In marketing today, one of the most impactful trends is the use of employees to build trust with customers and to establish your brand as a thought leader within your industry.

This is called employee activation – a concept that goes much deeper than boosting your marketing ROI. With activated employees, you have access to a vibrant, creative, collaborative culture. Employees are motivated to succeed not only for personal interests but because everyone is vested in working toward a larger common goal.

The results? A highly productive company. A positive, supportive work environment. And the free-flow of ideas, which provide the insights and feedback necessary to constantly improve internal processes and external results.

But, a lot of companies struggle with employee activation in the long term. Any company can launch an incentive program or deck out the office coffee corner with a new espresso machine and kombucha maker. The reality is, these are either short-term solutions or incremental changes that won’t work to unleash the true power of employee activation.

The key to activated, engaged, motivated employees is something deeper.

While researching for my book, Mean People Suck, I came upon a really fascinating and extremely useful concept called psychological safety in a Business Insider article by Shana Lebowitz. It’s an idea developed by Dr. Amy Edmondson, a Harvard professor, and it’s something that company culture giants like Google have been using for years.

Key Takeaways:

  • Psychological safety may be the key to unlocking employee activation.
  • Any company can promote psychological safety – and reap the benefits.
  • Psychological safety starts with empathy.

What Is Psychological Safety?

As I point out in my book, only three out of every 10 people feel that their opinions matter at work. This is an obvious problem. Being able to freely voice your thoughts, ideas, and opinions without fear of some sort of negative backlash is essential if individuals are going to be high performers and reach their potential.

It’s also psychologically stressful if you don’t work in an environment where you can speak your mind. Psychological safety is the perceived ability to give input and speak freely.

Why Is Psychological Safety Important?

If you can cultivate a culture that promotes psychological safety, you can transform a stagnant work culture, fostering engagement and a high level of collaborative work. It also trains employees to explore new ways of thinking and to be creative.

The thing is, we all already have our own inner critic to deal with. Isn’t that enough? If we go to work and fear the negative repercussions of voicing our thoughts, which could be as subtle as a condescending look from a co-worker to obvious actions such as being passed over for a promotion for saying something controversial, most people aren’t going to say what they really think. Nor are they going to try hard to come up with new ideas that could benefit the group.

In the Business Insider article, “Google considers this to be the most critical trait of successful teams,” Lebowitz shared the results of Google’s 2015 study, ‘Project Aristotle,’ which looked at the implications of psychological safety, as well as other factors such as individual skill level, on success.

Google found that psychological safety was the most significant factor in ensuring the success of high-performance teams!

Not only that, but ‘Project Aristotle’ also revealed that employees were less likely to want to leave Google, they brought in more revenue, and they were more frequently rated as highly effective by executives if they were a part of a psychologically safe team.

This is a profound argument in favor of implementing psychological safety. I’ve seen it work, and I’m convinced it’s the necessary first step toward employee activation.

How to Foster a Psychologically Safe Workplace

There are two main ingredients that go into cultivating a work environment that feels psychologically safe to employees. These are the foundation.

  • Listening – listen to what employees have to say and create spaces for idea-sharing. This can mean giving everyone a chance to provide input during meetings, having a shared platform for people to post ideas and feedback, or any other listening space that works for your teams.
  • Empathy – get in your employees’ shoes and encourage everyone on your team to be open to where each individual is coming from. It’s empathy for others that drives the authenticity of psychological safety. It’s one thing to listen and nod your head. It’s another to consciously consider someone’s point of view and to actively recognize and value what they have to say.

Another component of fostering psychological safety is diversity. The reality is, if someone feels excluded in the workplace, they’re going to experience higher levels of workplace anxiety. For example, research shows that women are less likely to feel psychologically safe than men are. In order to nurture psychologically safe workplaces, it’s important to encourage a pro-diversity mindset. This needs to start with management. Company leaders have to make it clear that diversity is a valued characteristic because it offers a competitive advantage when it comes to driving innovation and growth.

The next factor is empowerment. In order to feel safe and to truly activate employees, putting ideas into action is critical. This means managers will have to give up some control, allowing employees to express and develop their own personal brand. I point this out in Mean People Suck – by creating a secure platform for the expression of ideas, this comes back as a positive reflection on the company brand. With a team of engaged high-performers who understand the value of expressing their unique viewpoints and industry expertise, you’ll see an organizational culture shift. This shift to engaged, inspired employees is what makes employee activation effective as you’ll be able to inspire and engage your customers.

And the final factor is accessibility. Leaders at all levels need to make themselves available to employees at all levels. Trish Mueller, the former advertising VP and CMO of Home Depot, suggests a few tips for managers who want to make themselves approachable. She recommends keeping an ‘open door,’ spending time with lower-level employees, and constantly being on the search for new innovations.

Put all this together – inclusivity, empowerment, and accessibility over a foundation of empathy and active listening – and you can create a workplace that allows your team of skilled, experienced employees to come together to create brilliance.

So what do you think? Please consider picking up your copy of Mean People Suck today, and get the bonus visual companion guide as well. Or check out our services to help evolve your culture. And I would be thrilled to come present to your team on the power of empathy. Get in touch with me today!

This article originally appeared on Mean People Suck.