We live in very uncertain times. Most businesses are still operating remotely. COVID-19 continues to rear its head. The stock market is up, then down, then up, then down. If we focus on those things, it’s easy to feel lost, unsure, even in danger. The good news is that it’s possible to create a sense of psychological safety that will help your team members come together, support one another, and be their best.

What role might learning and development have in creating that sense of psychological safety? Why should you even focus on L&D initiatives during uncertain times? We’ll discuss those questions and much more below.

How L&D Can Help You Build a Sense of Psychological Safety in Times of Uncertainty

Why L&D?

Let’s tackle the largest topic first. Why should you focus on learning and development when things are so up in the air? Wouldn’t it be wiser to focus on other aspects, like building a more resilient team, or perhaps finding ways to future-proof your organization?

That’s precisely what learning and development initiatives can do. There is no better way to build a stronger, more resilient team or to future-proof your business than by investing in your current employees through L&D initiatives.

Okay, so with that out of the way, it’s time to delve into the “how” of things. How does L&D help support positive outcomes? How does it help you create a sense of psychological safety and what benefits do you derive from that? How do you even start using learning and development for this purpose?

The Hows of It All

On the surface, learning and development might seem like it’s solely about mandatory corporate training, or perhaps voluntary upskilling. And, to be truthful, it is about those things. However, it is a versatile tool that can be used to achieve any number of mission-critical goals.

Focus on Curiosity and Discovery

Organizations that focus on curiosity and discovery can develop a culture that values learning and inculcate a learning mindset in employees. That’s an important consideration. Learning never really ends. We never know it all, no matter what we’re doing or how long we’ve been doing it. You never come to the end of your development.

And that’s a good thing! Imagine what the world would be like if everyone simply developed to one point and then stopped. It would be one of stagnation and apathy, of no growth and no change.

Thankfully, we live in a dynamic world and humans are dynamic creatures. We adapt. We evolve. We change and grow as we face new challenges.

Instituting learning and development initiatives, particularly now during some of the most uncertain times most of us have ever seen, can help build that learning mindset in everyone. With that, they will be more confident, capable, and feel safer, too.

Encourage Personal and Professional Success

Few things lend themselves to psychological safety more than a sense of personal and professional success. A successful person will feel less threatened by feedback from managers, will be able to deal with threats and upheavals, and more. Of course, creating that sense of success can be pretty challenging, particularly if your culture only values success as measured outside of ourselves.

For instance, someone who closes a big deal with a new client would certainly feel a sense of success, but extrinsic achievements are fleeting. Eventually, the glow from that closed deal will fade, and if there’s not another similar event, we can begin to lose our sense of accomplishment and success. For that reason, it’s more important to focus on developing a sense of intrinsic achievement, a sense of inner value.

Learning and development initiatives are the ideal way to do just that. Knowledge is empowering. By providing your team members with upskilling opportunities, you help build up their inner sense of worth and achievement, leading to a greater sense of psychological safety in the workplace. Someone who feels that their employment is contingent on their extrinsic accomplishments and not on their intrinsic worth will always feel more threatened.

Of course, this does require that you do more than just implement the bare minimum in terms of training opportunities. You need to go beyond what’s required for HR compliance. Offer courses that allow your team members to explore their interests and their passions, to follow their dreams, and to move their careers forward.

Learning and Development Drive Stability

Finally, you’ll find that learning and development initiatives drive stability in the workplace. How is that? Simply put, if you’re helping your team members become their best selves and creating a sense of psychological safety within the workplace, then you increase engagement and bolster retention. You can then strategically promote from within and onboard new talent, allowing you to avoid the skills gap that’s crippling so many organizations.

Think of it this way: If Anne upskills herself, she can attain a better position in another department. Then, you can train Mike to take her previous position, opening up a job for a new hire. By implementing L&D in your onboarding process, you can ensure that you’re hiring the right talent for the current opening, but also get a sense of their career aspirations and personal strengths so that you can map out their career course within the organization. You end up with an engaged, stable team that’s dedicated to everyone’s success because they feel valued, psychologically safe, and deeply engaged.

L&D in Remote Work Situations

Remote work has become more and more common, thanks in no small part to COVID-19. However, there was a definite trend towards remote operations even before the pandemic. L&D initiatives can provide all the benefits discussed above, including creating a greater sense of psychological safety, in a remote team. The trick is to ensure that you’ve got the right LMS coupled with the right materials to help support ongoing learning and development across all of your teams. With intentional planning, a little forethought, and the understanding that psychological safety hinges as much on personal and professional self-worth as on anything else, you can see success.

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