According to a study published in 2020 by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, “a toxic workplace environment negatively affected employee engagement.” It can also directly impact productivity, make it difficult for employees to work, possibly prevent them from progressing in their careers and cause workplace-induced stress.
There was a time when people thought of A-Players as those with alpha personalities who were driven to succeed by using control-oriented tactics to take action. In today’s workforce, we have learned that “doing” without “being” can be as destructive as inaction. Today’s A-Players show they care about others, their words align with their actions, and they are accountable for keeping commitments and how they show up in the world.
The best way to transform your workforce is to create an inclusive culture built upon a foundation of trust and psychological safety fostered by open communication, which then creates an environment that encourages authentic participation, productivity, and success.
By co-creating an A-Player culture, your people become allies, not cliques. People are more open to working through challenges, more willing to share ideas, and more willing to voice opposing views while keeping communication open, safe, and mutually kind. With suspended judgment, a neutral space opens up to reveal new insights and ideas. A sense of purpose grows as members realize the importance of their contributions to the bigger picture. They take responsibility and claim ownership of their role in bringing a vision to life.
The new A-Player applies kindness, mindfulness, compassionate latitude, and informed intuition that inspires them to embody the kind of impactful leadership that cultivates and nurtures new and future leaders. Their actions are in alignment with their intentions, and intentions align with accomplishing the goals and the overall vision. Co-creating a safe space fosters an environment of trust, which is the foundation for cooperation and collaboration to grow.
Here are three important shifts you can make to begin transforming your company culture so that it recognizes and retains “A-Player” employees and team members.
Shift 1: Create and Nurture Psychological Safety
Psychological safety is achieved when people feel safe to speak up, share ideas, and are encouraged to contribute. When psychological safety isn’t present, it’s apparent because people will fear recourse if they share their honest thoughts or if they reveal their authentic selves. When psychological safety is missing, it creates the conditions for a toxic work environment driven by fear and the pressure to conform to the status quo. When psychological safety is present, being in the community becomes a positive and inclusive experience, people are more willing to support one another, they feel happier, and team morale and productivity increase.
In his book called, The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety, the author, Timothy R. Clark described the following four stages of psychological safety that should be present in a healthy culture and diverse and inclusive work environment:
Inclusion Safety. This occurs when people feel part of the team and are not considered outsiders. This can improve overall well-being and happiness at work.
Learner Safety. This occurs when employees feel safe being part of the discovery process. Those who feel learner safety will ask questions and dive into new tasks without fear of making mistakes.
Contributor Safety. This happens when people feel safe acting as fully functioning members of the team. This means that they feel they can positively impact the team through their actions, such as executing their work and making suggestions for improvements.
Challenger Safety. When employees feel safe speaking up and offering dissenting opinions, challenger safety is present. When this occurs, people do not feel pressured to conform, can genuinely be themselves, and do not fear recourse if they challenge the status quo.
All four stages must be present to create a psychologically safe work environment, and they all build on one another. For example, Inclusion Safety needs to be present before Learner Safety can occur, and so on. Assessing the work environment helps HR leaders discern the quality of their company culture to ensure that all four stages, including inclusion and safety, are present in the work environment.
Shift 2: Identify and Discourage Clique Culture
It is human nature to gather like-minds around common interests; however, when cliques are allowed to form, it can create psychological barriers to opportunities for those not members of the “in-crowd.” Clique culture is detrimental to an inclusive work environment because it creates separation. Leaders who condone division and exclusionary behavior unknowingly endorse and reward this behavior. At the darkest end of the spectrum, clique culture can deteriorate into toxic tribalism, which employs control tactics, fear, and critical judgment to wield power and compel others to conform. Employees forming cliques can lead to diminished morale and create an “us vs. them” mentality.
Identifying whether or not clique culture exists in the work environment is a crucial first step to transforming employees into A-Players. Some signs of cliques have formed:
Bullying, including cyberbullying
Alienating certain people who do not conform to the status quo.
Some members receive preferential treatment and support, while others receive no support or the bare minimum
Passive aggressive behavior
Engage in toxic behaviors, like gossiping.
The goal, then, is to encourage community while discouraging the formation of cliques. Taking steps to build bridges instead of barriers, while investing time and patience into developing people will pay dividends beyond measure.
Shift 3: Open channels of safe communication
Communication is critical in creating and maintaining a supportive environment where people feel safe speaking out. Company leadership must establish and encourage a safe environment for communicating with one another to ensure that every voice gets a chance to be heard. Let’s assume that your departments have done a great job attracting great employees. Yet, you sense that something is not quite right. There is tension in the air yet no one is saying anything about what happened. Communication breakdown is an indication that all is not well. Here are some other signs that this may be the case:
Communication from leadership is slow, nonexistent, or dismissive.
Declined productivity, where the root cause is a lack of knowledge or motivation to complete tasks.
People have disengaged and stopped communicating, and there is an undercurrent of resentment growing from failing interpersonal relationships between co-workers, or group members.
Communication issues can be resolved by setting the intention to resolve challenges, leaning into the challenges, suspending judgments, establishing safe space, and allowing each person to share their perspective with the assurance that they are safe to open up without fear of retaliation.
Developing an internal communication plan, HR leaders can plan ahead to keep in regular communication to foster trust, connection, consistency, and transparency. With compassionate latitude, frustration gives way to more patience while releasing and allowing each moment to pass until all misunderstanding dissolves until peace returns.
Communication improves naturally by safeguarding psychological safety and by encouraging an inclusive work environment. If the environment at work is healthy, excellent communication will naturally follow because trust is the product of a healthy environment.
Transforming the workplace to create A-Players takes time, but implementing these shifts can get the process started. It all starts with changing your understanding of what it truly means to be an A-Player. It is no longer about adopting “alpha” traits, but rather about creating a safe and collaborative environment where everyone works towards a common goal.
To make these shifts, there must be a supportive leadership team encouraging and guiding the effort. Leaders have the power to create an environment that protects and maintains psychological safety, encourages collaboration, and fosters safe and respectful communication.
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Clark, Timothy R. The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. 2020