5The Fearless Workplace

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

—Franklin D. Roosevelt1

Perhaps the truly fearless workplace is an impossibility. People are naturally averse to losing their standing in the eyes of peers and bosses. Nonetheless, a growing number of organizations are making the fearless workplace an aspiration. Leaders of these organizations recognize that psychological safety is mission critical when knowledge is a crucial source of value. In that sense, the fearless organization is something to continually strive toward rather than to achieve once and for all. It's a never-ending and dynamic journey.

In this chapter I describe the practices and culture that a handful of successful companies have worked hard to create - to show how psychological safety works. When people speak up, ask questions, debate vigorously, and commit themselves to continuous learning and improvement, good things happen. It's not that it's easy, or always enjoyable, but as you will see in the pages ahead, investing the effort and living with the challenges pays off. Workplaces where employees know that their input is valued create new possibilities for authentic engagement and stellar performance.

The organizations profiled in this chapter thus provide a glimpse into what psychologically safe workplaces look like; they show what happens – for the quality of the product, for customers, and for shareholders – when employees are freed up to express their ideas, questions, and concerns. ...

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