Drive Out Fear on International Workers Day

Happy International Workers Day. Let’s celebrate by Driving Out Fear!

Thirty-five years ago Deming wrote that “no one can put in his best performance unless he feels secure.” Unfortunately, today we still live in a corporate world where fear and management by fear is ubiquitous. That fear is growing after more than a year of a global pandemic. As quality professionals we must deal with it at every opportunity.

Fear undermines quality, productivity, and innovation. The existence of fear leads to a vicious downward spiral.

Some sources of fear include:

  • Competition: Many managers use competition to instill fear. Competition is about winners and losers. Success cannot exist without failure. Managers deem the anxiety generated by competition between co-workers a good thing as they compete for scarce resources, power and status. Therefore, management encourage competition between individuals, between groups and departments and between business units.
  • “Us and Them” Culture: The “us and them” culture that predominates in so many organizations proliferated by silos. Includes barriers between staff and supervisors.
  • Blame Culture: Fear predominates in a blame culture. Blame culture can often center around enshrining the idea of human error.

We drive out fear by building a culture centered on employee well-being. This is based on seven factors.

FactorMeansObtained by
ResponsibilityWell defined responsibilities and ownershipThe opportunity an employee has to provide input into decision making in his department
An individual employees’ own readiness to set high personal standards
An individual employee’s interest in challenging work assignments
The opportunity an employee has to improve skills and capabilities
Excellent career advancement opportunities
The organization’s encouragement of problem-solving and innovative thinking
Management CompetenceManagers trained with skills that lend themselves to contributing to the work of their team ensures that they will be looked to for help. Managers need to be able to guide.Direct Supervisor/Manager Leadership Abilities Management is engaged and leads by example (Gemba walks)
Management by Facts
ConsiderationWhen managers act as if employees have no feelings and just expect them to do their work as if they are robots, it can make employees uneasy. Such behavior makes them feel detached and merely a tool to carry out an end. In such environments, many times the only times employees hear from the manager is when something goes well or really bad. In either case, the perception could be that the manager has mood swings and that also adds to the employee’s insecurity. They may feel reluctant to talk to their manager for fear he is in one of his bad moods.Senior Management’s sincere interest in employee well-being
An individual employee’s relationship with their supervisor
Open and effective communication
Trust in management and co-workers
CooperationThe feeling that every person is on their own to look out for their interest is a sad state to be in. Yet when everyone has a fear that the other workers will take advantage of them or make them look bad at the first opportunity, a selfish and insecure environment will result. Employees should be able to work together for the benefit of the company. They should focus on group goals in addition to their personal goals, recognizing that individually there will be failures, but that the whole is more important than the individual parts.Trust Well trained employees Collaboration as a process Organizational culture (psychological safety) Hire and promote the right behaviors & traits to match the culture
FeedbackInformation that is given back to the employee regarding their performance on the job.Know what is expected of them (clear job descriptions)
Effective processes for timely feedback
Recognition
Know their opinion matters
InformationTransparency is critical. When employees know nothing about how a company is doing in terms of where they should be, it is a source of uneasiness. Without that knowledge, for all they know the company could be doing very poorly and that could be a bad thing for everyone. When they have a better sense of where the company is in the scheme of their objectives set by management, it helps them feel more secure. That is not to say it is the news being good or bad that affects their security, but rather the fact that they actually have the news.Strategy and Mission — especially the freedom and autonomy to succeed and contribute to an organization’s success
Organizational Culture and Core/Shared
Values
Feel that their job is important
StabilityEmployees feel more secure when their role does not change frequently and they understand what tomorrow will mean.Job Content — the ability to do what I do best
Availability of Resources to Perform the Job Effectively
Career development – opportunities to learn and grow
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Vision and Psychology Safety Enable Change

Professor Amy Edmondson in 2016 wrote “Wicked-Problem Solvers” in HBR that laid out four leadership levers for collaboration that fit nicely into quality culture and nestle nicely with Kotter’s Eight Accelerators. Together they help define the leadership behaviors necessary to build quality culture, all informed by the enabler of knowledge management.

Levers and Accelerators of change

Professor Edmondson in this article is discussing cross-industry collaboration, but the central four levers apply in any organization.

Having a vision that strives for a True North of Quality is critical. Make it align to individual needs. Remember that vision grows and adapts as you go, and as others get the opportunity to shape. Vision has six criteria:

  1. Stimulus: Vision needs to include actual benefits for those affected by it. String vision brings people together as community, not as strangers. Stimulus means people see themselves in the vision and understand how they will benefit.
  2. Scale: Vision should be of great breadth and depth with potential for extension at later stages. Vision never leads to or accepts a dead end. It shows multiple potentials for expansion.
  3. Spotlight: Vision assumes responsibility, immediate and extended. The greater the vision, then the greater the responsibility for its impact on people’s lives and the legacy that will be left afterwards. This responsibility needs to bring opportunity for people who are involved. This is part of the vision that will drive the volunteer army.
  4. Scanning: A visionary sees the signs on the way to success. Pay attention to to pain points, spot trends and see where and how value can be added. Gemba walks are critical here.
  5. Simplicity: Vision is elegant thinking about complicated and complex things. A vision is not a vision unless it’s understood. Simplicity lets people believe in vision. If the vision is complicated most people will ignore it. Vision operates and makes execution possible from its simplicity. The simpler the vision in its core meaning, the easier it can be shared with employees, customers and partners and thus, easier to scale inside and outside an organization.
  6. Passion: Vision provokes strong emotions. A strong vision is always accompanied by excitement and passion. Excitement equals passion that gives an emotional power to a vision. A strong vision brings strong excitement that is difficult to contain. Strong excitement and passion are highly contagious. A simple and compelling vision excites more passion than any mere goal.

Psychological safety is the state where employees feel that there is safety in taking risks at work setting. In this safe environment employees will engage in risk-taking actions that are inherent to creative endeavors and if they perceive safety, then they are more comfortable to voice their opinions. This safety makes them more willing to take the chances to own the vision and try to experiment with making that vision a reality which motivates them to develop, promote, and implement new ideas.

This safety will enable knowledge sharing, which can come in many different styles, including combination which creates something new.

Through inclusive, democratic leaders who value the inclusion of employees in a particular work process, employees have the chance to raise their voice for generating, promoting, and implementing useful ideas
Through leveraging vision these inclusive leaders exhibit openness attributes that communicates the importance of taking innovative actions and gives employees the guarantee that in case of negative consequences they will not be punished, experiencing greater psychological safety.

Employees experience non-defensive behavior, and feel high levels of self-worth and self-identity, motivating employees not only to generate new ideas, but also to promote and implement new ideas in the organization.

The organization that is structured to accept these ideas will continue to drive iterative cycles of improvement.

Teams reason better

Teams collaborate better than individuals on a wide range of problem-solving for two reason:

  • People are exposed to points of view different from their own. If the arguments are good enough, people can change their mind to adopt better beliefs. This requires structure, such as “Yes…but…and
  • The back-and-forth of a conversation allows people to address counterarguments, and thus to refine their arguments, making it more likely that the best argument carries the day.

Both of these work to reduce bias and subjectivity.

Principles of Team Collaboration

There are a few principles to make this team collaboration work.

  • Clear purpose: What is the reason for the collaboration? What’s the business case or business need? Without alignment on the purpose and its underlying importance to the organization, the collaboration will fail. The scope will start to change, or other priorities will take precedence. 
  • Clear process: How will the collaboration take place? What are the steps? What is the timing? Who is responsible for what?
  • Clear expectations: What is the specific goal or outcome we are striving for through this collaboration? 
  • Clear supportProblems will arise that the team cannot handle on their own. In those cases, what is the escalation process, including who and when? 

Ensure these are in your team ground rules, measure success and perform continuous improvement.

Changes stems from learning from mistakes

As we build quality culture we need to question our basic assumptions and build new principles of every day interactions. At the heart of this sits a culture where change is viewed as a good thing.

Willingness to change

To what extent are employees willing to continuously review and adapt their own behavior in response to a changing environment? The ideal scenario is for the entire workforce to be willing to change. This willingness to change should not be confined to situations where changes are already being implemented. It means that people should look at environment with open eyes, recognize when there is an opportunity or a need for change and initiate the relevant actions themselves. Willingness to change should be the first principle of culture and is a key enabler of the popular concept often called agility.

Learning Culture

To what extent do employees think that their actions should be guided by data- and fact-based knowledge? The term “knowledge” encompasses any knowledge acquired through targeted observation, by chance, through data-based analysis or from practical experience.

Willingness to make mistakes

Learning cultures attach great importance to mistakes. These organizations have understood that learning and change processes can only be triggered by mistakes. Mistakes provide an opportunity to gain a better understanding of the company’s processes and uncover previously unknown cause-and-effect relationships.

The way an organization deals with mistakes is therefore a key aspect of its culture. Two fundamentally different approaches to mistakes exist.

  • A negative attitude towards mistakes is reflected in a strategy based on the systematic avoidance of errors, strict penalties for making mistakes and the correction of errors as rapidly and unobtrusively as possible. Employees of companies where this culture prevails are not usually willing to disclose mistakes. This attitude inhibits their willingness to change.
  • On the other hand, a culture that recognizes the value of mistakes is characterized by open discussion of mistakes when they occur, systematic error documentation and a determination to find both the causes of the mistakes and their solutions. When investigating mistakes, it is critical to focus on understanding the causes rather than on finding out who is to blame.

Openness to Innovation

Openness to innovation and new ways of doing things is an important capability that is required in order to initiate change and adopt the right measures, even if they may sometimes be rather unconventional.

Social Collaboration

An environment characterized by trust and social relationships provides the basis for open, uninhibited knowledge sharing between employees. Social collaboration, helps to accelerate knowledge sharing within the organization. Good strong social networks build resilience and enable the ability to change.

Open Communication

In order for companies to respond rapidly and to be able to effectively change, employees need to have access to the necessary explicit and implicit knowledge. While explicit knowledge can be provided through the appropriate communication technology, the sharing of implicit knowledge calls for direct communication between the people who possess the knowledge and the people seeking it.

An effective organization needs to abandon the “us and them” mentality. Employees have acquired the capability of open communication if, having taken on board the fact that openly sharing knowledge and working together to achieve a vision increases the total sum of knowledge, they then also act
accordingly. Once the organization’s entire workforce is willing to share knowledge with everyone, it becomes possible to significantly accelerate learning processes within the company.

What Does This Look Like?

Social collaboration exists between employees and with customers and partners. Confidence in systems and processes results in high process stability. People are willing to document their acquired knowledge and share it with others. The democratic leadership style values people for the contribution they make and there is a culture of open communication. The workforce is both receptive and willing to change. They learn systematically from the captured data, are open to innovative approaches and participate in shaping change processes. Employees are also conscious of the need to continuously develop their skills and competencies. While mistakes are still made, people recognize that they are valuable because they have the potential to trigger improvements.

Where we need to be

Determining Influence

Many of the influencing tactics require you to have informal power. It is a good idea to understand what your major forms of informal power are, so here’s an evaluation tool.

  • Step 1: List your top 10 contacts that enable you to get work done. These contacts can be either internal or external to your organization.
  • Step 2: For each contact, assign a score from 1 to 10 indicating how much you depend on them. If a contact provides a lot of value and is also difficult to replace, assign a high score. Think broadly about the value your contacts offer. This includes career advice, emotional backing, support with daily activities, information, and access to resources or stakeholders.
  • Step 3: Do the same in reverse. Assign a score to yourself from others’ perspectives. Approximate how much value you offer your contacts and how difficult it would be to replace you. Be honest.

Next, look for red flags which could indicate that you lack informal power.

  • Do all of your contacts work in one team, function, product unit, or office building? This could indicate a limited ability to generate value beyond the basic requirements of your job description.
  • Do your contacts provide you with more value than you return? Such relationships are difficult to sustain in the long run. Asymmetries in dependence indicate others hold the power in a relationship.   
  • Is all of the value you give or receive concentrated in a couple of contacts? You could be vulnerable if you lose these contacts or your relationship changes.

Once you understand where your informal power lies, figure out how you can improve.

To address the unfavorable power scores, earn relationships by delivering value to your contacts. Ask yourself: what value can you deliver to them? One way is to develop and continuously improve upon a skill set that leads others to value your contributions. Then proactively use your skills to help others, well beyond the demands of your formal role. You don’t want to be the expert whom nobody knows.

Let your job help you. Manage your job description so that you can contribute to the workflows of multiple functions inside the organization as well as customers, outside partners, or regulators. Volunteer for cross-functional initiatives. View lateral transfers as a move up. By positioning yourself at the intersection of workflows, you position yourself to meet, learn from, and deliver value to a variety of diverse groups in the organization.

Get to know your stakeholders and collaborators better as individuals. You may be surprised how something that is rather easy for you to do carries significant value for them. Sometimes we freeze because we believe that we have to offer really significant contributions or do massive favors for others. Knowing others well can present us with helpful alternatives.

Outside of work, join social and professional ones. Shared activities have an underestimated impact on expanding our networks.

Your value is never solely defined by your ability to perform a formal organizational role. By creating value for diverse stakeholders and making yourself irreplaceable, you open possibilities for yourself within the organization and beyond. And, by doing so, you add value to your company.

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