you how much sort of angst and anxiety I experienced with that thought of, of just, you know, anxiety about whether I’d be successful or even be okay, you know, even just sort of be gainfully employed. And I worried so very much, it took away a lot of the joy I could have been experiencing. Not all of it, mind you, but a lot of it. And I think if I could have just said focus on learning, focus on the opportunities to learn not to succeed today, but the opportunities to learn who would have more or less arrived where I did, but happier.

Graeme Cowan 53:26  

I think that’s just a wonderful message to finish up. Amy, thank you so much. I’ve enjoyed it hugely and appreciate it very much.

Amy Edmonson 53:35  

It’s a delight to spend this time with you after all these years.

Graeme Cowan 53:42  

It’s been great. And you’re just such an interesting discussion. I just loved it. So, thank you. I really appreciate it. 

Amy Edmonson 53:49  

Thank you.

Thanks for joining us today. I hope you’ve learned something new and heard some practical tips you can try with your team. If you enjoyed this interview today. Please rate us on iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcast platform. When you rate us It helps other people to find us. We also welcome any comments. If you’re interested in seeing details about our scalable WeCARE Mental Health Training Programs, please visit us at FACTORC.com.au. Our goal for these programs is to make them accessible, practical, and ongoing. If you’ve been impressed by a CEO that you would like us to interview please email details to support@factorc.com.au. Please subscribe by clicking the button below. We really would love to have you as part of the care movement. Thanks for joining us.

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