Psychological Safety beyond the walls of your company

“No passion so effectively robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear” – Edmund Burke, 1756

I found this reference in the book “The fearless organization”1) by Amy Edmondson which is one of my favorite books which I have been reading over the last couple of months. There is a lot of focus on Psychological Safety, creating a workplace environment where people feel the comfortable speaking up. This should however go beyond the protective boundaries of an organization and involve also external parties (e.g. service providers).

Often in my conversations about Build-in Quality with fellow so-called IT experts I have referred to the concept of the Andon cord2) asking what happens to the individual who has just pulled the cord which would potentially stop the entire car production line if no action is taken. Imagine you ask the same question in an IT context where a system administrator just stops all the message queues or even more severe a network administrator blocks all network traffic to and from a server farm. What do you think happens to this individual in your company or is working for your service provider?

It comes down to creating an environment where it is ok to speak up, where it is ok to admit mistakes or even better point out that something might go wrong if we don’t take action now.

A passion for quality and insanely focusing on the customer experience will take us a long way however what sometimes holds us back is the believe that cost will only go up when aiming for perfection. I would challenge as you might be amazed what teams of experts can achieve if you give them trust also keeping in mind that you put cost against possibly missing out on more consumption from your existing or new customers.

First of all we should create a common definition of quality to be able to detect deviations. One can try to ignore it but the “Customer” is no longer accepting after raising a compliant to be told “why are you complaining, we met the agreed SLA”. This is where the watermelon syndrome comes into play representing the SLA being met (i.e. outside GREEN) however the customer being unhappy (i.e. inside RED). Maybe it’s time to say goodbye to statistical representation of meeting quality thresholds which had in a lot of cases the sole purpose to penalize the service provider commercially if something goes wrong. Such financial penalties create an environment of fear with the service provider which is in most cases counterproductive and nowhere near represent the financial damage a service outage could cause (….reference to Euros per minute).

To be honest who cares about service levels which as mentioned is just a statistical representation of the success rate. Let’s use an example where, after long negotiations, the service provider committed to a service level of 99.9%. First of all I’m sometimes amazed why it’s exactly 99.9% and not 99.89% or 99.91%, this already shows the weakness in the entire approach. More interesting is to build a common understanding what represents the 0.1% (0.09% – 0.11%) which apparently the service provider has used as a risk factor in his calculation of the service price.

Rather than punishing the service provider whenever an unforeseen issue happens we should rather encourage him to be transparent about underlying causes after the fact so we can prevent these from happening again. Even better if the supplier would be transparent upfront about the failure modes which inevitably exist in the design of the service even before things go down the rabbit hole. This takes a lot of courage and trust, I experienced myself that some suppliers are extremely reluctant because of the potential implications admitting things have or can go wrong.

Once you have taken this huge hurdle together (it is a joint effort) for sure the customer will get the benefits knowing that all parties involved in service delivery have done there atmost to protect the customer from being impacted. Actually the customer might even be willing to pay a premium price for this as we are transparent of why more cost is involved to reduce the risk. The customer will no longer be interested in service level performance but rather understand what we learned regarding the failure modes.

Creating transparency on all possible failure modes without the fear of being shot and jointly document the mitigation actions against them will benefit both the customer but also the supplier as the focus will change to those things which really matter.

  1. The Fearless Organization – Amy C. Edmondson

The Toyota Way p130 – Jeffrey K. Liker