FUD Yourself!

Abundance Authenticity Organizational culture


Story: The picture of the guy I’m hanging with above is Michael Katchen, the co-founder and CEO of Wealthsimple. He is one of Canada’s scintillating young leaders: Top 40 under 40, MBA, McKinsey alum, instrumental leader at Ancestry.com, and now heading one of the hottest robo-financial advising firms in North America and the UK. He has done a lot to build a very modern company and culture. I heard him speak about Wealthsimple’s inspiring purpose and values at the Great Place to Work conference I had the honor of hosting in Toronto this week. He noted almost as a “throw away idea,” that once a week he has “FUD Day” for the entire company. What is FUD Day? And why does Michael do it?

Key Point: More than ever, emotional/psychological safety is taking on much greater importance and focus within leading organizations. This is understandable in that work/life is becoming more integrated than ever, and exponential change/disruption has enveloped us all. There is just more volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA) in the world. So, what is emotional or psychological safety? The definition according to one eminent scholar, William Kahn, is: “A shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking. It can be defined as ‘being able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career.’”

In psychologically safe teams, members feel accepted and respected. Creating conditions for emotional safety does NOT invite complacency or entitlement. On the contrary, it is fundamental for meaningful inclusion, a sense of belonging, and an environment of sustainable innovation. No less than four current research based works I am aware of, (although I know there are many more), reinforce the vital nature of intentionally establishing the foundation of emotional safety and well-being: Google’s extensive study on teams, Daniel Coyle’s work in his recent, excellent book, “The Culture Code,” the Great Place to Work For All, research as emphasized in their analysis with well known behavioral economist Dan Ariely, and in Tasha Eurich’s terrific, “Insight.” All the data, which makes total intuitive sense, reinforces the idea that if people are fearful, they just can’t do their best. Yet, my experience is that many leaders have not given sufficient attention to this matter. I think that executives have become more anxious/pressured to increase performance through bringing in the right DNA (aka replace “underperforming” people more often), and also because I’m not sure they know what else to do to get results. The long standing idea to counter workplace anxiety, is that we tell the “survivors” that they’re “ok” after a round of firings. I actually believe, that while well intended, this is disingenuous. We all know this year’s super stars, including each of us, might be replaced next year for whatever reason. Furthermore, creating an emotionally safe culture goes way beyond the concept of job security. We all know that there is no such thing as pure job security, and that’s part of the issue. So what can we do about intentionally taking steps to create conditions for greater emotional safety in our organizations?

At a minimum, we need to consciously recognize that people at all levels, must be able to work in an environment where they are invited to openly express their views in a supportive, accepting atmosphere. Of course, that doesn’t mean that we’re all in agreement on things. However, respectful listening and frank dialogue are BOTH necessary ingredients. The conversation is indeed the relationship.

And now back to FUD. At Wealthsimple, it stands for Fear, Uncertainty or Doubt. On FUD Day, Katchen simply reads out any FUD he has received (which he intentionally invites to be sent directly to him beforehand) to the entire company. He encourages transparency ,and that people self-identify. Anonymous FUDS are also accepted. What’s unique about this process is that neither he nor anyone answers or offers a solution to the FUD at the time of disclosure. It is simply read out, a momentary pause is taken after each one, and they move to the next. Just the idea that one is invited to express a FUD and that ALL people openly hear it, adds to the emotional stability of the company. The CEO admits some are hard to read, and that he has to bite his tongue occasionally. Still, that’s the key, a non-judgmental acceptance of any FUD. It’s a great example of one small step for creating a more emotionally healthy atmosphere.

Personal Leadership Moves:

  1. Learn/read more about the role both leadership and team members have in creating a truly emotional/psychological/physically safe environment.
  2. Why not try applying a FUD process? I am going to try it.
  3. Ask for feedback first! Lead the way. The very act of asking sets an example.
  4. Think of increasing the use of “YES, AND,” rather than “NO, BUT.”  
  5. Celebrate well intended failures with authenticity.

Addressing FUD in Personal Leadership,


One Millennial View: I think this is an outstanding concept. It makes sense that anyone in a workplace has plenty of fears, uncertainties and doubts, and if we’re able to just “rip the band-aid” off by addressing them from the top, then how great is that? I just would hope that FUD Day doesn’t turn into “Why does George in Accounting have to eat tuna and hard boiled eggs at his desk every day?”

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis