SWEG employee invited to present on improving innovation outcomes

  • Published
  • By Kendahl Johnson
  • 75th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

An employee for the 309th Software Engineering Group has leveraged her interest in process improvement, neuroscience, and organizational and human behavior into an opportunity to help Air Force leadership better understand the need for psychological safety and how it can improve innovation outcomes.

Catherine Emang, a program management specialist in the 309th SWEG, was invited to present during a breakout session at the Amplifying Warfighter Culture Training Symposium at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in May.

“Innovation is paramount for our success,” Emang said. “It requires people to think outside of the box to solve complex problems. All problems are "people” problems and if we don’t create and cultivate psychological safety within the Air Force, the ability to complete the mission is severely compromised.  If your questions are ignored or dismissed, ideas are shut down, mistakes amplified, then innovation is hampered.” 

Psychological safety, first coined by Harvard Professor Amy Edmondson, is defined as “a shared belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas; that it’s OK to take risks, express questions, concerns, and admit mistakes – all without fear of negative consequences.  It is a felt permission for candor.” Emang said in the software world, it’s especially important to have space where it’s okay to speak up, take calculated risks, and ask questions.

Her presentation will highlight the four stages of psychological safety:  inclusion, learner, contributor and challenger safety. She will discuss how to cultivate it including soliciting criticism, giving praise and criticism, and gauging feedback. The presentation includes why innovation is important, how it is driven and what happens without it, including case studies. Emang said studies have shown that organizations that have fostered a culture of psychological safety are more successful, more productive, and have lowered attrition rates.

Emang has been an employee at Hill for 16 years.  She started in the 75th Force Support Squadron teaching math and science for youth programs and later as a family childcare coordinator.  As a lifelong learner she has completed master’s degrees in management and leadership and human resources management, several certificates including Data Analytics, Green Belt, and DAWAI Logistics, and is a certified program management professional which opened doors for her to work in the SWEG.

She is currently participating in the initial cadre of a two-year civilian broadening program, championed by SWEG Director James Diamond and mapped after the Logistics Military Career Broadening Program. The primary goal of the program is to give civilians an opportunity to be well-rounded leaders and for participants to build relationships within AFMC and Air Force. It was through one of those relationships that Emang was invited to be a presenter at the symposium.  She said she is grateful to her leadership for giving her the opportunity to participate in the program.

“It has broadened my understanding and daily perspective on the Air Force mission,” Emang said. “I have a greater appreciation for the efforts and initiatives that Airmen enact daily, moving the mission forward. It’s been an opportunity of a lifetime.”