Cultural Safety – How Culture Can Encourage the Best from Your Team

Cultural Safety

In order for members of an organizational culture to feel like they can fully contribute to the success of that organization, they must feel a sense of safety to protect, innovate and renovate. Cultures that create an environment of Cultural Dissonance eliminate the capacity for their members to help that culture evolve positively towards organizational goals. This is the experience that so many of the now famous convicted, fined and bankrupted companies navigated when the United States experienced a rash of public scandals.

Cultural Dissonance

Stories have continued to emerge about employees from these disgraced companies who knew that things were not moving in the right direction yet they did not feel that they were in a position to change anything. Cultural Dissonance is when executives communicate one thing yet create experiences for employees contrary to the stated cultural values. I recently heard an executive say, “The problem is that the higher you ascend in leadership, the less likely people are comfortable being forthright with you.” It is imperative that leaders query all levels of the organization to determine if people are having experiences that align with the desired and stated cultural values. Leaders must be deliberate about identifying and reconciling any differences between the cultural elements necessary to ensure ethical success and the experiences employees are having.

A day of reckoning

The process of continually seeking culture-based feedback from employees will serve three primary purposes.

  1. Create accurate information about whether the culture is helping or hurting your goals
  2. Enable you to resolve any Cultural Dissonance that may exist
  3. Restore and protect Psychological Safety so that you can get the best from the team

Because executives are often removed from the reality of what employees are experiencing, the risk of a disconnect between how those two demographics view the workplace is an unnecessarily high.

I recall a time when I had the privilege of working with one of the largest entertainment providers in the country. The leadership was determined to maintain high engagement levels with all employees as well as to ensure that they did not “lose touch” with employees.

Consequently, I managed a process where every executive would spend a full day with employees “out in the field.” They would abandon the “C-Suite” of offices and conference rooms, adopt casual attire and report early in the morning to the assignments I planned and administered. Some would be assigned to spend the day with a headset sitting next to team members in our customer service call center. Others would ride-along with security or in the truck with some of our field technicians. No matter the assignment, it was a day to be reconnected to the experiences that their employees were having. It was a day to see how leadership decisions directly contributed to the way work was actually completed. It was a day to observe if their cultural perceptions actually aligned with the perceptions of employees at all levels. It was a day that revealed any Cognitive Dissonance within the organization and empowered the executive team to make the necessary adjustments.

When safety and dissonance clash

The concept of Psychological Safety has emerged as being vitally important to cultures that need to be innovative and retain talent. Google’s famous Project Aristotle research revealed that Psychological Safety is an important element in how the best team’s work. Psychological Safety is a concept that describes when employees feel comfortable enough to submit ideas for improvement, innovation, change or correction. Since culture is about shared beliefs, Psychological Safety is derived from a common understanding that it is ok for me and you to respectfully contribute our best thoughts and ideas. As stated earlier, when this concept exists, employees feel a sense of safety to protect, innovate and renovate. If Cultural Dissonance exists and impacts Psychological Safety, you are guaranteed to be incompetent in getting the best from your employees.

Leaders must ensure cultural safety

In order for members of an organizational culture to feel like they can fully contribute to the success of that organization, leadership must work aggressively to ensure that experiences align with expectations. Are your stated cultural values creating experiences for your employees that make them want to contribute to your continued success?

Leaders must aggressively seek feedback in order to ensure their understanding and actions align to correct or enhance the cultural experiences the team is having. Leaders must also aggressively protect Psychological Safety in order to ensure an environment where employees contribute their best thinking.

How do you manage your feedback process? What adjustments have you made and are you pleased with the outcome?

About the Author

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John Edwards

John F. Edwards is a motivational speaker, author, and talent development expert who works with organizations to help them get to where they want to go. You can follow him on twitter @Edwards_Group or visit his blog at