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Tag: Strategic & Business Management

Eliminate All Meetings? Not So Fast.

Everyone loves to hate meetings. I’ve seen so many opinion pieces on eliminating meetings, all met with cheers from people who are tired of sitting through meetings they don’t find valuable. I think it’s worth a deeper dive into meeting types so we can be deliberate about which meetings to eliminate.

 

There are three primary categories of meetings:

 

Problem solving – these are your brainstorming or whiteboarding sessions. I think most people agree that these can’t be replaced with emails and Slack messages. When the creative juices need to be flowing and it needs to be collaborative, it needs to be a meeting.

 

Decision making – this is a grey area. If the decision involves a complex scenario or significant consequences, I think it needs to be a meeting since it will likely require discussion. In these cases, my personal approach is to send a pre-read to the decision maker and all key stakeholders, which I develop in partnership with the key stakeholders. My template is this:

 

Background – this explains the broader context of the decision. The decision maker is most likely an executive with many other problems and decisions on their mind, so this helps center them on the situation.

 

Decision point – explain the exact decision needed. Is it strategic direction where multiple approaches have merit? Is it a vendor choice for software that will have a major impact on daily operations? The more specific, the better.

 

Options – Write a summary of each option. Work with the stakeholder(s) who prefers this option and include both the benefits and the drawbacks.

 

Recommendation – Tell the decision maker which option you recommend and why. You know the situation in greater detail than they do, so your recommendation based on detailed consideration is valuable. They may not take your recommendation, but you will have made yourself a resource and thought partner for them.

 

Having this pre-read ensures everyone is on the same page about what the decision point is and what the options are. This will minimize surprises in the meeting, which in turn will minimize unproductive swirl. This preparation will enable the key stakeholders to argue their point, engage in productive debate, and allow the decision maker to hear and consider options before deciding.

 

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Status – this is the infamous “around the room” where everyone says what they’re working on and everyone else multitasks or dozes off. I believe these are the meetings people are thinking about when they write about how to eliminate meetings. The core of their reasoning is that this information can be shared just as effectively by other means, which is often true. I would break this group into two sub-categories:

 

Type 1: Small projects with a few primary workstreams. In these cases, I agree status information can be shared just as effectively by other means. The team can collaborate in a project management tool such as Asana or Smartsheet so anyone at any time can pop in and see where things are. Simple automations can remind team members to make their updates, and dashboards can be automatically shared. The technology exists to make asynchronous status updates possible. In an ideal world, everyone makes their updates on time, everyone checks in on status, and meetings only happen when the project requires discussion. In reality though, project teams often don’t take advantage of these options, so we find ourselves in meetings that shouldn’t need to happen.

 

Type 2: Major projects with many workstreams. In these cases, there are usually clusters of workstreams where people are working together and depend on each other’s work. There are likely also workstreams that seldom interact but will eventually need to interact. In these cases, I’m a believer in live status meetings. Asynchronous updates can work for more regular updates, but I think there’s value in less frequent live status syncs. This gives everyone the opportunity to learn about what’s going on with the more distant workstreams, allows an opportunity for questions and live discussions, and lets people know in advance how something is progressing that might matter to their workstream.

 

With these meeting categories in mind, how can we avoid unnecessary meetings? Regardless of category, there are some best practices for all meetings. If those can’t be followed for a particular meeting, then that meeting can be cancelled.

  1. Make sure the purpose of the meeting is clear.
  2. Write and share the agenda in advance.
  3. Make sure the right people are in attendance.
  4. Send any relevant information in advance.

If you can’t follow these, for example if your meeting doesn’t have a clear purpose or agenda, then it should be cancelled. To make the most of meetings that do happen, end them with a verbal recap of action items, owners, and timelines, and send a written recap of the same.

 

The highest potential category to eliminate is the recurring status meeting for small or simple projects. Eliminating these without negative impact to the project will require a team effort. Everyone needs to do their part to update and check in on the project tracker. The leader can set conditions for success by ensuring the project tracker is established and expectations are clear. However, if the team doesn’t hold up their end of the bargain then the leader will have no choice but to schedule recurring status syncs. I’ve found that credibility and trust can be established by following standard meeting best practices, and especially by cancelling meetings when there is no clear purpose or agenda.

With this trust, it’s a little easier to convince the team to contribute by making their updates asynchronously. Little by little, we can move toward that ideal world where we’re only in meetings that truly need to be meetings.

7 Effective Strategies to Reduce Attrition in Professional Services Organizations

“According to LinkedIn, the professional services sector has the highest attrition rate among all industries.”

In recent years, the professional services industry has seen a significant rise in employee attrition rates. This is due to several factors, such as sub-optimal utilization, high levels of stress and burnout, lack of proper compensation, poor career growth opportunities, and more.

Failure to address these issues can hinder the PSO’s ability to deliver projects on time and meet client expectations, thereby negatively impacting the firm’s top and bottom lines.

Therefore, it is the need of the hour for professional services firms to create a well-defined retention strategy that will help them maintain a robust talent pool.

This article elucidates the best techniques to reduce PSO attrition and how an efficient ERM tool like SAVIOM can help combat it.

Let’s begin!

 

Consequences of attrition in professional services firms

Employee attrition refers to the exit of resources from the organization for various reasons, such as resignations, retirements, transfers, etc. Frequent resource exits from a PSO can deplete the internal talent pool and have severe consequences on operational workflow.

When experienced consultants leave the PSO suddenly, it results in a loss of institutional knowledge. This also leads to increased training costs and project delays as new substitutes need time to gain proficiency in their roles.

In addition, unplanned attrition leads to last-minute firefighting of resources. It usually results in high-cost recruitments or the selection of inadequately skilled personnel, leading to budget/schedule overruns and substandard quality of deliverables.

Moreover, it adversely affects the team dynamics. The sudden departure of consultants can increase the workload of existing resources, hampering their productivity and leading to high burnout.

Knowing the repercussions of attrition, let’s learn the best methods to overcome them.

 

7 effective strategies to manage attrition in professional service firms

Professional services organizations need to take the following measures to minimize unplanned attrition:

1. Create a robust onboarding strategy for new hires

According to Glassdoor, organizations with effective employee onboarding can increase retention by 82%.

Robust onboarding processes can help new joiners in PSOs acclimatize to team dynamics, roles & responsibilities, and company culture. Therefore, managers must take them through the organizational structure and introduce them to team members. Moreover, the firms can assign mentors who can offer continuous support and guidance to the new hires throughout their journey.

In addition, PSOS can provide induction training to familiarize them with standard operating procedures and performance metrics. Besides, they can offer on-the-job learning opportunities where new employees can shadow their seniors to understand their roles better. This will help them build the necessary skills and knowledge, boost engagement, and lower the churn rate.

 

2. Assign professionals to suitable projects based on skills & interest

It is important to align the resources’ skills with suitable work as it increases productivity and engagement. Therefore, before assigning consultants to projects, managers must gain comprehensive visibility of their attributes, such as skills, qualifications, availability, experience, etc.

Moreover, managers must also consider the consultants’ interests when assigning them to projects. It improves their motivation and overall job satisfaction, making them less likely to seek opportunities elsewhere. Thus, competent allocation can minimize the risk of disengagement, burnout, and turnover significantly.

 

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3. Offer compensation packages as per market standards

“According to a Qualtrics survey, employees who are satisfied with their pay and benefits are 13% more likely to continue working for their current employer.”

Compensation is one of the most influential factors that shape the consultants’ decision to remain with the existing firm or seek new opportunities. Moreover, adequate compensation establishes a compelling proposition for consultants to be more productive and efficient.

Consequently, PSOs must offer competitive remuneration packages aligned with market standards to retain top-tier talent. In addition, they must consider providing performance-based variable pay and benefits such as health insurance, paid time off, incentives, etc. Incentivizing employees signals the company’s appreciation for their contributions, fostering prolonged tenure.

 

4. Provide stretch assignments to junior consultants periodically

Stretch assignments are a common practice in the professional services industry. These assignments are designed to test and upskill the capabilities of the consultants. Therefore, allocating junior and intermediate associates to such exercises helps them prepare for new challenges and grow professionally.

For example, a financial firm can assign junior auditors to specialized assignments focused on data analytics. This initiative enhances the auditors’ proficiency in this field and helps them streamline financial analysis processes. Thus, stretch assignments accelerate employees’ career trajectories, keep them engaged, and curb attrition.

 

5. Leverage senior consultants for strategic and leadership roles

Senior consultants often experience job monotony over time, which can lead to disengagement and, eventually, unplanned attrition. Therefore, managers must deploy them to strategic or leadership roles beyond their day-to-day activities that help them showcase their learnings and contribute to bigger organizational goals. For instance, an IT firm focuses on upskilling its team with emerging technologies like Generative AI and Datafication.

For this, the firm can assign senior consultants to conduct training sessions, mentoring programs, and workshops. Moreover, they can identify senior consultants who can utilize their skills and expertise to drive strategic initiatives such as building a robust talent pipeline. As a result, it improves their engagement and curbs attrition.

 

6. Formulate individual development plans for each employee

One of the primary reasons for high attrition rates in PSOs is the lack of career development opportunities. Therefore, to retain top talent, managers can create IDPs (Individual development plans) to help consultants pursue their career aspirations and enhance their professional attributes.

For example, in an IT consultancy firm, a software developer wants to improve proficiency in Django. So, managers can enroll them in an online course or facilitate in-house training sessions by experienced developers. This personalized training module increases engagement and lowers their likelihood of leaving the organization.

 

7. Develop a 360-degree holistic feedback system

Implementing an efficient feedback mechanism helps PSOs analyze each consultant’s performance and identify areas of improvement. It also allows resources to understand their strengths and weaknesses. Moreover, it serves as an opportunity for managers to show appreciation for consultants’ hard work.

A holistic system provides a two-way communication channel that helps PSOs eliminate workplace bias and quickly resolve internal conflicts based on employee feedback. This enhances transparency and fosters mutual trust between employers and employees. As a result, it enhances consultants’ work performance and job satisfaction, reducing the chances of unplanned attrition.

Next, let’s explore how resource management software can help.

 

How does advanced ERM help professional services firms reduce attrition?

Adopting futuristic resource management software like Saviom can empower service firms to devise a well-structured retention strategy to retain top talent.

  • The 360-degree visibility into consultants’ attributes enables competent allocation. When employees leverage their skills, it enhances their performance and motivation, thereby reducing attrition.
  • Forecasting and capacity planning features enable managers to forward plan future resource requirements and prevent excesses/shortages of consultants.
  • The competency matrix allows supervisors to identify professionals to be considered for stretch assignments and helps facilitate training programs.
  • Real-time BI reports like utilization, forecast vs. actual, etc., enable identifying and rectifying over/underutilization, lowering burnout and unplanned attrition.
  • The open seat feature helps consultants to apply for project vacancies. When they work on projects of their interest, it improves their engagement and minimizes turnover.

 

Wrapping up

Skilled consultants are the backbone of every PSO. Consequently, it is imperative for firms to cultivate a positive work environment that enhances job satisfaction and contributes to the retention of skilled professionals. By integrating the aforementioned best practices with ERM software, PSOs can effectively manage unplanned attrition and ensure sustained profitability.

Best of PMTimes: The Greatest Challenges When Managing a Project

What do you find to be the hardest part of managing a project? I bet if you asked ten different project managers that question you would get at least six or seven different answers.

 

I believe that many on the outside of project management looking in probably think it is easy. Be organized and you’ve got it made, right? I wish it was that easy but then again if that was all there was to it I guess the pay would be considerably less than it is and we’d all miss the challenge.

No, project management about much more than just being organized but you already know that. What do you find to be the most difficult aspects of the daily project management grind? For me, and from what I’ve perceived from many of my colleagues, it comes down to a fairly common list of about five things, depending on the types and sizes of projects and the clients we are dealing with, of course. There are always those variances. Let’s consider these five items.

 

The project budget.

The project budget has to be on here, likely always #1 or #2 on every project. 95% of the population has problems managing their own money! That doesn’t make them that much better at managing someone else’s!

The project budget is always a challenge. Unlike your own budget where it’s only you or a few people spending, for a project budget, you may have 87 different people, places or things charging to it. The project budget status can go from healthy to dire straits overnight as charges come through accounting and hit your project and now you must go figure out why.

Staying on top of the budget every week by updating the budget forecast with actual charges from the week before and re-forecasting it for the remainder of the project is one way to combat those budget surprises. Perhaps the only way. And, by doing this you can just about guarantee that it doesn’t go more than 10% out of control vs. the 50% overage that an unchecked budget can quickly realize. The 10% overage is a fairly reasonable/easy fix. You may never recover from the 50% overage.

 

Scope management / change control.

Scope management and change control are two of those two-word phrases that are basically like four-letter words in the world of project management. Scope management is always a challenge for the project manager and project team because some things are close calls on whether they are in or out of scope. Plus, we aren’t always thinking in terms of “scope” when we are plugging through the work or fixing issues. And change control results in those ugly change orders for which customers have to pay extra, and that’s always a fun thing for the PM to bring to the project sponsor’s attention to obtain approval.

 

Resolving team conflicts.

Some people actually thrive on conflict. Not me. I’d prefer that we all just get along and do our jobs. That’s why I like project management better than, say, managing a team of application developers who report directly to me. I’ve done that; I’ve had staff at several different organizations where I’ve worked. Resolving conflicts, personnel issues, giving performance reviews – these are a few of my least favorite things.

 

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Pleasing everyone with the status report.

You can please some of the people all of the time. You can please all of the people some of the time. But you can’t please all of the people all of the time. Is this true? With status reporting it seems to be the case. But if you want to maintain your sanity and have time to manage your other projects and job requirements, it is in your best interest to find a status report format that works for everyone. By everyone I mean all stakeholders who care to hold your status report in their hands and a few who don’t care but you want them to care.

Create a usable and informative dashboard for everyone – especially for the project sponsor’s and senior management’s viewing pleasure. For your senior management, a few of the key stakeholders, and possibly some high-level players on the customer side, this may be all they ever want to see. It can be some high-level percentages or possibly a green-yellow-red stoplight approach to reporting the timeline, tasks, and budget health. Beyond that you want the weekly detail that goes into any good status report. This status report should drive the weekly team and client meetings. You will want to report on completed tasks, what’s happening now, what’s coming up soon and all outstanding issues and change orders.

The status report can be painful and a huge weekly chore on your to-do list, but if you can figure out how to create a one-size-fits-all approach to status reporting on your project, you’ll save time and effort overall by not creating several different reports trying to please everyone on your project routing list.

 

Getting all detailed requirements documented.

This one can be a real headache. Why? Because it seems that no matter how hard you try, no matter how many eyes are on it, no matter how many experts are involved and no matter how much your project client participates and insists “that’s it”, you’ll eventually find that something was overlooked.

It’s ok because the fault usually lies with the project customer and they end up paying for the extra work and time in the form of a change order. Still, customers don’t like change orders, and it usually means some painful re-work. It would be nice always to get it right the first time. But that’s almost never the case.

 

Call for input

Project management is challenging. Period. Some parts are harder than others. Some we master. Some we never really get used to or we seem to at least always make them hard. I wish I had a magic formula or all the time in the world on every project so that we could do everything well and everything right, but that is never the case. We always need to cut corners somewhere, and that doesn’t make most of these challenges easier…only harder.

How about our readers? What are your biggest challenges or least favorite activities associated with managing projects? What have you found to be your most troubling parts of managing a project?

 

Published on: 2016/04/05

Project Scope: A Comprehensive Guide

Clearly defining scope is the foremost step to completing a project successfully. The project scope outlines the boundaries and objectives of the project, providing a roadmap for project stakeholders to understand what needs to be accomplished, the required resources, and the timeline for completion.

 

This article is a comprehensive guide that will delve into the key aspects of project scope, including its definition, importance, elements, and how to manage scope changes efficiently.

 

What is the Project Scope?

Project scope refers to the specific objectives, deliverables, features, and functions of a project. It defines the boundaries of the project, outlining what is included and what is not. By defining the project scope, project managers can establish a clear understanding of what needs to be achieved, ensuring that all stakeholders are on the same page.

 

Importance of Project Scope:

 

1. Clarity and Direction:

A well-defined project scope provides clarity and direction to the project team, stakeholders, and clients. It ensures that everyone involved in the project understands what needs to be accomplished, reducing confusion and improving collaboration.

2. Resource Management:

Project scope helps in efficient resource allocation. It enables project managers to identify the necessary resources, such as staff, equipment, and budget, required to complete the project successfully. By having a clear scope, project managers can avoid over-allocation or underutilization of resources.

3. Cost and Time Estimation:

Project scope assists in estimating the cost and duration of a project accurately. With a well-defined scope, project managers can identify the tasks, dependencies, and milestones, allowing them to create realistic project schedules and budgets.

4. Risk Mitigation:

The project scope also aids in managing risks effectively. By clearly defining what is included and excluded in the project, potential risks and challenges can be identified early on, allowing project managers to develop appropriate risk mitigation plans.

 

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Elements of Project Scope:

1. Objectives:

Clearly defined project objectives are crucial to the project scope. It is essential to understand what results the project aims to achieve and how it aligns with the overall organizational goals.

2. Deliverables:

The project scope should identify the tangible outputs or deliverables that the project team will produce. These deliverables could be physical products, software, reports, or any other measurable outcome.

3. Boundaries:

The scope must outline the boundaries of the project by specifying what is included and what is excluded. This helps in avoiding scope creep, which refers to the uncontrolled expansion of project boundaries during the project’s execution.

4. Constraints:

Identifying constraints within the project scope is also important. Constraints may include limitations in terms of time, budget, resources, technology, or any other factor that may impact the project’s execution.

 

Managing Scope Changes:

In the course of a project, changes to the scope are inevitable due to various factors such as changes in requirements, stakeholder requests, or unforeseen circumstances. However, managing scope changes is crucial to prevent scope creep and ensure project success.

 

Here are some key steps to effectively manage scope changes:

1. Clearly communicate the change

When a scope change is proposed, it is important to transparently communicate the implications of the change to all stakeholders, including the project team, management, and clients. This ensures that everyone understands the impact of the change and can make informed decisions.

2. Assess the impact:

Project managers along with business analysts must assess the impact of the proposed scope change on the project timeline, budget, and resources. It is crucial to evaluate whether the change can be accommodated without significantly affecting the project’s objectives.

3. Obtain stakeholder agreement:

Before implementing any scope change, obtaining agreement from all relevant stakeholders is essential. This ensures that all parties are aligned with the proposed change and minimizes the chances of misunderstandings or conflicts.

4. Adjust project plan:

If the scope change is approved, the project plan, including the schedule, budget, and resource allocation, must be adjusted as mentioned in the scope document. Project managers should update the project documentation and communicate the changes to the team.

5. Monitor scope changes:

Throughout the project, it is important to monitor and control scope changes continuously. Project managers should regularly review the scope to identify any unauthorized changes and take appropriate actions to prevent scope creep.

In a nutshell, a well-defined project scope is vital for the successful execution of any project. It provides clarity, direction, and a framework for project stakeholders to understand the project objectives, deliverables, and boundaries. By effectively managing scope changes, project managers can ensure that projects stay on track, avoiding scope creep and delivering successful outcomes. Therefore, project managers and business analysts must invest time and effort in developing and maintaining a comprehensive project scope, right from the project’s initiation.

Psychological Safety and Accountability for Performance Management

Reading an article, “The Downside of Psychological Safety in the Workplace[1], I am reminded of the need for clear thinking when it comes to applying any philosophy, particularly in the area of psychology and performance at work.

Albert Einstein advised us to make everything “as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

 

It is easy to take a clever idea and ruin it by mindlessly applying it as if it was the miracle cure for every situation. Avoid seeking simple solutions to complex problems. We see it operating in the application of agile management, positivity, candid communications, as well as psychological safety. When we apply a belief or theory without considering and adapting to the situation at hand, we risk making things worse instead of better.

 

Psychological Safety

Psychological safety is a good idea. It focuses on freedom from shame and fear of punishment. Proponents of psychological safety believe that this safety correlates with high performance.

How bad could being psychologically safe and high performance be?

 

But, over simplifying can lead to a belief that any kind of discipline or negative criticism is psychologically harmful and degrades performance.

The article mentioned earlier was co-authored by Wharton’s Peter Cappelli.  It says that “Too much psychological safety at work can jeopardize performance in typical jobs, according to new research.”

The research implies that people in typical jobs, as opposed to creative or innovative jobs, need less psychological safety. Too much safety, and workers will slack off and their performance will suffer.

Are people in “typical” jobs more likely to perform well if they are in fear of being punished or shamed? Are they lazier, less motivated, more deserving of psychological abuse than creative problem solvers, designers, and other creativity workers? Are creative workers immune to the downside of too much safety?

 

I do not think so.

 

What are Typical Jobs?

First, it is necessary to define “typical” when it comes to jobs. Among the most common jobs are nurse, service representative, cashier, and server. And of course, there are project manager, software developer, and all the other jobs found in projects.

Creativity and innovation are not limited to jobs in R&D or design, where there is a need to risk being wrong to get it right.

Jobs in other fields may be best done with repetitive application of accepted tools and techniques, but there is always some need for creativity. Even AI based robots must be taught to assess the situation before applying a solution. It is a think out of the box, when necessary, attitude.

In Toyota’s quality management system, assembly line workers were expected to stop the line if they saw a problem. Fear of making a mistake would inhibit workers from taking the initiative to stop the line. Fear would stop workers from creatively adapting instead of following the rules.

 

Goals Drive Performance

High quality performance is critical to success. Performance is optimized by focusing on both short-term goals like getting the task done right, and long-term goals like continuously improving process and wellness.

Optimal performance can be achieved without shame or fear of making errors by working to “perfect” process and outcome using a quality management mindset.

Some errors or defects are expected. That is why Six Sigma is not Infinite Sigma. When they appear, errors are seen as learning opportunities to discover the cause and avoid it next time. Systemic causes are explored before blaming performers.

But that does not mean there is no accountability for poor performance. If a performer continually makes errors and fails to take responsibility for their performance, discipline is required. Without it, morale and team performance suffer.

 

Too Much of a Good Thing

So, it makes sense to include psychological safety and accountability in performance management. Psychological safety is meant to relieve any kind of worker of the unnecessary and damaging effects of negative motivation. Accountability is making sure that causes of performance deficiency are discovered and acknowledged.

Psychological safety, like any psychological-behavioral-management-leadership approach, should not be taken as standalone truth. It must be applied based on each situation, integrated into a broader program that values personal, organizational, environmental wellness and optimal performance.

 

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Accountability is Needed

Accountability is often misunderstood. It would be ideal if everyone understood the need for it, had a great work ethic, wasn’t afraid of criticism, and everyone’s performance, the organization was accepted and accepting.

 

Accountability is not Blaming

But the ideal is not the norm and even if it was there is still a need for accountability.

Accountability is not blame. It is bringing performance to the surface to identify the causes of performance quality – whether it is good or bad. It is great to be held accountable for stellar behavior and not so great to be held accountable for errors and failures.

Whenever there is accountability, some individuals will be afraid and view consequences as punishment. They may perceive management as a bunch of mean overseers ready to criticize and punish.

There is an internal psychological dynamic at work. Some fear being fired. Some have an internal judge criticizing any imperfection with an unrealistic sense of perfection. Some in leadership positions lack empathy and misread resistance to accountability as laziness. Some blame when they find someone accountable.

Fear is generated from the inside, even when there is no external threat. Recognizing the psychological dynamic enables individuals to be self- reflective and put their inner critique in its right place. Their recognition gives management and leadership the ability to be empathetic and more effective in managing performance.

 

How to Go Forward

When it comes to managing performance, consider both psychological safety and sustained effective performance and continuous improvement.

Safety and accountability are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they go together to promote wellness, process quality, and sustainable high performance.

Psychological safety is promoted by a program of training and sustained reinforcement for managers and staff on what makes for the best way to handle accountability.

That kind of program confronts the causes of blaming and resistance to accountability, psychological dynamics around fear of criticism, methods for objective accountability, and the need for a quality management process that seeks sustained optimal performance.

 

[1] https://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/the-downside-of-psychological-safety-in-the-workplace/?utm_campaign=KatW2023&utm_medium=email&utm_source=kw_campaign_monitor&utm_term=11-22-2023&utm_content=The_Downside_of_Psychological_Safety_in_the_Workplace