Help employees move beyond the terror of failure by encouraging conversation around these five questions.
by Joakim Ahlstöm
April 1, 2015
Fear is the root cause for many organization and employee performance problems. But with the right illumination, leaders and employees alike can overcome performance issues.
Like vampires, fears lose power when exposed to the light. It’s up to chief learning officers to flip the switch by encouraging open and honest discussion within their organizations. Start the conversation with the following five questions:
Fear #1: Power Loss
Do you have the courage to distribute decision-making power and ability in your organization, or are you afraid your colleagues will prove to be at least as capable as you are?
Driven by fear of losing power, managers will hold onto it by centralizing decision-making and hoarding information. In this case, employees never get an honest chance to contribute to the organization’s improvement.
Communicate with managers that true power comes from sharing knowledge, not hoarding it. Only when they let go of their fear of losing power will they empower others to engage in an organization’s continuous improvement.
Fear #2: Regret
Do you have the courage to let go of your point of view, or are you afraid that taking another perspective will make your previous choices appear less than optimal?
When fear of regret becomes overwhelming, employees and managers defend the perspective that makes their previous choices seem rational. Unfortunately, by defending their history, they prevent themselves from improving in the future.
Help employees accept what is and let go of what was to create the future they desire. Only then can they change their perspective without fear because they know they have done and will do the best they can in every situation. Without fear of regret, employees will go from defending their own viewpoints to sharing each other’s perspective.
Fear #3: Losing Face
Do you have the courage to point out the purposeless activities you see, or are you afraid of being put in the corner?
When fear of losing face is in the air, there is lots of talk about following routines and preparing for audits but not as much about shared purposes and customer needs. This is a sign the original intention of things has been lost, and employees have started doing things for their own sake. They may hesitate to call out a faulty process for fear of being forever known as the one to point out a problem.
Encourage employees and leaders to dare to ask questions such as: "What is the purpose of this meeting?" "Why are we measuring this?" and "How does this improve our performance?" When employees are not afraid to lose face, they can spend their energy on important improvement initiatives.
Fear #4: Falling Behind
Do you have the courage to take time to reflect and try to find a smarter way to work, or are you afraid that will make you fall behind?
If the fear of falling behind is widespread in an organization, the main focus will be to do as much as possible, as quickly as possible. In this environment, a pile of papers on an employee or manager’s desk and a lot of unanswered emails are almost considered status symbols — “I have a lot to do, so leave me alone.”
Make it clear that shortsighted productivity distracts from the bigger picture. Once employees recognize this, they stop focusing on short-term productivity and spend some time on the strategic initiatives they never had time to address when focusing on the short term.
Fear #5: Losing Friends
Do you have the courage to hold your colleagues accountable, or are you afraid to ruin your artificially cheerful relationship?
In organizations where employees fear losing friends, people are afraid to expect too much from peers. Instead, they tiptoe around one another to avoid ruining a friendly atmosphere.
Learning leaders can coach managers to help employees realize that true friendship is about expecting the very best of one another rather than accepting subpar performance for the sake of harmony. Help managers help employees reach their full potential and use their strengths. The effect will be improved results, professional growth throughout an organization and superficial friendships turning into deep and mutual trust.