Stifles Initiative” was the headline for Robert Goldfarb’s New York Times
article. That makes it sound like there’s a time when fear doesn’t stifle
initiative. But if you have a fear-filled workplace there won’t be any
initiative and precious little positive behavior of any kind.
When people are scared, what they think about is what they’re scared of. While they’re doing that, they can’t think of other things, like how to do a better job or how to help out a team member who’s having trouble.
There’s more bad news, too. Fear corrodes morale and team spirit. Fight or
flight rules the day, with team members hiding from the rampaging saber-toothed
tiger of a boss, throwing blame at each other and hoping, to borrow from Winston
Churchill, that the crocodile will eat them last.
So, take Dr. Deming’s advice. His 14 Points drip
with wisdom and number eight is: “Drive out fear.” Pay equal heed to what he
didn’t say. Dr. Deming did not suggest that driving in happiness” was the way to
success. He understood that it’s the absence of fear and not the presence of
happiness that makes it possible for a team to be productive.
If you’re the boss, even if your team is part of a horrid company, driving
out fear is your job. Concentrate on the things you can control.
Share information. Rumors rush in to fill an information gap and they’re
usually much worse than reality.
Be fair. Make sure that the consequences you deliver match up to the behavior
or performance that made them necessary.
Be consistent. Enforce the rules the same way all the time.
Give your team members as much control as possible over their work life. Make
it possible for them to control their destiny as much as you can.
Boss’s Bottom Line
Drive out fear by driving out uncertainty, by consistently treating team
members fairly, and by doing whatever you can to give them control over their
work life and destiny.