Developing a culture of innovation free from bullying

Workplace bullying Corrs Chambers

Innovative and entrepreneurial small and medium-sized business workplaces are exciting and energising in the best and normal of times. But 2021 isn’t exactly normal business times for many who are starting, swiftly expanding or recapturing market loss from the pandemic. 

Entrepreneurial and innovative established businesses owners have incredible drive to survive and thrive. Hardwired to move fast, often the human element of business operations are put out of immediate attention with a focus on growth, client acquisition and customer experience.

Small businesses during these times can be vulnerable to bullying behaviours and complaints from staff and others. When abrasive behaviours or clear cut bullying occurs, innovation and growth goals can be compromised. 

During growth stages, staff attraction is an integral part of success. Reputations for risky and abrasive workplaces can erode potential candidate confidence and impact hiring.

Circle of safety

At the centre of an innovative workplace is employee psychological safety. Simon Sinek outlines the value of creating a workplace circle of safety.

The circle of safety is created by employers and in that circle employees feel cared for, protected and safe. This ensures employees are free from internal attacks and, therefore, able to focus their energy collaborating and fighting external threats to the company.

Challenger psychology

In his book, The Four Stages of Psychological Safety, Timothy Clarke states that innovation comes out of challenger safety, which follows the first three stages of inclusion, learner and contributor safety. Without progressing through these stages safety innovative workplaces cannot be achieved.

Challenger safety is crucial to create workplace environments that welcome challenging questions and conversation which are free of ridicule, derision or punitive responses. Within this environment, employees collaborate and communicate encouraging divergent, lateral and non-linear thinking.

While innovation can originate from individual light-bulb moments, it will more commonly derive from group interaction. Without fearless questions, stalemates occur and innovation is compromised. Challenger safety is the key to safe workplaces.

But innovation is not free of friction. It is full of friction of a positive kind, where anything is on the table to be debated and discussed leading to opportunities to explore.

Impact of bullying

When bullying exists it creates a toxic and lonely culture.  Business owners and staff are equally complicit in the behaviours which are driven by fear and feeling threatened.

Small business needs to be particularly mindful of the risks of working from home and hybrid workplaces and the opportunities for a myriad of bullying behaviours out of sight. There is also a need to navigate push back and bullying behaviours from staff which can escalate to upward bullying impacting the growth and innovation. 

Creative employees with bright ideas are also at risk of targeting by the bully (which could also be the business owners) as their innovative ideas may be intimidating to others authority and expertise.  This may invite an overt or covert attack from the bully that is likely to increase over time.   When bright minds are muzzled they are likely to head for the door to safer opportunities.

Summing Up

The heat is on in 2021 for new and existing businesses to succeed. Many sectors and businesses have been decimated from last year, others surviving and many with a new strong future. 

Innovation is the juice that will maximise success and eradicating bullying and abrasive behaviours that erode confidence and growth is essential. Ultimately, businesses have a choice to make.   Innovative businesses have no room for bullying behaviours from owners or staff. 

Commit to a bully-free 2021 and address risky behaviours.  Innovation, profits and reputation will surge along with workplace wellbeing.

Michael Plowright, Director, Working Well Together Pty Ltd