Creating Culture and Psychological Safety within Your Organization
For organizations wanting to become more productive or successful, culture change is often the most challenging part of the transformation. A leader with authority can demand compliance, but they can’t dictate optimism, trust, or creativity—this must be earned. So how do we create great company culture within our organizations? Here to help us unpack this topic is Shelley Taylor, Executive Director of Consortium for Educational Change and a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT).
What You’ll Learn In Today’s Episode
- What workplace culture and psychological safety are and why both are important. (4:19)
- Why the work it takes to create a positive culture is worth it. (8:30)
- The importance of understanding the opinions of everyone within your organization. (14:05)
Actionable Takeaway for HR Professionals
- Listen and take note as to where you’re seeing opportunities to support staff. (21:45)
Actionable Takeaway for Executives
- Focus on culture and your workforce. (20:57)
Ideas Worth Sharing“Conflict is normal… the question is how do we handle this is a healthy way?” - Shelley Taylor Click To Tweet
Resources In Today’s Episode
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Traci Scherck: Welcome to Talent Optimization today we are chatting about culture and the cultures that we create inside of our organizations, especially as our organizations are changing.
Traci Scherck: And so often our organizations are specifically changing because well covid right so who I have on the podcast with me today is shelly Taylor and shelly is with us from.
Traci Scherck: The consortium for educational change, and that is a national nonprofit whose mission is to utilize continuous improvement in deep collaboration to help educational systems, create the conditions for success and innovation so shelley welcome to the show today.
Shelley Taylor: Thank you Tracy it’s a pleasure, thank you for the invitation.
Traci Scherck: Absolutely, so when shelley and I met, we had actually met as shelley’s organization was going through some significant.
Traci Scherck: Changes themselves and shelley had just been promoted to the executive director positions, so the shift and leadership and the shift and where do we need to go to best serve.
Traci Scherck: And so we really work together on kind of creating some of that psychological safety inside of the organization to create the culture and i’m super curious shelly.
Traci Scherck: tell us a little bit more about that in not only how you did that within CEC but how that’s reflective of your work inside of school districts.
Shelley Taylor: I I was lucky to stumble into this organization, where the key mission around deep collaboration and helping systems to innovate was already there for 34 years so first off that.
Shelley Taylor: just saying that that’s really what we believe in as an organization, so therefore we kind of need to walk her walk our talk to, and when you look at restructuring.
Shelley Taylor: it’s messy and culture is very fragile and an organization So while I say all the time I train on tools to help folks collaborate well.
Shelley Taylor: I give advice and guidance and consult on how to build psychological safety, and we too need to do that and I to as a leader need to remember those things and also.
Shelley Taylor: use some of the tools that I even consult around to really help build that workforce, because I will tell you.
Shelley Taylor: Most especially i’ve learned this by being an employee and now, especially being an employer.
Shelley Taylor: Is that if I want to really maximize what i’m getting from my employees so really I know this silly to kind of talk about as a financial investment, but it really is.
Shelley Taylor: to really get a return on the investment in my employees so i’m going to.
Shelley Taylor: Help them i’m going to provide them professional development, all of the tools to make them successful for me to get the best return is for me to ensure that there’s a strong culture.
Shelley Taylor: For them to grow be their best selves every day and really be efficient in the work that they do so it’s not only our mission and what we do to really help school systems, think about that as well, but also, I recognize that it’s just a value add for my organization.
Traci Scherck: I love it and you know there’s a couple kind of keywords that you mentioned when you were talking there one was culture one was psychological safety.
Traci Scherck: And i’m going to take a step back and so often I do this when i’m consulting or training or leading, and I know you do as well is hey.
Traci Scherck: Do we all know what culture means and are we on the same page of that and do we all know what psychological safety means and are we all on the same page So could you define that for us.
Shelley Taylor: Sure, so when i’m using the term culture, and I think depending on different research and literature you’re looking at it’s really around the tone, the expectation, the feel the how.
Shelley Taylor: Different folks within the workforce interact with one another, sets expectations and sets how.
Shelley Taylor: Staff interact with each other so to me that’s culture and that’s the part that can be very fragile every time you have one member change on a team.
Shelley Taylor: You might all of a sudden, have a new culture and then you have to really think about it, because does every new team Member understand how we work together.
Shelley Taylor: Even we may have set norms on what happens in meeting times, but you get a new member in does that person understand that and if not, does it start to then change that expectation which ultimately can change the culture so that’s the fragile part.
Shelley Taylor: Psychological safety as part of that it’s baked within how folks work with each other it’s one of the attributes of a highly collaborative organization.
Shelley Taylor: And in this particular term psychological safety which actually comes out of research from a woman named amy edmundson out of Harvard and it’s really related to.
Shelley Taylor: How the safety of staff in terms of risk taking and sharing voice and can I really go to my supervisor and tell them that I might have a dissenting idea or view or position about something.
Shelley Taylor: And do I feel as if I express that I will not be penalized or there will not be some sort of retribution put upon me.
Shelley Taylor: Why that’s really important is because, when your employees feel as though that they can share their thinking and that they have safety and voice and safety and being able to have a dissenting idea.
Shelley Taylor: It actually opens up innovation and creativity, you really get the most out of your employees when they’re in that space.
Shelley Taylor: And, especially when you want organizations to innovate and you mentioned covid oh my gosh we all had to innovate.
Shelley Taylor: But if somebody brought an idea and felt as though there I their idea got slapped down or they were somehow.
Shelley Taylor: embarrassed or made to feel bad about anything around their idea, they brought to the table that’s immediately going to send a signal to them, I should probably not bring any new ideas I should probably stop that practice.
Shelley Taylor: And just do what i’m told, and if i’m just going to do what i’m told you know that may change their mindset in terms of who they see themselves in your organization.
Shelley Taylor: And so there’s really a lot of research and a great grades employ your reason why you want to ensure psychological safety with your staff.
Traci Scherck: Absolutely, and do you have a specific story about how this really impacted inside of organizations, both the culture and the psychological safety to actually meet those business results.
Traci Scherck: Which for you is student achievement right it’s ensuring that those kiddos inside of our district become amazing adults in the way in which best utilizes their strengths.
Shelley Taylor: yeah I have several but i’ll pick one story.
Shelley Taylor: Because honestly I work in educational settings and educational settings and schools are just a petri dish for this not going well.
Shelley Taylor: Right altar and psychological safety and other attributes that have to do with highly functioning collaborative organizations.
Shelley Taylor: All are based on one key factor relationships and relationships include humans.
Shelley Taylor: You cannot take humanity out of the humans and so therefore you really have just so many opportunities for things to maybe not go so well.
Shelley Taylor: Especially in school systems, because most of our adults are not really trained or given just skill training around how to work with other people.
Shelley Taylor: Even though, especially in a school system that’s all we do is work with people every day, so the one example i’m going to give is a school building one school.
Shelley Taylor: It was an elementary school that I was working with pre K to grade six and anywhere from around 80 staff members and this building reached out because there was so much internal.
Shelley Taylor: conflict between the teaching staff between everybody, they just weren’t getting along which meant that there was a lot of drama.
Shelley Taylor: And a lot of internal bickering and fighting and then, of course, you have some issue, there were issues between the principal.
Shelley Taylor: And some power dynamic struggles between that and the teachers, then of course what ends up happening is then you get the teacher Union involved and now we’re fighting for working conditions at this point.
Shelley Taylor: So they said all right we’ve got to bring someone in because things have not gone really well coming into that situation, recognizing that in many cases, these adults were kind of going into default mode of fight or flight of i’m just trying to kind of.
Shelley Taylor: do my job, the best I can but really not seeing themselves as part of a collaborative.
Shelley Taylor: organization and that really as a strong did not have strong culture and definitely did not have psychological safety, so you know they all can tell their stories about what happened.
Shelley Taylor: But ultimately when I came in, I really help them by starting with saying everybody who if you’re an adult in this building we’re going to come together and we’re really going to start.
Shelley Taylor: unpacking the levels of culture and trust and how to rebuild and reset that.
Shelley Taylor: Including just name it just it’s Okay, we nobody has to be perfect and we need to really kind of start back over have common tools and common language so that we can address conflict and a healthy way.
Shelley Taylor: I want to point out, and I tell everybody, which I think gives everybody a little bit of sense of relief is that conflict is normal, and as a matter of fact, when you have that many humans in a room or in a building working together.
Shelley Taylor: yeah it’s going to happen, the question becomes, how do we deal with it professionally and in a healthy manner, where we use that conflict.
Shelley Taylor: Back to that piece I mentioned about innovation that pushes us to innovation that pushes us to new ideas we’re all voices are heard and those voices really can help with improvement efforts.
Traci Scherck: Absolutely Thank you so much for that story, you know and as our work together, you know we’re both working with school districts and and whatnot.
Traci Scherck: But it’s it’s looking at that and saying our staff at that I have to do this in order to get a paycheck curve or am I at that engaged and I want to do this thing.
Traci Scherck: And therefore i’m really going to push that engagement right and it’s like as we look at that every single one of us is created perfectly the way we are.
Traci Scherck: Yet we’re not all created perfectly for a specific job or for specific team or for a specific culture.
Traci Scherck: And when we put these teams together so often we’re putting teams together of people that may be, you know incredibly incredibly detail oriented.
Traci Scherck: And we also need a member on that team that’s going to be so, innovative and have zero details skills whatsoever so there’s going to be that natural conflict.
Traci Scherck: And when we know what that is from those tools we can actually talk about it in a way of saying up black and whites telling me, these are both of our strengths, how do we shift towards those strengths.
Shelley Taylor: yeah and you absolutely you see that in a lot of workplaces, but my experience in schools, especially wow that’s really there because.
Shelley Taylor: Often, educators get put into a position, a job, where they spend a lot of time with young children younger not adults and they don’t actually.
Shelley Taylor: Depending on the circumstance in the Culture forced to work with other adults and figure out how to navigate that so then when they’re like oh we’re going to sit you on a team with a bunch of other adults and we’re going to add.
Shelley Taylor: inclusion and diversity, and all these new things they.
Shelley Taylor: it’s sort of like they’re not even really sure how to manage that.
Shelley Taylor: And so I think that that’s really helpful and I love the work Tracy that you do in terms of helping number one name it I think it’s naming your genius area naming the strengths you bring.
Shelley Taylor: which often adult as adults, we don’t really do it feels a little self centered but to really be like this is what i’m really good at.
Shelley Taylor: I think is an important piece to also bring to the table, and then to say hey i’m really good at this but you’re really good at that.
Shelley Taylor: Again, as adults we’re not always trained on how to navigate even those conversations at the basic level and then so when conflict does come into place then it’s even.
Shelley Taylor: A little bit more challenging and often adults just avoid the situation and I will tell you, avoiding the situation doesn’t make it go away and, in many cases it makes it worse and i’ll tell you, when you start to hear the drama and the great thing there’s your red flag.
Traci Scherck: yeah isn’t it funny that, like the biggest fears that we have really only come true when we ignore what’s there because we’re afraid it’s gonna happen, which just creates it.
Shelley Taylor: Living.
Traci Scherck: You know, which goes back to that communication piece and really.
Traci Scherck: Respecting others, based on a communication, they have right like we have a number of introverts in our organization and a number of extroverts right.
Traci Scherck: Well guess what are introverts really need to think it through before they can vocalize it and are extroverts want to talk it through right.
Traci Scherck: I mean for introverts I always say no agenda, no attendance we’re going to bring individuals together to have a conversation I really need to be cognizant of who my introverts are.
Traci Scherck: That i’m truly setting them up to be successful, because if I don’t.
Traci Scherck: Then they’re probably not going to talk during that meeting and that’s a form of diversity right that’s how we’re getting some of that innovation we have lots of different forms of diversity.
Traci Scherck: But you know, we need to ensure that when we’re bringing teams together we’re paying attention to what are the needs and how do we.
Traci Scherck: be able to meet each of these needs in order to get to the business outcomes and objectives that we’re all aiming for, while being tied in so strongly with, why are we doing us.
Shelley Taylor: And you know Tracy taking the time to know that about your staff and or about your colleagues is really important.
Shelley Taylor: And one of the things in education, in that industry, in particular, I will tell you is there’s never enough dedicated think time or time to really collaborate well and know each other.
Shelley Taylor: And one of the things I often give advice to is.
Shelley Taylor: You know, sometimes my clients will push back and be like we don’t have time for this shelly this I understand i’m hearing you i’m with you, yes, all of everything you just said is important, but we really have all these other.
Shelley Taylor: Conflicting priorities that have to happen now, the problem is, is that I would argue that you don’t have time, not to do this because, in fact.
Shelley Taylor: In education we just see the wheel of the new thing and it’s going to start here, and then we go into the hamster wheel, and then we spit it out again and then we’re never really setting root and the strong.
Shelley Taylor: Cultural behaviors that then allow staff, regardless of change and leaders to still stay on that, and so, in fact, you’re spending more time and money.
Shelley Taylor: mitigating issues in the back or i’ll go back to return on investment if i’ve got teacher spending most of their prep time lunchtime complaining.
Shelley Taylor: and frustrated they’re not doing the things that we want them to do, which is called teaching and learning.
Shelley Taylor: and focusing and supporting students or making parent contact or whatever that might be we’re just not really being efficient in what we’re doing.
Shelley Taylor: so well, yes it’s going to take time and in education, in particular in that industry, you have to carve it out explicitly.
Shelley Taylor: But I will tell you, when you do that research has shown that, despite poverty or despite.
Shelley Taylor: What ever trauma or trouble the building has been in that will move student achievement just solely focusing on relationships.
Shelley Taylor: and making sure that your staff is working at their highest potential and understanding and unlocking their genius and each other and looking at each other as a good strong support system that will make the difference.
Traci Scherck: And that’s where it’s fun right because there’s trust you’ve got laughter in the hallway you’ve got the shenanigans games going on and the kids see that and they feed off of that, because then the learning is fun.
Traci Scherck: You know and it’s so interesting because you know we do a lot of work with school districts specifically around climate surveys and exit interviews.
Traci Scherck: You know I mean teachings a tough gig right now right and it always has been, but it definitely is especially with some of the things that you know, have been happening.
Traci Scherck: Along with some of the the the teacher Union changes, especially in Wisconsin over the last 10 years, etc.
Traci Scherck: So with those things all changing you know, one of those things that we’re seeing when we’re doing these climate surveys and exit interviews is it’s really coming down to trust.
Traci Scherck: Do I have consistent leadership and can I trust both you know my leaders to do what they say they’re going to do in the best interest of the kids.
Traci Scherck: And do I trust the team that i’m working with on a day to day basis because there’s so many different things that come in, such as school safety and psychological safety.
Traci Scherck: And you know the test scores, and all those things are important, but if the kids don’t trust there is going to be an issue right and so it’s something interesting that we’ve seen and it’s it’s just work that’s so much fun because it’s so impactful and meaningful.
Shelley Taylor: And Tracy you just basically described why our mission is what it is.
Shelley Taylor: It is honestly we look at we support educational systems to create the conditions.
Shelley Taylor: For success and innovation.
Shelley Taylor: And the misstep in schools is that.
Shelley Taylor: You can buy all the computers, you can buy all the new you know latest and greatest curriculum.
Shelley Taylor: But if you don’t have the conditions, the soil right to grow anything you’re not going to get success, and so it really is about what you were just describing Tracy and.
Shelley Taylor: Do the employees really feel like oh my so empowered and one thing I know about, educators and it doesn’t matter what their role is.
Shelley Taylor: Man, they are so dedicated and they will dedicate endless energy to feeling the passion for what they went into education for.
Shelley Taylor: But when you see a building where people are like nope time to leave and really they’re they’re not even caring about that I would.
Shelley Taylor: I would say, you probably want to stop and take a look at the system and everything else i’ll say I said at the beginning, but i’ll say it again.
Shelley Taylor: The assumption that adults know how to work together and highly effective ways is a huge misstep we’re not trained to do it we’re going to default to our natural selfish self centered behaviors because we’re humans that’s what we do.
Shelley Taylor: So part of what I think any organization really needs to consider is to what degree have they truly trained and supported with tools and shared agreements and shared understanding around how we work with each other, especially as our workforce becomes more diverse.
Traci Scherck: Absolutely, so thank you so much for that, and as we in all of our podcasts what is one key takeaway that you have for our superintendents and our principles listening in today.
Shelley Taylor: That truly there’s a saying that we hear way too much in education, which is culture eats strategy for breakfast.
Shelley Taylor: Yes, that couldn’t be more true, and so, especially as things are shifting with covid focus on culture, focus on your workforce and really take an assessment of how well they are situated to.
Shelley Taylor: innovate and be successful, that will be your long term strategy goal, so if you’re playing the long game go for culture, not just by the fancy curriculum, you might need that too don’t get me wrong.
Shelley Taylor: A long game is absolutely culture.
Traci Scherck: love it and what’s one takeaway for our human resource listeners today.
Shelley Taylor: yeah, so I think, especially if you are an HR professional supporting school systems.
Shelley Taylor: Back to really listen and take note of where you’re seeing opportunities.
Shelley Taylor: To support staff around skills, making sure that they have those if you’re hearing some things bubble up.
Shelley Taylor: make those recommendations on how to really support people and remember that conflict isn’t a bad thing it conflict is an opportunity, but are we handling it professionally and if we’re not, how do we mentor our staff to really handle and appreciate the differences that we all bring.
Traci Scherck: love it Thank you so much for being with us today, and if you are interested in getting in contact with shelly or learning more about what.
Traci Scherck: CEC does or can do for your district, we will have their website in the show notes and a link to shelley’s linkedin profile.
Traci Scherck: i’m also if you’re going hey I wonder who I am specifically like what are my strengths my styles.
Traci Scherck: What does my team look like i’ll have a link for that in the show notes as well, so if you’re like hey I want to know what does our leadership team look like we can definitely do that.
Traci Scherck: That one on one team dynamics with your team, so that you can see that so with that shelley Thank you so much for being here today.
Shelley Taylor: Thank you Tracy always a pleasure to work with you.
Traci Scherck: Absolutely, have a great rest of your day.