Magnet® Tip: Cultivating Psychological Safety at the Unit Level Skip to content
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Marsha Hughes-Rease

MSOD, MSN, RN

Magnet®, Pathway to Excellence®

With 30+ years of experience in Health care and over 10 years of consulting experience, Marsha Hughes-Rease brings a wealth of knowledge about organization effectiveness, culture change management, and group process to her consulting practice.

With 30+ years of experience in Health care and over 10 years of consulting experience, Marsha Hughes-Rease brings a wealth of knowledge about organization effectiveness, culture change management, and group process to her consulting practice. She integrates this knowledge with her consulting expertise to help Health care organizations operationalize the Magnet® Model to achieve a professional practice environment focused on achieving empirical outcomes in a changing Health care environment.

Marsha has consulted with Health care administrators, nurse leaders, and clinical nurses in 30+ Health care organizations that have earned ANCC Magnet Recognition®, or who are on the Magnet® or Pathway to Excellence® journey. Using an intentional and inclusive consulting approach, she focuses on engaging clinical nurses, nurse managers, and other key stakeholders to accelerate the achievement of Magnet Recognition® or Pathway to Excellence®. She collaborates with senior nurse leaders and the chief nurse executive to identify and take strategic actions to create organizational alignment and commitment to the organization's mission and vision.

Marsha’s consulting specialty areas include providing an organizational assessment and gap analysis for Magnet Recognition® or Pathway to Excellence®, identification of concrete actions to close the gaps, facilitating the development and implementation of a professional practice model, facilitating the development and implementation of a shared decision-making model compatible with the organization's governance structure, review of written documents for Magnet Recognition® submission, readiness preparation for a Magnet Recognition® site visit, and customized training. Marsha regularly facilitates the two day Journey to Magnet Excellence®workshop. She has also co-designed and facilitates the one day workshop, Empirical Outcomes: Exceeding Magnet Expectations, which provides participants with an integration of practical tools to excel as change leaders.

Summary of Services

  • Helps determine readiness to submit a Magnet® or Pathway to Excellence® application based on a gap analysis.
  • Conducts a self-assessment that familiarizes participants with the Sources of Evidence in the Magnet® Model while simultaneously gathering quantitative data to use as part of the gap analysis report.
  • Conducts a self-assessment that familiarizes participants with the Pathway to Excellence® Elements of Performance while engaging them in action planning to address perceived gaps.
  • Conducts comprehensive on-site readiness assessments in preparation for Magnet site visits, a process which includes helping clinical nurses learn a communication technique that reflects self-confidence and competence, and articulates the value of nursing at the unit level.
  • Provides transformational leadership development specifically facilitating peer coaching techniques to address complex issues
  • Uses creative strategic planning techniques to increase staff nurse engagement, alignment with nursing strategic goals, and effective execution at the unit level.
  • Customizes education and just-in-time training on transformational leadership, structural empowerment, and change management
  • Works with senior leaders to design strategic interventions to address performance gaps.
  • Works with nurse executives to address challenges at all levels that may potentially derail the Magnet Recognition® or Pathway to Excellence® designation process.

Education

  • BSN, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY
  • MSN, Nursing Administration, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA
  • MS, Organizational Development, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD

Certifications

  • American Nurses Credentialing Center – Certificate Holder in Fundamentals of Magnet®
  • Fielding Graduate University, Santa Barbara, CA – Graduate Certificate, Leadership Coaching
  • Graduate Certificate, Skilled Facilitator, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD

Professional Memberships

  • American College of Healthcare Executives
  • American Nurses Association
  • American Organization of Nurse Executives
  • American Society of Training and Development
  • Institute of Coaching
  • International Coaching Federation
  • International Leaders Association
  • Plexus Institute
  • Sigma Theta Tau International

Special Acknowledgements

  • Published numerous articles and book chapters including a chapter on Transformational Leadership in the award-winning text, Nursing Management Principles and Practice(2011, Oncology Nursing Society)
  • Served as adjunct faculty member at George Mason University College of Nursing, is a faculty member at Duke Corporate Education, and is a certified Executive coach.

One of my favorite questions to ask when interviewing clinical nurses during a gap analysis for ANCC Magnet Recognition® is, “What keeps you here?” The most recurring response is, “The people I work with!” This is especially true when talking to clinical nurses working on units with high retention and low turnover. Further inquiry suggests that the clinical nurses who have a strong loyalty to their unit team feel a sense of psychological safety. A key element of a professional practice work environment is effective teamwork and collaboration. However, psychological safety is an essential antecedent for authentic teamwork and collaboration. Creating a psychologically safe environment at the unit level should be a high priority intervention for organizations on the Magnet journey.

What is Psychological Safety?

According to Amy Edmonson, author of the book Teaming, organizational research has identified psychological safety as a critical factor in understanding organizational behaviors such as teamwork, team learning, comfort level with seeking help, and speaking up or voice. Edmonson describes psychological safety as a climate in which individuals feel free to express relevant thoughts and feelings without excessive self-censorship.

However, interpersonal fear can greatly diminish the psychological safety on a unit. Interpersonal fear is the fear of being perceived by others as ignorant, incompetent, negative, or disruptive. This perception is usually the consequence of a workplace culture that punishes individuals for expressing their work-relevant thoughts and feelings. The “punishment” may be subtle and show up in the form of micro behaviors, but the individuals on a unit recognize it. Rather than take interpersonal risks, individuals will often self-censor especially in the presence of others with formal or informal power or status. This silence or “lack of voice” can negatively impact RN satisfaction and patient safety. In Magnet-designated organizations, both of these indicators are expected to outperform the benchmark at the unit level.

Why is Psychological Safety Important?

Although it does not reflect the absence of problems, the presence of psychological safety on a unit can actually contribute to more creativity and innovating thinking in problem solving and solution finding. Other benefits of a psychologically safe environment include increased risk taking to pursue high standards and challenging goals, increased willingness to report and discuss errors, more thoughtful handling of conflict, and increased willingness to address incivility or behaviors that contribute to anxiety, fear, and stress.

Designing an Intervention to Cultivate Psychological Safety

An intervention is a sequence of planned and deliberate activities and actions intended to help an organization or group improve its performance and effectiveness. There are many different types of interventions, but the high-leverage interventions that impact behavior are interventions that create a change in our mental models or how we view the world. Creating a psychologically safe environment requires an intervention that will shift both mindset and behaviors.

Robust interventions are always preceded by data gathering. Subsequently, the first step in creating a psychologically safe environment is to assess the unit environment. The short questionnaire below is adapted from one dimension of Edmonson’s Is Yours a Learning Organization Inventory? to measure psychological safety. It can be administered using any type of software that your hospital already uses for administering questionnaires anonymously.

The second step is to gather the questionnaire data and create an opportunity for the clinical nurses to discuss the findings. These conversations should be facilitated by someone who can quickly gain the trust of participants and facilitate an open and honest discussion to extract themes. This may be an excellent time to partner with an HR or development specialist in your organization since they often have this skill set and can serve as a neutral party.

The third and critical step of this intervention is to design actions to address how to make changes based on the questionnaire findings. Again, the clinical nurses are invited to create a shared and compelling vision, as well as identify actions needed to achieve this vision. Although this should be a nurse manager-driven initiative, clinical nurses are the key stakeholders and their input is critical to the success of this change. The visioning process can actually serve as the “rallying cry for change,” creating momentum and excitement at the unit level.

The fourth step is to re-administer the questionnaire at different time intervals to determine if perceptions and behaviors have changed. After each “pulse check,” the questionnaire findings are shared with the staff for reflection and learning, as well as identification of next steps. Since this is an intervention aimed at changing the culture of a unit, leaders need to continually focus on achieving the shared vision. They must assume accountability for results and provide support. Ultimately, ensuring psychological safety at the unit level throughout the organization will be pivotal in achieving Magnet success!

     

This article was originally published in April 2017.

Use of ANA Consultation Services does not guarantee ANCC approval. ANA consultants and staff cannot influence the actions of ANCC program staff or decisions of the Commission on Magnet® Recognition, Commission on Pathway to Excellence®, or Commission on Accreditation.

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