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  • Writer's pictureSusan Tatum

Psychological Safety for Trust and Transparency in Your Organization

Updated: Oct 14, 2022

with Marcia Donziger, Culture Coach & Strategist

Culture is an important part of every organization, especially in the climate of today’s workforce. Marica Donziger is the Culture Consultant at Vital Biz Consulting. Marcia shares her passion for bringing happy, healthy, and fulfilled work environments to the healthcare industry.

Notes from the Show

Marcia Donziger, Culture Consultant with Vital Biz Consulting, is on a mission to help companies in the healthcare space build the healthiest culture possible to achieve the ultimate goal of healthy patient outcomes. Marcia is passionate about creating happy, healthy, fulfilled work environments for others. A positive culture in the workplace, not just in the healthcare industry, revolves around respect, value, and appreciation… not just toleration, especially when it comes to differences.

“Psychological Safety is EVERYTHING”, Marcia quotes a client. This term comes from Amy Edmondson’s decades of research that proves psychological safety is the biggest indicator of high performance, innovation, and learning in an organization. How do you know if your workplace is psychologically safe? Marcia provides three questions to check.

Is it safe for your team to speak up?

Is it safe to ask for help?

Is it safe to make a mistake?

In a psychologically safe workplace, your team should feel safe to do these three things free from fear, shame, or retribution. And in this environment, teams can cultivate trust and transparency.

As a part of the work Marcia does with Culture Consulting, she developed the CARES model.

Commitment, Appreciation, Respect, Engagement, and Safety

This model operates like a pyramid hierarchy first ensuring safety and moving up through each of these elements that hold a significant place in a positive culture.

The world today is changing at a rapid pace whether it be from the pandemic, foreign wars, politics, or social movements, it may seem that every time you turn on the news something is on fire. Marcia reminds listeners that controlling where your attention focuses can improve your emotional bandwidth and help to see the positive that is all around you as well.

Marcia shares her personal journey to creating her business as well as her creativity with clients. You can look for her book You Are Meant for Great Things, a personal and professional memoir as well as her second book, a work in progress on culture leadership. If you’d like to contact Marcia you can find her via email, LinkedIn, or the Vital Biz Consulting website.

What's Inside:

  • What is psychological safety?

  • Why is psychological safety important?

  • What is Marcia Donziger’s Culture CARES model?

  • Why is empathy important in business?

  • How culture can make or break the success and outcomes of an organization.

  • How has the pandemic contributed to toxic relationships and culture?

Mentioned in this Episode:

Transcribed by AI Susan Tatum 0:37

Hi, everybody, welcome back. Today I'm talking with Marcia Donziger, who's a culture coach. And she has a company called Vital biz consulting. And we're going to be talking about toxic relationships and, and psychological safety and some really interesting things today. So I'm very excited about this episode. And welcome, Marcia.

Marcia Donziger 1:00

Thank you. I'm happy to be here.

Susan Tatum 1:03

Why don't you take a few minutes and just tell us a little bit more about who you are and what you do?

Marcia Donziger 1:08

Sure. So as you said, I'm a culture coach, and I help companies in the healthcare space, whether it's nonprofit or corporate, build the healthiest cultures possible, so that they can achieve the results that they want, which are healthy patient outcomes, patient and caregiver outcomes. And so I've had my consulting business about a year and a half now, prior to that, I had started a health and technology nonprofit organization called my lifeline Cancer Foundation back in 2007. And I grew that to a point over 10 years where we merged with a much larger International Cancer organization that are called cancer support community. And I was the vice president of digital strategy and business development. And then towards the end, I became their chief culture officer, because I, I found that I was really passionate about making sure all of the employees in our organization are healthy and happy so that they could do their best work to achieve our mission.

Susan Tatum 2:11

So I'm seeing a couple of or hearing a couple of strings there. And all the work that you've been doing has been really at the intersection of tech and healthcare.

Marcia Donziger 2:24

That's right.

Susan Tatum 2:25

You're talking about nonprofit. So there, is there something that is personal to you that makes it this important and vital to you.

Marcia Donziger 2:35

Yeah, well, I started in the tech industry in the late 90s, I started working in sales, selling large computer systems, and was really fascinated with the technology boom in the late 90s. So I've always had an interest in in this industry. And also in the late 90s, I was in my 20s and I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. And I'm really struggled with keeping my friends and family up to date with what was going on throughout the treatment process. I always felt guilty i was like calling people back, there was no Facebook, there was no technology back then. Except, you know, a very slow email connection. If you kind of remember that, or, or phone calls and no cell phones really back then a few people had them. But it this communication was so difficult with my friends and family wanted to support me. And a few years later, my friend Laurie was diagnosed with brain cancer. Her friends created this beautiful website for her to stay up for her to update her friends and family with what was going on. And as a friend, it was such a powerful experience for me to see her streamline this communication through a website that was personal to her. And unfortunately, she passed away in her 30s from brain cancer. And I couldn't stop thinking about her after, after she died. And I knew is because of how she used that website to connect all of us in our community. So that's what gave me the idea to start my lifeline and Cancer Foundation to help all cancer patients and caregivers be able to have access to a free personal website. This was right at the time that Facebook right before Facebook came out. So it's kind of a newer way to communicate. But I started as a nonprofit. And you know, like I said, kind of grew it in the niche that we were which was serving the cancer community in the unique ways that they needed to be served. And so yeah, the health is very, you know, something very close to my heart.

Susan Tatum 4:35

And I can tell the enthusiasm in your voice when you start talking about it, you can just tell that it's something that lights you up, which I think is very important. When you have your own business that you you've got a niche that that just is so meaningful to get you up in the morning, doesn't it?

Marcia Donziger 4:53

Yeah. And I think I've always been passionate about HR and culture because I did graduate with you know, from college with an organizational psychology degree, thought I'd go into HR, but then it seemed very compliance and administrative. And I'm much more of like the people relationship person. And HR has like really evolved especially since COVID. to really look at what the people need to do their best work and that's where my studies have gone, you know, in this last few years and why I am so passionate about healthy cultures in healthcare companies.

Susan Tatum 5:26

So what took you I was gonna ask you, how did you make the leap from business development to culture But really the question is you started off with an interest in Organizational Psychology. And then you went into sales. And maybe that we that was where you were first working was in sales and business development.

Marcia Donziger 5:47

Yeah, exactly.

Susan Tatum 5:49

How did that happen?

Marcia Donziger 5:51

Um, I was looking for HR, it was more back then it was just and it's still, you know, still very important part of HR. It just wasn't really my interest. You know, my interest was in business and psychology, it wasn't really in like, you know, doing payroll, and knowing compliance laws and benefits and which are all like, very vital, and some people are experts at that, and I'm so love to work with them. But that's not really like my area of interest. I want to work with people, which is sales, so you can use your business and your psychology skills as a sales and business development person. So that's where I went.

Susan Tatum 6:30

That's funny. I went from psychology studying a bit of psychology in school to marketing. The same, the same sort of way. Yeah. Um, alright, so let's, let's talk about problem cultures, because that's where that's an area that you focus on. Right?

Marcia Donziger 6:45

Yes, that's a that's a problem I like to help leaders solve because it's a fixable problem. But when you're, you know, experiencing a culture that's toxic, and in that you will know that when you know, leadership team is not aligned. There's a lot of politics and infighting, your turnover is higher than normal, and more expensive and you know, turnover so costly for organizations, it's hard to keep your highest performer performers, it's hard to recruit, because you may have bad Glassdoor reviews, there's all these indicators of a toxic culture. So that's where I can come in and help the leaders transform the organization.

Susan Tatum 7:26

So do you find that there's certain industries or types of businesses where toxic culture is more prevalent prevalent than others?

Marcia Donziger 7:34

I think it's people are people. So I think it can happen in any industry. My focus is, you know, health and technology. Because I've experienced both toxic cultures and healthy cultures, like I've experienced the range, and I've learned so much about leadership development, and people development, and know all the ingredients, I feel like many of the ingredients necessary for your, for your company to be operating on all levels, and, you know, running on all cylinders.

Susan Tatum 8:09

So for pain for the for the listeners, which who are primarily small business, they're consultants, coaches, professional services firms, small to maybe mid size, some of them are solos. And you and I, when we were talking previously or earlier, we're talking about culture, the concept of culture is important, regardless of the size of your business. Right. And it's, it's, it's all is it? Does it really come down to how you treat people?

Marcia Donziger 8:41

I think it does, I think it really comes down to respecting people, valuing people and appreciating them. And especially for their differences. We hear a lot of talk about diversity and inclusion. And it's not just you know, tolerating other people who may be different from you, but it's learning how to appreciate them. And I think our whole country needs this we know the political climate. I mean, it could happen anywhere. Yeah, the polarization is is so damaging to our society. And it can be damaging to a family to it to an organization to a partnership, you know, with another consultant that you're working with, or with your clients. It really, it's, it's all relational, you know, and leads to people, you know, gaining, you know, higher level maybe of emotional intelligence, and how to relate to one another value and treat them well.

Susan Tatum 9:39

So you talk about psychological safety. What does that mean in that context?

Marcia Donziger 9:46

Yeah. Well, it's really interesting. I am researching for a new culture leadership book that's post COVID. With our remote and our hybrid realities, I'm interviewing leaders across different industries, actually to ask, what are their biggest challenges with culture and what are their solutions, and I interviewed someone who's the leader of a $9 billion commercial real estate firm. She's the Chief People Officer there, and her exact quote was psychological safety is everything. And so for a large, you know, real estate company to say psychological safety is everything really made me let my jaw drop a little bit like That's pretty significant. And so for your listeners who may not be familiar with psychological safety, is a term based on decades of research now, led by Amy Edmondton, she's a Harvard Business School professor. And she's done decades of research that has shown studying what makes teams effective, what makes leadership teams effective and all teams. And she found that when, when people on a team feel psychologically safe, that that is the number one indicator for high performance, Innovation and Learning. And we all want those things in our in our companies and our families, in our politics, hopefully, eventually, we'll get back to a place like that. But that's what I'm studying right now, in real in, you know, setting the research bar.

Susan Tatum 11:18

Can you go a little bit more in more detail about what what psycho? What what do we mean, when we say safe, psychologically safe?

Marcia Donziger 11:27

Yeah. So a real high level description is, you know, are a few questions you could ask yourself, Is it safe for people on your team to speak up to power? Let's say, Is it safe for people to raise their hand and ask for help? If they're struggling? Is it safe for them to make a mistake? And can they do all of that without fear of shame, humiliation and retribution? That's really the key? Can you make a mistake without feeling like you'll be humiliated? Can you can you raise your hand and ask for help without feeling ashamed about it?

Susan Tatum 12:07

Or getting knocked down? Or? Yeah, yes. So there's a certain openness on the part of of, of leadership that's willing to say, question if you want,

Marcia Donziger 12:19

yes, and it's more leadership coming at at issues or problems with a sense of curiosity, instead of in listening, I mean, empathy is the number one skill that our leaders need to have, is to really, you know, all of us, all of us need to have this skill of empathy, to really listen to understand and not, and not just judge somebody because they're feeling away or experience something different than we are in a different perspective.

Susan Tatum 12:51

So we hear the word empathy a lot. And I know I I'm not I know you're not a dictionary, but what? What are we talking about when we talk about empathy.

Marcia Donziger 13:05

From my perspective, empathy is being able to put yourself in another person's shoes, and really kind of feel it from their perspective. So if I tell you, I am freezing cold today, I cannot get warm Susan. And you're just like, put on a sweater, I don't care. Or you could be like, oh, gosh, I hate feeling cold. You know, is there anything I can do for you? It's just two different. It's a it's a way of relating to people. And and when you're in a work environment, you want people want to work for leaders and with other team members that care about them as a person beyond work.

Susan Tatum 13:47

Okay. So it goes beyond when you're talking about psychological safety. It's, it sounds like it goes beyond merely saying, I want to hear your opinions. I want to hear your ideas. It also it also incorporates, we'll use the word respect earlier. And I think that that's a word that is certainly I can have a feel like I have an understanding of what that means treating somebody with respect and respecting them, even if they if you disagree with them.

Marcia Donziger 14:27

Yeah. And that that's where, you know, emotional intelligence, I'll bring that up again, there's, you know, skills to really, you know, communicate with someone in a respectful way. And put them down, embarrass them. Shame them. Yeah. And so, you know, psychological safety is really the basis of building relationships of trust within your organization and on your team.

Susan Tatum 14:54

So, you have a, you have an actual strategy or you have a model around culture that is geared towards the healthcare industry or various aspects of the healthcare industry. Can you tell us about that?

Marcia Donziger 15:12

Yeah. So so based on my experience, and the research I've been doing, I developed a cares model. It's called a culture cares model. And cares is an acronym for a culture step strategy with five elements. And the acronym is commitment, appreciation, respect, engagement and safety. And if you've Think about it, it's the model is like a pyramid like Maslow's hierarchy of needs, if you're familiar with that pschological pyramid of people, you know, starting at the foundation, that people need to feel, you know, safe, in order to move up to levels of self actualization. And I believe that our work our life's work, and, you know, everyone that's listening is hopefully working in to, in something that's purposeful and meaningful for you, our life's work is, is really our purpose in our values and living into those and, and hopefully helping others achieve their purpose as well. And so this pyramid of with safety at the bottom is really that psychological safety is everything quote that the other Chief People Officer mentioned in my research, and it and it's really building that culture of trust, and in transparency so that people can, can show up and do their best.

Susan Tatum 16:36

Right. And that's, I mean, safety is the that's at the bottom of Maslow's hierarchy, as well isn't it.

Marcia Donziger 16:44

yeah, it is. I mean it will relate to more than healthcare, it relates to the human condition, in general.

Susan Tatum 16:51

And until you have that you can't concentrate on anything above it is I think it's what you're trying to say, yeah.

Marcia Donziger 16:58

organizations will struggle to, you know, reach the results that they want financial growth, innovation, they're not going to get there until they maximize human potential on their team.

Susan Tatum 17:08

Okay, so what was the E four? Because we're going backwards? Yes.

Marcia Donziger 17:13

Right. So we're going up a level E is engagement, engagement, okay, learning and growth, and development, and the moving up to the R's respect. That's a lot of you know, diversity, inclusion and equity work. In that respect level, as well as role clarity. A lot of people like are not sure you know, what things are changing so fast in business right now, everything's so volatile, that trying to help people get clarity about their role and expectations is, is a respectful thing to do. And then the A in cares is appreciation, and really building connection with people, and appreciation for differences, as well as giving and receiving, receiving constructive feedback. And then the C is the self actualization of business, which is commitment. It's your commitment to your people's growth and development. And it's their commitment to your financial growth, innovation, and your success here with this model. You can build loyalty, reduce turnover, increased retention, and get the financial results that you're looking for, because you are taking care of the people that are implementing your mission.

Susan Tatum 18:28

Well, I think what I just heard you say, though, is that goes both ways. So the the employees or their team members of the clients or whomever they have, there's expectations for them as well. And, and, and it would be, it would be unfair for us to expect an employee to respect you to trust you to whatever if we're not building the right culture, right. But it's also that I think it's, we can expect them to be engaged in and to commit, when all those things are in place.

Marcia Donziger 19:08

Yeah, I believe culture is a team sport, and everybody needs to contribute, and not contributing positively. There may be some more toxic, you know, conversations happening and dragging down the culture. And you know, we just have to be vigilant about who's in a culture accelerator in the organization and reward that, and who's a culture blocker? Who isn't bought into the vision of having a healthy culture that leads to a commitment to financial growth and innovation? And maybe they're just not a good fit for your organization?

Susan Tatum 19:42

Yeah. We used to call this people onboard terrorists.

Marcia Donziger 19:47

Yes, that's, that's another term. I've never heard of that.

Susan Tatum 19:55

it goes back to where you had that planes being hijacked, I think is when it was really relevant. But yeah.

Marcia Donziger 20:01

in there trying to like, take you down and destructive. So as you know, a leadership team, it's that's why I say vigilance is really important. And in putting, you know, expectations in place and accountability, like you're accountable to contribute to a healthy culture, every single one of us are, and if you're not, then there's, you know, conversations to be had about that.

Susan Tatum 20:25

I would put that in the that accountability in the role clarity part of it, because yeah, do see companies where people have no idea, really they're guessing at what they should be doing.

Marcia Donziger 20:40

Yeah, or there's too many priorities. So there's none. And there's a lot of, and in burnout. I mean, in my research, I, the number one problem that people are having companies are having is employee burnout. And so some some of your listeners here probably have a lot of clients that are experiencing burnout. And that's it, it probably is almost part of their job is kind of being a therapist, you know, when you're a consultant, sometimes you're like, helping your clients like through the days, you know, sometimes to get them, you know, to a better place.

Susan Tatum 21:12

Well, so fair to say that we've, we've, the ground has been shifting rapidly under all of us for the last few years. And then And then now, we look towards a rapidly changing economy. So that gets to be a little bit. Okay, now, now what now? What are they going to throw at us? We've got inflation, we've got a war, we've got a pandemic that's not over yet. So, you know, I guess kind of everybody's at the the point where you don't have a lot of emotional bandwidth left.

Marcia Donziger 21:53

Yeah, I mean, we're constantly if you turn on the news, it's, it's as if we're always on fire, the Earth is always on fire, you know, and, and I think it could always be like that. So I really try and kind of control where my attention focuses, I like to focus on more positive things, because I think there's so much positive in the world, too. It's really just how you what your viewpoint is, and where you see opportunities for change, and for growth. And that's why I'm really passionate about my work to create happy, healthy work cultures, because people the best hours of their best weeks of the year at work, and we should be, you know, happy, fulfilled, healthy, as much as possible. And, and so that's what I'm passionate about doing for others.

Susan Tatum 22:44

So what led you, Marcia, to start your own company?

Marcia Donziger 22:47

Well, I have always had an entrepreneurial mindset since I was a teenager, and I started the nonprofit organization years ago, and then let the merger with the larger nonprofits so we could have more impact on the cancer community. And then I just I love, like controlling my own destiny and kind of doing things my way looking at new ways to solve old problems. I'm just intrinsically motivated to do that and to help others. So it's, you know, being an entrepreneur is very exciting to me to wake up and think about what are my opportunities today?

Susan Tatum 23:26

So what So you've been you've been in business for over a year now.

Marcia Donziger 23:32


Susan Tatum 23:33

And what, what are you? What did you see as the big the biggest challenges in your first year?

Marcia Donziger 23:41

Well, my first year, I had a more business than I could knew what to do with. I was like, too busy almost in a good way not complaining. But what I didn't do it while I had these long term, very busy contracts, because I wasn't planting seeds for new clients, when those contracts would end so when the contract. All of a sudden, I'm Yeah. And you know, and I'm and how it ended up being a blessing for me, because it's given me some time and space for creativity in right, I have my first book coming out in November, I wrote a memoir that's both personal and professional. It's called the you are meant for great things. And it's going to be published in November of this year, I'm writing a second book on culture leadership. So I'm working on that. And I'm doing a lot of research and talking with my ideal clients, similar to how you know, there is, which is so much more fun than sitting around waiting for the phone to ring. So I'm doing that and I'm, I'm reaching out, I'm asking them, Can I interview you for my book, and I know it's going to create, you know, a piece of work that is going to be really helpful to you know, either all people leaders or healthcare leaders or companies in healthcare technology, and I know it's going to produce something great. So I'm just trusting the process in on those things, as well as launching a speaking business.

Susan Tatum 25:06

So is there any Okay, I think you've ever been answered that I was gonna say, is there anything you do differently? And you did say that, that you you would have started planting seeds a little bit earlier?

Marcia Donziger 25:18

Yeah, I didn't really have time because I'm just one person. Right. So yeah, but that's no excuse. I should have been doing that.

Susan Tatum 25:26

Well, you know, sometimes, I was talking to a marketing consultant. Not too long ago and her opinion about marketing, she advised Clients, don't worry about marketing till you've been in business for a year. I mean, you need a, you need a, you need a website, you need something, but don't spend a whole lot of bandwidth and resources because it's going to change.

Marcia Donziger 25:50

Yeah. And I just, I was lucky to be hired by people who knew me and trusted me already I have a really great network. And LinkedIn has been, you know, vital for that, you know, staying in touch with so many people, especially over the last couple of years, right with no conferences to go to basically and in person as much traveling in person meetings. So, you know, staying connected to people have been really, really important. And that's what I've been doing is reaching back out over the last few months to try not play catch up. But I just, again, trust the process. As an entrepreneur, I'm working every day towards my biggest vision of creating happy, healthy work cultures and just know it's gonna, you know, trust it's gonna work out.

Susan Tatum 26:35

So some things that you said that I, I want to reiterate for the listeners is that your you said, your you are talking to your ideal clients now, because you're researching your book.

Marcia Donziger 26:50


Susan Tatum 26:51

And you said that it is so much more fun than sitting around and waiting for the phone to ring. And I talk to an enormous number of consultants, particularly if they have a sales or marketing background, or I should say marketing, not sales, But marketing backgrounds, if they are heavily into content marketing, inbound marketing, and they, there's they're afraid to reach out to people on their own, it's a scary thing to them. And I think it's, they're afraid of coming off like a salesperson, which is not nobody wants to do that. Nobody wants to talk to you. It is not necessary. And I think in some ways, they the in some of them that I talked to are afraid that lowers their expertise. If you know, I'm an expertise. I'm an expert. I'm doing all the speaking. I'm writing all these books. Yeah, it would it is beneath me to reach out to somebody. And I would say you're just going about it the wrong way.

Marcia Donziger 28:00

I agree. I, no one has all the answers. And now you know, and your clients are very smart. They know a lot of things that you don't know. So if your your potential clients, yeah. So if you're not reaching out to build a relationship first, and maybe share, you know, just have a great conversation about what you're both passionate about, then you're missing, you know, a huge opportunity.

Susan Tatum 28:23

Alright, and everybody will listen to that.

Marcia Donziger 28:27

Yeah, it's been, it's been so much fun, I've met so many new people I've reached out on LinkedIn, just like you do to people I don't know that are in companies of interest or in positions of interest that I want to talk to you and learn from. But I think it makes you more valuable if you're, if you're as an advisor, and a coach, if you're asking as well as sharing some really valuable tidbits for them too.

Susan Tatum 28:50

And I was taught, I was just talking to a guy earlier today, who is a an expert, and he really is an expert in thought leadership, content, and thought leadership. And one of the things that he advises his clients, he he said the thing, he's noticed that consultants tend to be a little bit narrow in their focus. So, you know, consum consultants that have really big clients may only have one or two clients a year. And if that's all you're talking to, you don't really have a broad enough vision on what's what's going on. And you need to get out there and talk to other people. And that's that echoes what you're saying is, yeah, and I find it too it's, every conversation I have, leads to pages of notes and, and different things to think about, which is why I enjoy doing it.

Marcia Donziger 29:45

Right. And another thing about my like specific topic on culture is if anyone acts like they're an expert in what's happened since COVID-19, how that's impacted our world of work. I do not believe that person, like no one has all the answers right now. The sands are still completely shifting under us. So we need a learning and a growth mindset and into those potential prospect conversations with that growth mindset. And then they know that you're staying on top of the latest in studying what needs to be learned in order to help

Susan Tatum 30:22

very well said yeah, it changes coming faster.

Marcia Donziger 30:27


Susan Tatum 30:27

and the consultants needed to stay on top of it because that's what people pay us for.

Marcia Donziger 30:32

Right. Like They can imagine maybe talking with you about a confidential situation at work that they can't talk about with someone in their company. And if they have a good rapport with you, it's there, you're not just consulting on your specific business, but they're a full grown it or a person, a whole person that brings financial stress or family stress to, to the job as a client view. And if you ask them about the whole person, that's when you can build that relationship.

Susan Tatum 31:03

Well, this has been great. Is there anything that we didn't get to that you you want to you want to talk about?

Marcia Donziger 31:12

Um, no, I just I really appreciate you know, the conversation and you reaching out and and being able to, you know, share my passion with your listeners, and if they have need anything, they can contact me.

Susan Tatum 31:30

What's the best way to do that?

Marcia Donziger 31:31

My website is I am it may be in a couple of days, It's going to just forward the vitalbiz but okay, it'll be easier for people to remember and that's the kind of the strategy that I've formulated to help people with, they can reach out to me on LinkedIn, Marcia Donziger is spelled M-A-R-C-I-A Donziger is D-O-N-Z-I-G-E-R.

Susan Tatum 32:03

Okay. Well, thank you so much for for sharing your passion, your your knowledge of culture, and then also the your experience with starting your own business.

Marcia Donziger 32:14

Sure. Yeah, of course, anytime.

Susan Tatum 32:15

All right. Well, take care and we'll talk again soon. Thank you.


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