Managers: Show Fear the Door

Lost and Confused SignpostA recent issue of Barron’s cited a study by New York based rogenSi suggesting that workforce psyche took a tumble in the past year to crisis era levels.

The research firm’s survey of 4,000 business professionals had half indicating that they felt “overwhelmed and undervalued” and were motivated by, “fear of failure more than a drive for success.”

No doubt there’s a hangover from the recent drive-by of financial Armageddon. While some sectors took the big hits, virtually everyone and every firm came out of that phase scarred and scared. Faced with today’s new normal of uncertainty and doubt, there’s been little time for healing.

Intuitively, one would expect most senior managers to recognize both the delicate state of people’s emotions in this uncertain era and to take some steps to both confront and mitigate this destructive force in the workplace. Based on the survey results, perhaps more than a few managers missed the memo. Here’s your reminder.

 4 Ideas to Help You Tame the Fear Monster in Your Workplace:

 1. Read and grok Deming’s Point #8: Drive out fear so that everyone may work effectively for the company.”  Internalize this as a core part of your responsibilities. It’s not a task…it’s a way of managing, leading and living.

 2. Talk More with Your Teams. Nothing breeds uncertainty and discomfort more than silence. While you might have to start with a monologue by sharing results, talking about the business indicators and answering questions on targets and goals, strive to turn it into a dialogue emphasizing the exchange of ideas on improving and adapting.  Stick with it. This isn’t a program. Just like #1, it’s a way of managing.

 3. Use Judo on Momentary Failures or Minor Mistakes. No, don’t throw anyone or anything. Rather, turn the energy and emotion of momentary failure or a major mistake into that notion of a teachable moment. (Sorry, I hate that phrase, but sometimes it fits.) Your behavior when the muck hits the fan sets the tone for your team’s environment. Explode like a volcano and you bet people will hunker down, afraid to be the trigger, and fear wins.

 4. Encourage the Creation of New Cultural Artifacts. I’m convinced that community and connection help keep fear in the workplace at bay. The event is less important than the existences of informal forums for people to come together. The firm I’m presently involved with has a series of great activities that are employee conceived, run and low pressure. From Waffle Wednesday (the best waffles are made in Seattle) to a Friday afternoon Beverage Break, these are important and positive events for people to collect and connect. Ask your employees to define and run their own activities and like the two above, simpler is often better.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Of all of the potentially destructive forces present in our workplaces, fear is the one that is both the most damaging and the most controllable. Sadly, it’s often neither controlled nor even considered much as too many of us chase the urgent and the urgent unimportant. Fear may be what’s keeping you and your team or firm from advancing and expanding. Start investing time every day in showing fear the door.

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