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Tweaking stoplights presumes psych safety
When to use the "tweaked stoplights" practice, and when not to
Yesterday I suggested a practice: “tweaking stoplights,” in which we add a rule that stoplight status grades cannot go from green to red without passing through yellow first.
I stated four implications of a status suddenly flipping to red, the most serious being that “the person reporting was hiding the truth…the person knew that things weren't okay, and hid this. This is the most serious case and merits a serious 1:1 talk.”
Several people wrote to me with concerns about this one. Essentially, they asked: *why didn’t the reporting person feel comfortable speaking up? Why did they feel they had to hide the truth?*
The critique was that the line of thinking was one-sided and presumes the reporting person is at fault. It ignores any role that management may have in contributing to the person not speaking up. If there is a lack of psychological safety, we need to look at the managerial contribution as well. (For more on this, check out my interview with Amy Edmondson, the world expert in psych safety.)
This critique indicates I was not sufficiently clear in my caveats about when to use this practice. I wrote “this practice is only healthy in a supportive culture,” but I could have been more clear. I’ll do so now:
Psychological safety is a prerequisite for the “tweaked stoplights” practice.
Now, psych safety is not a binary condition. It exists on a spectrum. It is somewhat subjective. But there does need to be *enough* safety in the culture prior to using this practice. In such an environment, I stand by what I wrote yesterday. If psych safety is lacking, then yes, it’s a different conversation.
The overarching takeaway?
In any difficult situation or dynamic, all parties need to be responsible for their contribution.