How to Create A Speak-Up Culture at Work

How to Create A Speak-Up Culture at Work

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In a recent WorkTango Work Culture Webinar, thought leader and author Stephen Shedletzky shared his thoughts about creating a speak-up culture at work, how to give and receive feedback, and how to handle leaders that negatively impact an organization’s culture.

Culture and environment play a significant role in the success of teams and leadership. The culture and environment set the tone for the behavior and mindset of a team, and this can influence the performance and morale of the team. A positive culture can promote a sense of purpose, motivation, and collaboration, while a negative environment can lead to disengagement and turnover.

The following article shares Shedletzky’s main points from the webinar. Watch the full “Speak-Up Culture” webinar here.

What Is A “Speak-Up Culture”, Anyway?

A speak-up culture is an environment in which individuals feel safe and encouraged to share their ideas, concerns, disagreements, and admit mistakes, believing it will lead to improvements without the fear of punishment. It goes beyond psychological safety, with an additional element of perception of impact. Ideas, concerns, disagreements, personal struggles, and mistakes can all be shared freely within a speak-up corporate culture.

How does positive feedback play a role in fostering a speak up culture?

Feedback is important in the workplace because it helps individuals and teams improve their performance and achieve their goals. Feedback is not just about pointing out weaknesses but also reinforcing positive behavior. Positive feedback plays a crucial role in fostering a speak-up culture and amplifying the strengths of employees. Individuals can give and receive feedback effectively by creating a safe and non-judgmental environment at work, focusing on specific behaviors or actions, and being open to hearing and implementing suggestions for improvement.

Is it always sunshine and rainbows in a speak-up culture?

No. A speak-up culture allows for hard and productive conversations with candor and care, which includes admitting mistakes.


Speak-Up Culture Framework: The Importance of Safety & Impact

The two main factors for creating an environment where people feel safe and able to speak up are safety and impact. Both factors are perceptions, and can differ between individuals in a workplace.

What is psychological safety?

Psychological safety refers to an environment in which people feel safe to speak up and share their thoughts and opinions without fear of retribution or negative consequences.

Shedletzky Speak Up Culture

Here’s a little more about each of the four quadrants in the Speak-Up Culture Framework above.

What is the ideal quadrant for a speak-up culture?

The ideal quadrant is high safety, high impact.

What is the low safety, low impact quadrant in a speak up culture?

The low safety, low impact quadrant is when employees feel that it’s not worth it to speak up because it neither feels safe nor worth it. This is an unhappy mix between fear and apathy.

What is high safety, low impact in a speak up culture?

High safety, low impact is when an individual feels safe to speak up, but does not think it will end up mattering or driving any meaningful change.

What is the concept of “low safety, high impact”?

The concept of “low safety, high impact” refers to a situation where someone is afraid to speak up, but the stakes are too high to remain silent. It could be about health and safety, values, or a specific issue in the workplace.

An example of a “low safety, high impact” situation is Ed Pearson at Boeing, who was on the 737 Max production line and felt that the plane being made at the Renton, Washington facility wasn’t safe. He spoke up, and the MAX plane was grounded as a result for many months, Boeing lost money — but lives were saved as a result of his actions.

It’s good for organizations to have a speak-up culture where people feel it’s safe and worth it to share ideas, concerns, disagreements, and mistakes. It helps the team get closer together, make better decisions, and innovate.

Leaders are particularly important when it comes to creating better work environments.

The Role of Leadership In Culture

Leadership plays a critical role in creating culture, as leaders set the tone for how people behave, communicate, and interact with one another. Leaders need to be intentional about creating a positive and inclusive culture where everyone feels valued and supported. This requires leading by example, establishing clear values and expectations, and providing ongoing training and development for team members and managers alike.

A leader has a significant impact on their team’s health. Studies show that our relationship with our boss has more of an impact on our health than our relationship with our family doctor or therapist.

Vulnerability and authenticity in leadership are important because they create trust, connection, and engagement. When leaders are willing to be vulnerable and share their own struggles and challenges, it allows team members to feel more comfortable doing the same. This creates an environment where people can bring their whole selves to work and feel supported and valued.

Empathy is an often talked-about concept these day. Empathy refers to the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Empathy is also particularly important in leadership because it helps leaders connect with and relate to their team members and customers, which leads to better communication, problem solving, and decision making. Leaders can build empathy by actively listening, asking questions, being present, and showing genuine care and concern for their team members. They can also try to see things from their team members’ perspectives, recognize their emotions, and validate their experiences.

What two things do leaders need to do to create a speak-up culture?

Leaders need to encourage and reward their employees to create an environment where speaking up is both safe and worth it.

Leaders can create a speak-up culture by encouraging people to speak up, and then rewarding the behavior when people do. Encouragement can be done through breakout rooms, anonymous feedback, or simply asking for feedback.

Leaders should encourage and reward employees for speaking up to create a culture of openness and trust. By doing this, they can foster a climate of honest feedback and continuous improvement.

Mid-level leaders have a unique, multidirectional influence within their organizations, which can contribute to creating a healthy speak-up culture. Mid-level leaders can use their multidirectional influence to influence up, down, and laterally. They can also create change from the middle by creating a healthy speak-up culture in their team. By deciding to foster such a culture within their sphere of influence, mid-level leaders can slowly but steadily create meaningful change within the company.

It can be demoralizing to speak up without seeing any action, but mid-level leaders still have influence and can use their power to create positive change. It may take time, but creating a healthy speak-up culture can lead to better results and a more engaged workforce.

A culture of speaking up can be positively or negatively contagious. If speaking up is rewarded, people are more likely to speak up and share their ideas and concerns. If speaking up is ignored or punished, people are less likely to speak up and share. If you repeatedly ignore or punish people, you will get a culture of silence.


How Organizations Can Create a Speak-Up Culture

One way is to create a ritual called a “Speak-Up Moment” during team meetings, with healthy ground rules in place. During this time, team members┬ácan give constructive feedback or positive recognition. Another example is to have a post-meeting debrief, where colleagues can reflect on what went well and what could go better next time.

Leaders should also call upon, encourage, and create spaces for those who are less likely to speak up because of their race, personality, or other factors. Promoting a speak-up culture as a minority in the workplace requires finding allies and identifying good leadership to support and create a safer environment for individuals to express themselves.


Ready to create a speak-up culture at your organization?