Support your staff, but not at the expense of challenge!

The second post in a three-part series that shares some of the highlights from my recent speaking slot at the NHS Virtual Workforce Event on Recruitment, Retention and Wellbeing Conference. In particular, I share how to 'respond with reason' and why it's important to support and challenge your staff.

by Rebecca Bridger

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Support your staff, but not at the expense of challenge!

Respond with reason

To lead with empathy, is to foster psychological safety. Our reactions and responses set the tone for what is and is not acceptable in the workplace. 

You can encourage a culture in your workforce. You can empower individuals to embody that culture. And you can completely undermine and undo all of that work – and the psychological safety underpinning it – if you react negatively in the moment. 

Haven’t heard of the phrase ‘psychological safety’ before? I have a post about what it means and why it matters here

"Psychological safety is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes"

Amy Edmonson, Organisational Psychologist Tweet
Working environments often have the best of intentions, but don’t always practice what they preach. One way of being aware of, and subsequently addressing, if such a disconnect exists is to consider if you have a ‘say/do’ gap.

The ‘say/do’ gap

The aim for a psychologically safe working environment is not to have a ‘say/do’ gap.

An example of a ‘say/do’ gap would be making reassuring statements at a team meeting, like “it’s ok if you make a mistake,” but in practice, when confronted with someone who has made an error, you respond with something like “this will get mentioned in the next team meeting!”.

Before you react to an event, check in with yourself – there’s guidance in our free How-to Guide for ‘Difficult Conversations in Stressful Times‘ here. I also touch upon the ‘say/do’ gap and its impact on trust in the workplace in this video

Support and challenge

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in being supportive to our workforce, in an attempt to foster psychological safety, that we sacrifice challenge. But challenge is an important part of employee satisfaction. Without challenge, we can quickly become demotivated.

It’s an easy trap to fall into, particularly when times are tough. But try not to forget, in order to get the best out of your workforce, you need to create an environment where employees feel both  supported and challenged.  

What happens when you let things slide

Not only is challenge an important part of motivation, it’s important to ensuring the right culture. As a leader or a manager, it’s as important to call out what is not acceptable as it is to advocate the behaviours that are. 

Cultures are cultivated over time. But the impact of changed working patterns might mean that some behaviours have slipped in that you’re not fully comfortable with as a leader or line manager. If these aren’t called out, they can significantly demotivate others. 

Support vs. Challenge

How to implement in your organisation

If you’re thinking about developing your staff’s behaviours, start by developing a list of scenarios that have the potential to provoke a negative response, and that are likely to occur. 

Get either individuals or groups to identify how they could respond that is both supportive and challenging. Group facilitation technique such as ‘Fishbowls’ can be used to practice this further. 

As COVID-19 eventually dissipates from our lives, let’s not forget to hold on tight to the holistic understanding that we have started to develop of others –  an appreciation of other’s lives outside of work enhances our working relationships and make for a better working environment, whether you’re a line manager or not.

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Rebecca Bridger

Rebecca Bridger

Founder of Hatching Ideas, Rebecca is an experienced coach and facilitator and is particularly passionate about helping others to realise their potential.
Rebecca Bridger

Rebecca Bridger

Founder of Hatching Ideas, Rebecca is an experienced coach and facilitator and is particularly passionate about helping others to realise their potential.

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