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Betting on Humanity and the Need for Psychological Safety

New Year’s Day has always been my favorite holiday. Mostly seen as a time for resolutions, I appreciate the gifts it presents to reflect, change direction, and the unexpected possibilities that can unfold in the 365 days ahead.

When I was young, my grandparents had a small New Year’s Eve gathering every year that created a bubbling excitement in our family. The fancy dresses, the couples toasting each other, the good crystal, champagne, melodic laughter and aromatic smells of a special meal.  Unfortunately, the children were ushered out to watch Dick Clark’s Rocking New Year’s Eve and the ball drop from Times Square.  I usually crept out and spied on the party from the hallway.

This love of New Year’s evolved into an odd tradition (that was not eating black eyed peas). Said New Year’s tradition consisted of my sisters gathering around—or calling dibs on—the January issue of Cosmopolitan magazine to read the special, long-awaited annual New Year’s horoscopes. The predictions foretold us of the far-away places we should visit, which month we would find love, and what our best color for the year would be (I had no idea what color “citron” was at 12-years-old).  It became apparent as the years went by, that our horoscopes said the same things, focused on the same topics for each of us, but in different months. How many times could I read about a new love, a new exercise plan, and trying a trendy new fashion for the summer?  

As I read HR predictions for 2017 from multiple sources last week, I was reminded of my old New Year’s tradition with my sisters. I noticed similar themes about the gig economy, parallel ideas about people analytics drawing insights from clean data, analogous challenges with changing culture. All publications referred to the unchanging prediction that this is The Year when HR transforms from personnel to human capital consultant across the board and that we would finally be finished with the conversation about HR having “a seat at the table.”

In reflecting upon 2016 and numerous conversations with clients and candidates across the globe, focus on technology innovation and the growth of digitalization has been part of every conversation. Articles about how AI affects talent acquisition and other people and culture initiatives are published weekly, and increasing in frequency.

My prediction for 2017 is that it will become more clear than ever that humanity matters.  Maybe I’m being a contrarian by doubling down my bet on humans this upcoming year.  Digitization is enabling us to connect and create organizational cultures that require deep human connection and authenticity that we’ve not experienced previously. The paradox of increased digitization is that it drives the possibility for greater connection. Without the symbiotic relationship of technology and human connection, neither can produce the desired results promised.

I predict that we will see the adaptation of functional departments morphing into agile and empowered teams in larger, more conservative organizations outside the technology industry.  The innovation and expansion in feedback technology will drive engagement and build a feedback-rich culture. Add the redesign of performance management to this new org design and feedback culture, and these three create a communication ecosystem.

The communication ecosystem is the foundation for creating an inclusive culture and experiential leadership development, which is the only way we create leaders. The result is an organization that creates psychological safety. The pinnacle for performance, productivity, and innovation is psychological safety.

The increased focus on organizational culture is actually organizations creating psychological safety on an expansive scale.  This ability to build a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.

Taking risks, being willing to see things differently, and listening all lead to psychological safety.  And that is what produces results.

Though a recent Korn Ferry study noted that CEOs are “. . . putting a higher value on technology and tangible assets” than people in their organizations, my bet for 2017 is on humanity. The truth is that humans can be messy, unpredictable, and hard to change, but when we come together with a joined purpose, an inclusive organizational culture, and with psychological safety, we create results.

Read more 2017 talent predictions by other thought leaders.