Article: Psychologically safe: Daniel Strode on building a culture where employees feel safe to fail, learn and try new things


Psychologically safe: Daniel Strode on building a culture where employees feel safe to fail, learn and try new things

An HR leader, author, culture and innovation evangelist and a learner at heart, Daniel Strode makes you look at corporate culture in a completely different light.
Psychologically safe: Daniel Strode on building a culture where employees feel safe to fail, learn and try new things

A culture and innovation evangelist and the author of the recently released book, The Culture Advantage: Empowering Your People To Drive Innovation, Daniel Strode has been a pioneer, who has narrowed down the eight essential traits of successful companies, which every organisation can embed deep into their company culture in these disruptive times. According to him, rather than compensation and benefits, leaders should focus on culture design of a company, which is far more important today. 

The emergence of newer technology maight have left many leaders in a difficult position, where they are trying to keep pace with the constantly evolving world of work. But for Strode, even though technology has been the reason behind a lot of skills change, when it comes to learning, he feels it is actually an aid. In an exclusive interview with us, he shares the need for a growth mindset to bring about a change, why a leader needs to be listener first and doer later, the unconventional paths to harnessing the power of technology to design better L&D strategies and why each one of us should turn the conversation away from ‘should we do something’ to ‘let us try it and see what happens’. 

He’s all set to attend India’s largest learning and development conference, People Matters L&D India Conference 2022, as a keynote speaker on October 12, where he will share his insights on The Culture Advantage: L&D Leaders as Change Agents. So, learn, unlearn and relearn all that you knew about corporate culture at the Grand Hyatt, Mumbai. 

Excerpts from the interview:  

In your book, The Culture Advantage, you have decoded the innovation puzzle as a way to future-proof business. How can organisations and leaders build a culture of learning in today’s disruptive times? 

For me, it starts with first embedding a ‘growth mindset’ within the company. This mindset was first articulated by Dr Carol Dweck in her research, where a person or even a company acknowledges their weaknesses and looks for opportunities to improve. This mindset depicts that people want to learn, explore and try new things – even if they may fail in the end. And it’s a mindset that encourages people to persist in their endeavours, not quit when faced with a challenge and work with others to help them succeed. 

So, the question arises, how do you build a growth mindset where people want to learn? For organisations to do so, they have to make themselves ‘psychologically safe’, where leaders create an environment safe to fail, safe to learn and safe to try new things. One achieves that by taking consistent action each day; removing ambiguity, mismatches and threats (setting the direction), celebrating courageous conversations (praising people for being brave), being empathetic and curious (understanding that people have different views and respecting it), never rushing to give advice (letting your people come up with the ideas) and clarifying roles and responsibilities (making your expectations with people clear from the get-go).

In today’s era, where employees are grappling with questions like: Do I like who I am working with?, Am I growing?, Is what I am doing of value? and do I make an impact?, how can leaders build an ideal workplace that caters to the needs of each individual? 

How leaders treat their people impacts everything, for better or for worse. And hence, leaders have to understand that everyone expects to be treated as an individual, which means truly listening to everyone’s voice and then taking the necessary actions.

The role of a leader is often misunderstood within companies. The first step to take in order to build a culture where each person is treated as an individual, is to realise that a leader’s job is to serve the people and that the technical aspects of the job role comes secondary to the primary focus, the people. Once you understand that their contribution is bigger, you can be free to help people create impact aligned with their values, and ultimately everyone goes home happy. 

In recent times, what are the radical shifts you have come across in learning and development. What are some vital steps that leaders need to consider when designing their L&D strategies?

I would say that things are changing, and changing faster than ever before. We are living in a world of exponential change - there are technologies such as 5G, artificial intelligence, the internet of things, metaverse and Web 3.0 - all happening at the same time as one another. Earlier, just one of these technologies would have contributed to a seismic shift in the way we work, but now – with all coming at the same time – we have to learn and adapt faster.

This means skills are having a shorter than ever shelf-life i.e. becoming less useful, faster than before. And as a result, we need to learn more and learn in the flow of work. One of the most interesting evolutions I have come across in the learning space is to do with technology, the very thing which is driving a lot of skills change is actually an aid when it comes to learning. 

Firstly, I see the general trend towards learning in the flow of work – learning as you do/ learning as you go along; just in time. And, secondly, using technology to help you learn faster. For example, as a learner, you may learn better through podcasts, or videos, or even reading and now, more and more platforms are offering CHOICE to learners, which is important.

Equally, there are companies using virtual reality as a way to train their people in real-world situations, in a shorter span of time than a traditional class-based training, at a much lower cost and with better results. For instance, the giant US employer, Walmart is a case study in the use of VR to train. They have 2.3 million employees and in their Walmart Academies, the employees use VR headsets to immerse themselves into real situations, in a virtual environment. They use headsets to learn about what to do when shoppers rush into shops during sale and fight over products, how to respond to angry customers along with key management skills.

The results showed that not only is the training faster, which may have earlier taken 45 minutes to complete is now being concluded in just five minutes within the virtual environment, they also found that test scores have increased by 5-10% compared to traditional classroom-based methods of learning, which is quite interesting.

Finally, what are some major learnings you would want to share with leaders and the community on promoting a culture of innovation and learning by harnessing the power of technology?

The differences we can see between those who have embraced technology, and those who have shied away from it are stark reminders of the importance of spending time getting to grips with technological trends, and doing plenty of research, so that when the time is right, you can take full advantage.

Culturally, we have to fight against the short-term view: the risk to jobs (we all thought the internet would destroy jobs, but in fact, jobs increased so did GDP), the potential redundancy of our existing investments (Kodak invented the digital camera but didn’t want to use it), and the egos we have, which tell us that we know better than a computer program. Our innovation efforts are much more successful, when we choose to deliberately partner with technology. For example, if you are a taxi driver and you use Maps to help you navigate traffic, your customers will have a better service and be much happier.

In the end, digital transformation and innovation through technology is inherently a culture change programme, one which arises through a need to adapt the mindset of a company; to help companies recognise that technology is business, and business is technology. Technology is not just a bolt on to existing structures, it needs to be ingrained deep within the culture to work well so there is true partnership.

One has to consistently try to turn the conversation away from 'should we do something' to 'let us try it, and see what happens.'

If you are eager to meet many more pioneer in learning and development space like Daniel Strode, register now on People Matters L&D India Conference 2022 and be ready to lead off amid disruptions as we build businesses to thrive and not just survive. 

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Topics: Culture, Learning & Development, #PMLnDIN

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