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Monday, August 23, 2021

Six Ways to Create a No-Fear Culture

Fear can manifest in an organization in many ways, but it typically occurs with a trickle-down effect, where ineffective leaders employ scare tactics to control the behavior of employees. If upper management provides mid-management no room to take risks and fail, middle management will be under constant pressure to hide anything short of a clear success, and, worse yet, place blame of their own employees for missteps, however minor. When every employee in the organization feels like she or he is walking on eggshells, it becomes impossible to focus on getting good work done.

As a leader, you have the authority and the responsibility to eradicate fear from your organization. If you don’t take action, it’s unlikely that anyone else will, and your boat will eventually sink as your people focus on protecting themselves by withdrawing and playing it safe (or worse, attacking others). By removing fear from the equation, your team will be more comfortable, inspired, selfless and ultimately more productive. Here are some great ways to get started that you can use to encourage others to follow in your footsteps.

1. Respond Instead of Reacting.

A common behavior when presented with a challenge is to let your emotions drive the situation. We all have a fight-or-flight reaction when we feel unsafe. Incorporate a technique into your workplace culture that will help you take a moment to respond instead of reacting. A responsive solution may take a little more time in the beginning, but it can save you the hours of cleanup for a reactive action to the challenge.

2. Build Trust.

Building trust takes time. It is not usually a one-time event. You can build trust by maintaining authentic interactions during daily work activities. One highly effective way to build trust is to make sure that verbal commitments and behaviors match the actions. For example, if your company identifies in the mission that the organization is a friendly or caring place, then employees would want to exemplify this behavior as a measure of the authenticity of the individual. Or an employee who commits to completing a task at a particular time would want to either complete the work on time or communicate the change in timelines. When you give employees a culture that maintains trust, you reduce fractures to the organization. Leaders who exhibit an authentic alignment of words to actions give employees a place where they can focus on the work instead of the breakdowns in behaviors.

3. Maintain a Process.

A process offers employees a roadmap for what they need to do, how they need to do it, and when it should be done. You reduce fear at work when employees have this process-driven roadmap in place to monitor workloads and timelines. The process provides an organized sense of movement that gives constant feedback and accountability of individuals for each part of the project.

4. Measure Systems, Not People.

W. Edwards Deming proposed a theory to measure the performance of systems, not people, to help drive fear out of organizations. As one of Deming's 14 Points on Total Quality Management, he advised eliminating numerical quotas for the workforce, as well as numerical goals for management. You can't have a culture of continual improvement if people are afraid of suffering serious financial consequences as a result of their individual performance.

Instead, our goal is to get everyone to realize that we're all in this together, working as a team and measuring the output of the overall system. This intrinsically motivated mentality encourages individual innovation on the team. It leads to better behavior, better performance, and improvements that can become breakthroughs for the company over time.

5. Listen to Everyone’s Ideas.

Each one of your employees is with your company for a reason. Encourage employees to voice ideas. Even if the idea may need some work, it’s still important that everyone has his or her say. This will show that each member of your team is valuable and his or her input is just as important as a fellow coworker’s.

In group settings, it’s common for someone to raise an idea just to be quickly shut down. The embarrassment attached to being shut down in front of everyone can be tremendous, and can even be enough to cause them to choose to never raise an idea again. This is stifling to an organization, and instantly creates a culture of fear.

6. Open and Transparent Communication.

Healthy cultures have top-down, bottom-up, and cross-department communication. If conversations are only happening in one direction or aren’t happening at all, it hinders transparency and openness, which makes it harder to establish a sense of trust in leadership within an organization. Leaders and employees need to be on the same page when it comes to feedback—it’s a two-way conversation. Leaders need to give feedback to employees, and employees need to feel safe giving feedback to leaders.

Building a great company culture isn’t something that will happen overnight, but you can take the first steps by talking openly with your employees and setting a clear vision. Even a small shift in mentality can make a big difference in developing a company culture that is envied by others.

These are a few examples of how to begin to remove fear from your workplace. More important than these examples is the disposition required to execute them. As you adjust your disposition to align with the points above, you’ll naturally begin to behave in ways that remove fear. All of your interactions with people will improve, your workplace will be energized, your stress level will be reduced, and everyone will become more productive.

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