The Challenge: Companies wonder why people get fearful at work. Management sits back and reflects: “Geez we’re top leaders, nice people, and still employees think we’re ogres. The CEO says: ‘I know these execs of mine and believe me, they care about people.’ The HR leader defensively notes: ‘If you look at the facts, we rarely fire people here. We likely should dismiss more. People make this ‘afraid’ stuff up. It’s fake news.’” Yet when you talk and really listen to people throughout the organization, three big fear inducing actions emerge that undermine these explanations:
1. People disappearing from the organization.
People say things like: “Does anyone know what happened to ____? Heck of a performer, I thought. Was here for 25 years. Heard they got escorted out of the building. Anyone know why?”
2. Not having people’s back.
You might hear: “You know what amazes me about this organization? When you do phenomenal things or even just normal great stuff, you never really get appreciation or acknowledgement. However, if you make a mistake everyone is all over you. And frankly, most bosses here rarely have your back. They are considered weak if they don’t fire you or trash your reputation after a mistake. They want risk takers and innovators. Ha, I’m just riding it out and hiding as long as I can.”
3. A blaming versus learning philosophy.
Another common refrain: “Well intended leaders throw out the ‘learning organization’ jargon. Most often it’s B.S. The real question is who can we blame versus what we’ve learned. The work we do is hard and mistakes will be made. Too often we become flame and blame throwers. The political art is to protect yourself. If you want to survive, save the learning philosophy for suckers.”
What We Can Do About It.
1. Make the leaving process a matter of dignity, transparency and respect.
Unless people do something egregious, which is rare, make sure they leave the right way. Everyone exits an organization one day. And even when we simply just want someone different, make sure we are open, transparently explain circumstances, and treat people fairly. The idea of walking people out and cutting them off from the system is, in most cases, just plain dumb. How many people really sabotage or even want to? However, when people just disappear, the organization fills in the blanks. And the story created usually unsettles people.
2. Have people’s back.
The best leaders never leave people hanging when things go wrong. They step up to protect their crew. They attack the process and problem, never people directly. When you know your boss will cover you, one does everything to honor that trust. When people are left out to dry, everyone around sees it and notes: “Whoa that could happen to me. So don’t ask me to stick my neck out.”
3. Learn fast versus blame fast.
When something goes wrong it is important to find out the cause and fix it. The principle of remedy first and then apply lessons learned is well known. Unfortunately, organizations do not apply the learning part well. Ironically, when bad things are swept under the rug, the unintended consequence is more organization angst.
Work on these three things and you will move the organization’s trust meter up and fear needle down.
Think BIG, start small, act now.
One Millennial View: This is a pretty cool blueprint for how organizations can make some pretty big cultural changes in a swift matter of time. All that’s really asked here is transparency, decent communication, and basic consideration. Amazing how a simple thing can be such a big challenge.
Edited and published by Garrett Rubis