Can You Have Too Much Psychological Safety?

In today's episode of Culture by Design, Tim and Junior discuss a question brought up in a recent Harvard Business Review article, which is, can you have too much psychological safety? The article suggested that excessive amounts of psychological safety could undermine accountability and performance. Tim and Junior share their perspective, pushing back on some of the misconceptions about what psychological safety really is and what it really means.

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Episode Show Notes

In today's episode of Culture by Design, Tim and Junior discuss a question brought up in a recent Harvard Business Review article, which is,  can you have too much psychological safety? The article suggested that excessive amounts of psychological safety could undermine accountability and performance. Tim and Junior share their perspective, pushing back on some of the misconceptions about what psychological safety really is and what it really means.

Defining psychological safety (01:35) Most of the debate around the question of whether you can have too much psychological safety stems around your definition of the term. Tim and Junior share theirs: Psychological safety is an environment of rewarded vulnerability that considers four stages and categories of behavior, we have inclusion, learning, contribution, and challenging.

The leader's role in creating psychological safety (14:03) Most environments create accountability by necessity. For industries in highly regulated environments, it's the leader's job to define culturally and operationally the upper control limit, the lower control limit, and the center line. Everybody needs to understand the tolerances, constraints, regulations, and limitations and work within that.

Psychological safety does not imply rogue behavior (34:10) Even though psychological safety gives employees permission to innovate and challenge the status quo, this doesn't mean that people are free to ignore policy and procedure to do what they want when they want. Oftentimes, we're talking about incremental and derivative innovation, looking for a 1% improvement, and making marginal gains.

Important Links
HBR: Can Workplaces Have Too Much Psychological Safety?

Episode Transcript


0:00:02.4 Freddy: Welcome back Culture by Design listeners. It's Freddy, one of the producers of the podcast. In today's episode, Tim and Junior discuss a question that's been asked recently, which is, Can you have too much psychological safety? This topic was brought up in a recent Harvard Business Review article, which suggested that excessive psychological safety could undermine accountability and performance. Tim and Junior will share their perspective, pushing back on some of the misconceptions about what psychological safety really is and what it really means. After this episode, you'll be able to decide for yourself if you can have too much psychological safety or not. As always, you can find links to resources mentioned in this episode in our show notes at Thanks again for listening and enjoy today's episode on, Can you have too much psychological safety?

0:01:00.0 Junior: Welcome back everyone to Culture by Design. I'm Junior, here with my co-host, Dr. Tim Clark, and today we'll be discussing a topic that many of you reached out about. There's a lot of chatter about this one Tim. The question is, Can you have too much psychological safety? So Tim, how you doing?

0:01:16.0 Tim Clark: Well, I'm doing well and obviously this topic either struck a chord or hit a nerve, one of the two, with a lot of people and so we're going to tackle it which... Well, I don't think it's risky. The listener can decide but I think it needs to be addressed.

0:01:35.8 Junior: Yeah, the objective of this conversation is to help you arrive at your own answer so that you can answer the question, Can you have too much? So in the last few weeks we received quite a few messages. I mean I personally received several, emails, LinkedIn messages about a question, this question posed in the Harvard Business Review recently in an article titled exactly that. Can workplaces have too much psychological safety? So this article came out January 3rd 2024. It's based on some of the ideas that were put forward in a paper published last year 2023 called, The limits of psychological safety: Nonlinear relationships with performance. That paper was published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, volume 177. So it's not light reading, but if you want to go check it out, you're welcome to do that and get a little bit more context. So we're going to answer that question today from our perspective. And I think the most important place to start, as we do almost always, is with definitions. If we are not aligned on terms, it makes no sense to debate anything that's a product of those terms. Right? In other words, we have to agree definitionally, in order to have a productive conversation.

0:02:56.6 Junior: So many of you have heard our definition before. Our take is that psychological safety is an environment of rewarded vulnerability that considers four stages and categories of behavior, we have inclusion, learning, contribution, and challenging. And if you want more about what we believe about psychological safety, generally, we'll link the complete guide to psychological safety in the show notes, that'll give you definitely a lot more about our perspective. But it's also important that we cover what psychological safety is not. And we'll link to a Forbes article that we wrote, we'll put that in the show notes. And Tim, talking about what psychological safety is not seems at least it's proven to be almost just as necessary as describing what it is. So in that article, you say that psychological safety is not niceness, coddling, consensus decision making, unearned autonomy, political correctness, rhetorical reassurance, or a shield from accountability. So help me understand why it's important that we understand what it's not.

0:04:00.3 Tim Clark: Well, it goes back to what you said at the outset, Junior, which is that we need to come to a shared understanding of what we're talking about with psychological safety. If we don't, then we can't debate the issue. The misconceptions around psychological safety are everywhere. They're pervasive. And I think that's what's happening in this argument about having too much psychological safety. We will talk about this, but that's exactly what's happening.

0:04:31.7 Junior: We've seen absolutely all of it. There are definitions out there that are maybe slightly problematic. And then there are discussions about psychological safety where the definition is only implicit. They never come out and say this is what we believe psychological safety to be. It's only implied, which is also problematic. In the article, let's just go ahead out the gate here and say that we fundamentally disagree with what's being said in the article. Here's a quote to kick us off. Suppose you had a team whose members reported that there was almost zero chance that they would be held accountable for making mistakes. Psychological safety would be rated as very high there. That is fine if your job requires taking risk. It's not fine if mistakes matter. What a paragraph. So whose members reported that there was almost zero chance that they would be held accountable for making mistakes.

0:05:23.5 Tim Clark: Yeah, I don't know what organization you're working in.

0:05:27.2 Junior: Yeah. And then the immediate following, psychological safety would be rated as very high there. So we're equating no accountability for making mistakes with high psychological safety. So zero chance of being held accountable in an environment of high psychological safety, implying that the definition of psychological safety is to feel safe to take unreasonable risks or being so safe as to feel immune from accountability. Tim, what's going on here.

0:06:00.1 Tim Clark: Well, psychological safety is the antithesis of this. Psychological safety is the enabling condition that allows you to hold people accountable more effectively than you otherwise would. Right? It's not the absence of accountability. It's not a shield from accountability. It's not licensed to take foolish risks. So this is a misconception. The entire argument is built on a misconception. It's ludicrous to think that you're operating in an environment where there's zero chance that you would be held accountable for making mistakes. That's chaos. Who operates in an environment like that? Psychological safety, let's just go back to the fundamental nature of the concept. Psychological safety is a function of respect and permission that we give each other. Respect for each other that we grant to each other based on the inherent dignity and worth of a human being. The second dimension is permission. Permission to interact. Permission to collaborate. Permission to work together in an organizational setting. It's the confluence of these two dimensions, the intersection that gives us a level of psychological safety. And obviously it's a matter of degree, it's not binary. But the argument that's being made here is that psychological safety is inversely correlated with accountability and license to make foolish, unreasonable risks. That's never going to be true. So let's dig into this a little bit more, Junior.

0:07:45.8 Junior: Yeah, so we're asking the question, Is there a point of diminishing returns? Is too much of a good thing a bad thing? The question is similar in my mind to this question, Can you have too much health? Speaking of physical health. If you think that being healthy is taking vitamins and you swallow 200, yes, too much health. If you understand that health is based on moderation, holism, and context, not least, no, you can't have enough. And our view of psychological safety is just that you can't have too much. We want to dive a little deeper into two main areas, accountability and risk. And this is all under the umbrella idea that psychological safety is highly based on context. So the embodiment of psychological safety, the behaviors that accompany it will be based on our environment. So let's talk about accountability. The article talks about tolerance for mistakes. Here's a quote, but there is a more fundamental issue linked to the aspect of psychological safety that says mistakes will not be held against me.

0:08:54.3 Junior: We would take issue with this too. Psychological safety and tolerance for mistakes are not synonymous. And tolerance for mistakes, you can't just say that that's one bucket, that we will be completely tolerant of all mistakes. The tolerance is on a spectrum. Mistakes are on a spectrum. And we tune both of those based on our environment and context.

0:09:17.9 Tim Clark: So let me make a distinction, Junior. Maybe a couple of points to make. First of all, psychological safety is inversely correlated with fear, not accountability. There is a massive distinction between those two concepts. Psychological safety allows you, and I'll say this again and again and again, it allows you and enables you to hold people accountable more effectively and more thoroughly than you otherwise would. So it is positively correlated with accountability, inversely or negatively correlated with fear. The difference between accountability and fear is fundamental. So it goes back to what you said, Junior, there's no better analogy than health. Psychological safety is the best proxy that we have been able to find in the last generation for organizational health. That's really what it is. It's the barometer. It is the overall best indicator of organizational health. You cannot have too much organizational health. It's what you said before. Is there a point where we reach diminishing returns where more of a good thing becomes a bad thing? Actually, not when it comes to psychological safety, which is essentially organizational health. If you're neglecting other things because you're focusing on psychological safety, for example, if you're neglecting accountability, that's a different problem. So there's no necessary trade-off between psychological safety and accountability. We need to get that very clear from the beginning.

0:11:13.7 Junior: I think another thing that's happening here, this quote that they throw in, "Mistakes will not be held against me." That idea I think has a lot to do with niceness. The idea that niceness goes up even though it's artificial, accountability goes down, we're not gonna call you on it because we're gonna try and be nice. And so what psychological safety is not, the artificial niceness section I think is relevant here. What do you think?

0:11:42.9 Tim Clark: No, that's exactly right. Niceness, so again, we're conflating concepts. Psychological safety is not niceness. Niceness can become a very serious organizational pathology. And when we say nice, what we're referring to is artificial collegiality. We're talking about when we paint a thin layer of nice over a thick layer of fear. It's the veneer of civility. That's niceness. And in this article it seems that psychological safety is being confused and conflated with niceness. That's not what we're talking about. So let's go back to accountability. Organizations function on the principle of shared accountability. That's how organizations function. It is the fundamental principle that allows people to have roles and responsibilities, division of labor, and do what they do and work together in a productive way to create more value than they otherwise could on their own. Shared accountability is what governs and enables an organization to function. Psychological safety does not militate against accountability. It actually enables it. I keep coming back to that because it's so fundamental to understand the relationship.

0:13:10.7 Tim Clark: It is never inversely correlated with it. If it is, then you have a misconception about what psychological safety is and you're doing it wrong. It's what allows you to have the tough conversations. Another misconception, Junior, that we talk about in the article is coddling. Psychological safety is not coddling. We don't want you to roll your people in bubble wrap to overprotect them. And it is not some kind of diplomatic immunity against being held accountable. That's why we say it's not a shield against accountability that frees you up from accountability. These are all misconceptions, misapplications of this fundamental concept that is the best proxy for organizational health that there is.

0:14:03.0 Junior: So let's talk about the leader's role in what we're discussing. We work in a lot of regulated environments, don't we?

0:14:11.0 Tim Clark: We do.

0:14:16.1 Junior: In nuclear, healthcare, pharma, energy. So if there's an organization that understands constraints, we're definitely gonna be toward the top of the list. So tell me about the leader's relationship to discretion and experimentation. Aren't they quarterbacking all of that?

0:14:35.1 Tim Clark: Yes, the leader is responsible for that. The leader helps everyone understand the environment, the constraints, the limitations. Let's go back to manufacturing, Junior. So in manufacturing, when we produce something, some kind of product, some kind of good, in the manufacturing process, we have what's called an upper control limit and a lower control limit. And what that defines or describes is the allowable variance in producing a product. So let's say that you work at a fast food restaurant and your job, let's say you work at McDonald's and your job is to put chicken nuggets in the little box, in the little container that then goes into the happy meal. And as you put those chicken nuggets in the little container, that little box, the lower control limit is three. There have to be at least three nuggets in that box. The upper control limit is six. That's as many as you can put in. Well, let's say five. So as long as there are three in the box, you're okay. Four is perfect. That's where you want to be. And five is allowable. So we have the lower control limit and we have the upper control limit.

0:15:56.8 Tim Clark: Now, as we set a tolerance, as we set these tolerances for a product, we also have what is called the center line. The center line is where you want to be. That means that you are exactly on the specification. So we want four chicken nuggets in the box. If you put four in there, you're right on target. You are meeting the quality standard 100%. It is the leader's job to define culturally and operationally the upper control limit, the lower control limit, and the center line. That's your job. Everybody needs to understand the tolerances. Everybody needs to understand the constraints. Everybody needs to understand the regulations, the limitations, and we work within that. So if we're in a highly regulated environment, think about it, Junior, we work in nuclear. Does it get any more regulated than that?

0:16:54.0 Junior: No, sir.

0:16:54.5 Tim Clark: For a lot of those teams and in a lot of those functions, the latitude, the discretion, the autonomy is very small. Nevertheless, there is always the opportunity to try to make things better. There's always some degree of discretion that is given. That's why we have humans operating these jobs, right? That's why we do this. And so that's a long way to say that the leader is responsible to set the limits, to define the expectations, to create the conditions in the environment. That's what the leader's job is. And the best way to do that is to create psychological safety that draws people out, draws out their discretionary effort, draws out their opinions, their ideas, their suggestions, the things that they're concerned about. Because what do we do? We keep each other safe through the vigilance and the attentiveness that we have. So again, let's bring in another relationship, Junior. What is the relationship between psychological safety and physical safety?

0:18:09.9 Tim Clark: Psychological safety is what gives an individual the confidence and that sense of safety to identify a danger, a hazard, or a risk. If the psychological safety is not there, then the employee is not inclined to point out a danger, a hazard, or a risk. They won't say anything. So you can see that relationship is so fundamental to safety, to performance, and to improvement. So tell me where in this whole equation psychological safety becomes inversely correlated with accountability.

0:18:56.2 Junior: The final misconception that I'd like to cover as it relates to accountability is this relationship between accountability and fear. Many people assume that those two things rise and fall at the same rate. That as we ratchet up accountability, fear must go up as consequence. And that in order to get fear to go down, we release the accountability lever and we just say, you know what, everything is fine. It's okay, you're good, don't worry about it. And that's the only way that we can get the fear to decrease. Psychological safety enables us to have high accountability and low fear. So it's important that we just state outright that that is possible. We see it all the time, we develop it in organizations all the time, high accountability, low fear, but this requires a level of cultural competence and interpersonal skill that a lot of leaders don't have.

0:20:01.1 Junior: Because the tools that they use to hold people accountable are blunt instruments, and they use fear or coercion or manipulation to get people to do what they need them or want them to do, but there are other ways to do it. You put those tools back in the shed and you work on your emotional intelligence, you work on rewarding vulnerability, you work on the way that you feel the questions, you work on the way that you look at mistakes, you tune all of those things to eventually be able to hold people accountable at the highest level in an environment where there is little to no fear. It's possible and probable if you're working on the right things.

0:20:46.2 Tim Clark: Junior, I think you're hitting the nail on the head. Fear and accountability are mutually exclusive; They are not the same thing, they are not bound up with each other, even though they often are in organizations, but that's not a necessary relationship. So let me give you an example, and listeners, please, if you're still wrestling with what we're talking about, think about this example and hopefully it'll be clarifying to you. Think about the best team that you have ever worked with in your entire life, Was it high in psychological safety? Check, of course it was. Was it high in accountability? Check again, they're not inversely correlated, they are positively correlated. More psychological safety administered and nurtured and fostered by a leader, a competent leader, also correlates with more accountability. Let me give a personal example that we can all relate to, or at least invite you to think about one. So think about someone in your life that has had a big impact on your life. Think about your growing up, think about your upbringing, think about maybe it was a neighbor, a coach, a teacher, a friend, a relative, someone that had a profound impact on your life.

0:22:14.4 Tim Clark: Now, I ask two questions about that relationship, Did that person hold you accountable or were they just completely permissive and they let you do whatever you want? Probably not. They probably held you accountable. Question number two, Was there psychological safety in your relationship with them? Did you have an intimate relationship where you could trust them and they could trust you? That's probably true too. So what we find again and again and again, is when people identify their most cherished relationships and the people that have had the biggest impact on their lives, they find that two things are true, A, there was accountability, B, there was psychological safety in that relationship. Those two attributes worked together in a mutually reinforcing way.

0:23:12.4 Junior: Tim, I've talked to a lot of people about these types of relationships, and it's interesting because they will describe the same concepts that you're explaining, but they won't use the same language, so if I ask someone that question more or often than not, they're not going to say, Well, it was a relationship of high accountability and high psychological safety. Here's the type of language that they might use. They would say something like, Well, I always felt like I could talk to them. Okay, why is that? Because what is happening mechanically, is they're rewarding vulnerability. So they might say, Well, the person I could always go and just ask them a question, but then they might also say, but they never let me get away with anything. Right?

0:23:57.2 Tim Clark: Right. They're using different words, aren't they?

0:24:00.1 Junior: They're using different words, and I think it's important to put that into layman's terms, because if we think about the relationships in our own lives, think about those two things, the intersection of someone who doesn't let you get away with anything but that you know cares about you, and is approachable. Right?

0:24:19.0 Tim Clark: Yes.

0:24:20.5 Junior: If we feel those things about a person, it means that they've successfully balanced accountability with affiliation, they've successfully balanced psychological safety with accountability, and so there are too many of us who can give examples like that for this to be just an exception. This is the rule, it's possible, and we can absolutely get there. So that's accountability, let's move a little bit more into risk. There is some distortion in not just this article, but a pattern that I've seen that somehow bad ideas are always okay, and they are licensed to go take risk. So let's go back to nuclear. If we're in an environment where the risk is high, and the margin for error is low, are we going to take big thoughtless risks that would jeopardize our objective? Of course not. And so that's part of the premise of the article that is difficult. Of course, we have responsibilities and bounds. Of course we do. I can't think of an organization, and maybe it's because this is not coming from... I don't know. We have responsibilities.

0:25:41.7 Tim Clark: Let's follow the logic through. Okay, let's say you're in nuclear and you do go out and you take a foolish risk, you would be summarily fired or perhaps you would have consequences and they would probably be stern, serious consequences, is that the absence of psychological safety?

0:26:03.1 Junior: Of course not.

0:26:03.9 Tim Clark: No. It's accountability that can still be administered with psychological safety where you're maintaining the dignity of that person through the process. There's no special dispensation from the need to follow the rules, from the need to prudently manage risk, psychological safety does not grant you some extra measure of autonomy or discretion that you otherwise would not have. Like, where did that come from? It doesn't do that.

0:26:41.4 Junior: I don't understand how that's not immediately obvious. Like the risks that we take must be bound by context and by what we might consider acceptable or unacceptable outcomes. If a possible outcome of a certain course of action is catastrophic as it relates to whatever our objectives are, what do we do? We rule it out, unless for some special reason it's admissible or necessary. That's just the course of everyday decision-making, taking unnecessary risk is not a psychological safety problem, it's a judgment problem, psychological safety is not a permission slip to be stupid. If a course of action is predictably dangerous, what do we do? We think twice, or we change course depending on what our analysis and collaboration tells us, that should be obvious, as obvious as the sky is blue.

0:27:33.5 Tim Clark: I'll give you a couple of examples, Junior. As you know, early in my career, I was the plant manager in the steel industry, and for five years managed the last remaining fully integrated steel mill west of the Mississippi river built by United States steel. On more than one occasion I fired a manager because they were not managing risk appropriately in the safety environment. I remember on one occasion we had a near miss in a particular facility, we did an investigation, two weeks later, we had another near miss. It was very clear that this manager was not doing the job. This manager had become complacent and I let him go, and it was extremely painful because this individual was a dear friend of mine. And we are many years down the road from this today, Junior, I do not regret that decision, I don't regret it. And I let him go with psychological safety in the process, upholding, maintaining, being respectful to him and maintaining his dignity as a human being, but the consequences had to be administered and the accountability had to be there, that is not the absence of psychological safety. You can do that with psychological safety, that doesn't mean it's easy. And the consequences were severe and they were real, and they were tough, but I don't regret that because we had lives at stake, and it was my job to manage the entire control environment.

0:29:30.2 Tim Clark: That's my job. That's my stewardship. I cannot delegate that to anyone, the buck stopped with me. And so when I saw a catastrophic systems failure that pointed to the leader of that facility, I had to take action. That doesn't mean that we're trading off psychological safety, even though we're making tough decisions. This is when psychological safety is needed the most, the very most. And it doesn't mean also that these consequences won't be very costly and hurtful in some cases to people, but this is what we have to do. I come back to what I said before, Junior, organizations function based on the principle of shared accountability. That does not militate against or diminish psychological safety. It requires more, we need more of it. The problem, the pervasive problem, the pathology in too many organizations is that people do that with fear. They use fear as the instrument by which to hold people accountable and to make those tough decisions. That's where the mistake is. So let's separate fear from accountability.

0:31:00.0 Junior: Well, I appreciate the story, and to me, it's a case in point. You said that it was an environment of high stakes, and in that environment what are the stakes? It's life and death. And so what is an unacceptable outcome, death. And so if we're seeing something in the process that's leading that direction, we're going to stop it. This is not a red team in software, context matters.

0:31:23.9 Tim Clark: Yeah, thank you for saying that.

0:31:26.1 Junior: Context matters.

0:31:26.1 Tim Clark: I wanna add one more comment because you said that Junior. Under my watch in five years we had two fatalities, and I'm here to tell you that the stakes are high. This was a heavy manufacturing environment, and again, I was the plant manager. I'm responsible for the safety system that control environment, but we had two fatalities. In both cases the employees deliberately violated the safe job procedures that were in place. That's what happens. And so it's great that we can talk about this conceptually and theoretically, but when you're on the shop floor and lives are on the line, you have to hold people accountable. The question is, Can you do that in an environment of psychological safety? Yes. Does that mean that the consequences won't be severe? No, they can still be severe, this is life. We have to make those kinds of decisions.

0:32:30.3 Junior: I wanna just bold and underline and italicize the idea that context matters, and it should be obvious, but I guess it can't be overstated. Before we bring out the sledge hammer and we take a massive risk, we have to ask, Are we in a home remodel? Are we in a china shop? Different tools for different environments, we're gonna take different risks, so that's risk and accountability. Now, let's move to innovation, and I wanna spend some time on innovation, and ask the question, When and where should we innovate? There's this idea that innovation is for the cutting edge, the bleeding edge, big issues, areas of experimentation, areas with a lot of leeway, and that the actual operational side of a business that's dictated by repeatability and process is somehow stable forever. And so there's this idea that, Well, we need adherence to protocol, sure, but what if the protocol is wrong? Okay. Now we have an issue. What are we going to do about that? Who's likely to know that the protocol or the process is wrong? Those implementing working inside the process or protocol, those with local knowledge. And so are they not equipped to ideate and give feedback in a way that people above may not be. So the article goes into this and talks a little bit about nursing, you wanna talk about that?

0:34:10.0 Tim Clark: Sure, Junior. And again, this is another high-risk, high-stakes environment, but I hope we can do some clarification here. The article states, "But once nurses go out on the hospital floor to take care of patients in their regular job, we do not want them trying to innovate and take risks." Now, this implies that psychological safety would give them license to just go out in a clinical environment and innovate and take imprudent risks.

0:34:41.1 Junior: Just go rogue, just do whatever you want.

0:34:44.6 Tim Clark: Just go do that, that's not what psychological safety implies at all. Let's develop this a little bit more. I'm going to take issue with this. Let's first understand that... So let's take a hospital environment, Is this a stable, safe condition of equilibrium that we need to leave undisturbed? No, it's not. Let's understand that more than 100,000 patients die in hospitals each year, just in the United States, due to human error and the transmission of disease. As it turns out, it's called nosocomial or hospital-acquired infection, and it's a major killer because the hospital environment is in many ways an incubator of infectious transmission. And bugs can spread in four ways. Think about this, from patient to patient in the hospital, from staff to patient in the hospital, from patient to staff in the hospital, and from staff to staff in the hospital. So the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the CDC, they estimate that 1.7 million hospital-associated infections from all types of bugs combined cause or are linked to the more than 100,000 deaths that occur in hospitals or based on what happens in hospitals each year.

0:36:20.6 Tim Clark: The problem here is not psychological safety, the problem is clear accountability. A hospital is not a completely safe and stable system. We desperately need clinicians to continue to innovate. They don't just go try things in the wild, no one's saying that. They do that under experimental conditions, but we need them to continue to look for marginal gains in every direction. We test and we test and we test, and then we try things out. The standard of care is always shifting, it's always moving. So we need people continually contributing to create an incubator of innovation in a hospital, but we're not talking about bleeding edge, massive non-linear, big innovation, maybe that's where the misunderstanding lies. We're talking about incremental and derivative innovation, looking for a 1% improvement, looking for a marginal gain. We need everyone trying to do that, they need to be learning. They need to be agile learners in that environment, they need to be asking questions, they need to be discussing, they need to be challenging convention and assumptions. That's how we progress. So this idea that clinicians are gonna go out and take foolish risks and just try things, who would ever advocate that, that's just not even in the real world.

0:38:11.0 Junior: It assumes the state of perpetual equilibrium. Like nurses used to not wash their hands, Is that something that we should have perpetuated? Do we wait until someone at the top just figure something out? No, if you have an idea that has some merit, share it. We wanna know it, then it'll help everyone. On the nurse front, we're not necessarily talking about the clinical application, let's say that there's protocol that you have to follow for the insertion of an IV. Great do that. But maybe there's something operationally as it relates to shift rotation or bed assignment or something that's low risk. Okay, go and ideate there, make a suggestion there, maybe there's something that we can do organizationally that's low risk, that has high yield. We can't just blanket statement say, Well, just adhere to protocol, do nothing else, and that's what we're gonna do.

0:39:03.9 Tim Clark: Junior, let me give you an example. We just need to acknowledge how dynamic these environments are, and we need to bring some humility to this process and recognize that we're always learning and we're trying to get better. Years ago, when I was playing college football, I had my first knee surgery, Do you know what they did? They put a big cast on my knee and I was immobilized for three months on crutches, no weight-bearing, no nothing for three months. Guess what the standard of care would be today for that exact same procedure that I had.

0:39:40.4 Junior: Get up on it.

0:39:41.5 Tim Clark: Weight-bearing after about 10 days. So the standard of care has been turned on its head. Well, that should give us all pause and we should recognize that we are continuously learning, we're getting better, we're making marginal gains. And that's exactly what we need to do.

0:40:04.1 Junior: I like that you called out the dynamism of the environment. You think about just how fluid today's environment is, if you go back to the medical application, those systems will need to stretch and flex. The last few years are certainly evidence of that. If you build a rigidity into the system, such that people are in complete disarray when the system isn't completely stable, you're not going to have an organization that can perform under pressure, that can flex as things change. Culturally they will not be equipped to do that. People need to feel like when there's an opportunity and it's appropriate to have some discretion and to have more autonomy, that they can take advantage of that and do so reasonably, because if the system is broken for whatever reason, then everything will break if we haven't built this cultural backbone that allows us to be a little bit more flexible. From an organizational capability perspective, if we're gonna compete over a long time horizon, we're certainly going to need to change, and psychological safety will enable us to do that well. So where and when should we innovate?

0:41:22.8 Junior: The article and others like it would say, Well, under really tight constraints and when it's appropriate and so on and so forth. We would say, We should innovate everywhere all the time. It doesn't matter what industry, doesn't matter where you are, there are at least marginal gains to be had in a whole bunch of different areas, if not massive change. And so that is something we should be looking for ceaselessly.

0:41:51.7 Tim Clark: I wanna give one last concrete example to illustrate that principle, and I wanna go back to the steel mill. In the mill we had 10,000 standard operating procedures, SOPs. We had 5000 safe job procedures, SJPs. Now, think about this, just think about the sheer number, 10,000 SOPs, 5000 SJPs, what happens over time, to your point, is that the status quo becomes fossilized, it becomes calcified, we become very rigid, very grooved in our thinking and our behavior, that becomes dangerous. We need people to abide by those procedures, but at the same time we need them thinking critically about what they're doing and how we could improve those standard operating procedures and those safe job procedures. So they need to be constantly in a state of continuous improvement, which is innovation. We never want them to stop thinking, to get into a mode where it's self-executing, they're not thinking about things, they're just doing their raw tasks in a thoughtless way. We never want that to happen. I can tell you from experience, we need people thinking critically all the time about what's going on so that they can contribute to a safer, more productive, happier environment.

0:43:37.1 Junior: Couldn't agree more. So let's wrap it up. Let's answer the question, Can you have too much psychological safety? The answer is an emphatic, no. Provided that we understand what psychological safety is, what it isn't, and it is not a shield from accountability or an excuse to be reckless. So as you consume the content that's out there as you look around, don't fall for the straw man and some of the red herring arguments you see out there, stay wise, do your homework and as always, go get better. Tim, any final thoughts today?

0:44:10.4 Tim Clark: Well, I would just reiterate what we said at the outset, and that is that psychological safety is not inversely related to accountability. It is positively related to accountability provided you understand the essence of what both of those concepts represent.

0:44:30.3 Junior: If you liked today's episode, please leave a review, share with a friend. We will link the articles that we discussed today in the show notes, so you can go do the reading for yourselves and come up with your own answer to the question, Can you have too much psychological safety? Let's also go ahead and link the complete guide to psychological safety, if you haven't read that, I highly recommend it. Take care everyone. We will see you next week. Bye-bye.

0:44:57.6 Freddy: Hey, Culture by Design listeners, this is the end of today's episode. You can find all the important links from today's episode at, and if you found today's episode helpful and useful in any way, please share it with a friend and leave a review. If you'd like to learn more about Leader Factor and what we do, then please visit us at Lastly, if you'd like to give any feedback to the Culture by Design podcast or even request a topic from Tim and Junior, then reach out to us at or find and tag us on LinkedIn. Thanks again for listening and making culture something you do by design, not by default.

Show Notes

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Episode Transcript

What’s a Rich Text element?

The rich text element allows you to create and format headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, images, and video all in one place instead of having to add and format them individually. Just double-click and easily create content.

Static and dynamic content editing

A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!

How to customize formatting for each rich text

Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system.

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