This month LMJ discusses the paralysing results for a business that manages with fear.

“No passion so effectively robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.” – Edmund Burke, Irish Statesman

Fear fosters short-term thinking. One of Deming’s most famous anecdotes was about a foreman who didn’t stop production to repair a worn-out piece of equipment, because he feared stopping production would mean missing his daily quota. Instead, he let production continue. When the machine failed, it forced the line to shut down for four days. The result was a bigger problem than what he started with.

Kathleen D. Ryan and Daniel K. Oestreich define common workplace fears in their essay Driving Fear out of the Workplace:

Common workplace fears

·        Having one’s credibility questioned;

·        Being left out of decision making;

·        Being criticised in front of others not getting information necessary to succeed;

·        Having a key assignment given to someone else;

·        Having disagreements that might lead to damaged relationships;

·       Getting stuck in a dead end job;

·       Not getting deserved recognition;

·       Not being seen as a team player;

·       Having suggestions ignored or misinterpreted as criticisms;

·       Receiving poor performance ratings;

·       Getting fired.

Fear in the workforce manifests itself in many ways. Some employees maybe concerned about reprisal, failure, the unknown, loss of autonomy and perhaps more often a fear of change. Fear can extend into anxiety over job security, ridicule from management or peers or even being blamed for a problem.

Although some managers my attest that a degree of fear produces results, in most instances fear is both unproductive and destructive.

A manager dominated by fear is likely to delay or withhold negative information or in some instances manipulate status reports for fear of reprisal. Similarly, a fear of failure can stunt them into a reluctance to change and it is important for any organisation that a workforce is embracing of change in order to improve and adapt.

Fear of the unknown can cause problems in all areas of business, as with fear of change, avoiding the unknown means a workforce does not learn from its mistakes, instead it sticks with what it knows and never evolves or adapts. At the 5th Annual European LMJ Conference, Joseph Paris made emphasised the tribal instinct of people and how this transfers into the workplace. Most individuals will be resistant to news initiatives unless they are the instigators of the change. To eliminate fear of change, lean experts suggest the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) approach and make this abundantly clear to all individuals on all levels. The programmes should be all-encompassing and unifying a workforce in one goal.

Perhaps, relinquishing control is the most dangerous of all workforce fears. There can be a tendency to think: “If you want something done right; do it yourself”. Managers see other’s failures as a reflection of their own ability and refuse to empower their colleagues with the knowledge and skills to progress. The test of a truly effective manager is in their ability to give sound advice and training, and step aside to allow others to complete their tasks.

Resolution of fear comes from learning about others’ perspectives and creating a working environment that empowers and equips individuals to do their job autonomously and develop themselves to progress. Creating a work environment conducive to this takes time, not just one or two meetings, to entrench the culture based on trust takes months and years of effort, consistency and dedication from leadership.

Tips for creating a workplace based on trust:

Create a system for suggestions – let staff have their opinions and address them. This can be in the form of a suggestion box or board, but time should be taken to read though and focus on any issues arising.

Meet face-to-face – Joseph Paris, highlighted the importance of these meetings and Leighton John from the Royal Mint told LMJ: “Get to know who you work with. Ask them questions and take a genuine interest in them as people, and listen, that’s how you create trust on the shopfloor, and it doesn’t happen over-night, it takes solid commitment.”

Empower employees – As a leader you should make sure employees have access to the tools to improve. Send them on courses, use external trainers and internal trainers and make individuals autonomous in their jobs. Step back and let them complete their duties and thrive.