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Friday, December 14, 2012

13 Fear in the Workplace

Now we come to one of the most important topics in this course. You may think that the course spends too much time on this topic but in my experience fear in the workplace is pervasive and is probably the biggest impediment to high productivity in many organizations. The topics covered include:
        How Fear Affects Effectiveness
        Sources of Fear
        Results of Fear
        Fear of Knowledge and Change
        Managing Without Inducing Fear
To introduce fear in the workplace we’ll start off with an exercise.


Think about your own job and your relationships with superiors and fill in the blanks:

I am afraid of these consequences on my job:


So, I avoid these actions:

and substitute these actions:
Hopefully you are one of the fortunate few that experience no fear on their job. If so the exercise is meaningless for you. However, if you are in an environment of fear you likely were able to fill in the blanks with just a little reflection. Now compare the actions you substitute for the actions you avoid. Typically, we avoid things that would be more effective for the long term success of the business and substitute weak alternatives that are not nearly as effective. The result is there is a relationship between fear and job effectiveness. This relationship is shown graphically in figure 4.

Figure 4. High fear in the workplace results in low effectiveness for the organization
Do you agree with the claim implied in figure 4? What is your experience that leads to your belief?  What is the difference between respect and fear? What is necessary to have respect without fear? Jot down your answers and then review them after completing the discussions of fear in the workplace.
Let’s start by listing sources of fear, which include:
        Management Induced 
       Negativity (management style)
       Plans, policies & procedures for 5% of workers (Including performance appraisal & merit rating systems)
       Over emphasis on numerical goals and objectives
       “Shoot the messenger” behavior
       Retribution for mistakes and errors
        Environment Induced
       Business conditions, business cycle, market cycle
       Actions by competition, government, stockholders, mergers & acquisitions
        Inherent Fears
       Fear of knowledge & fear of change
Note that Management Induced includes management style and the annual performance appraisal, topics we discussed in the lecture on achieving high motivation of workers. Let’s examine how management style induces fear and affects motivation. Imagine the following scene. A manager is sitting behind his desk and a young woman is facing the desk. Think about what happens as described in the bullet list:
        The  manager has problems
        He sees the young woman as the cause
        He expresses negativity to her, e.g. he directly blames her for the problems using foul language
        Will she:
       Want to talk to him in the future?
       Avoid him in future?
       Want to be his partner in improving effectiveness?
       Offer suggestions in the future?
       Pass his negativity down the line?
       Encourage suggestions from her subordinates?
Have you ever witnessed a similar scene? Unfortunately many of us have and this is just one example of a manager expressing negativity. Let’s list some others.
Form 1
Coercive, negative power   (Intensely emotional, with voice effects and body movements)
“I want it NOW!!”
“WHO KNOWS anything about this!!?”
“I don’t CARE what else you have to do!!”
“WHO did THIS!!?”
Induces atmosphere of direct fear, uneasy silence
“Shoot any messenger” is inferred
Wipes out 20 “attaboys”
Travels rapidly down the line…all the way
Form  2
Backstabbing the boss when problems arise (to your subordinates or to your peers)
“It’s all HIS fault”
“What is he leading us into now?”
“Do you BELIEVE this?”
The backstabber has relinquished his leadership
Poor morale spreads
No or few suggestions
No loyalty
Form 3
Subtle backstabbing (to subordinates or peers)
A variant: Malicious obedience
“I’m only doing what (so and so) wants”
“When (so and so) says ‘do it,’ we’ll do it!”
“So and so wants it this way!” (Raises eyebrows) “So, we’ll DO it this way!”
Absence of risk taking
Poor morale
Manager has relinquished responsibility
A “yes-man”- afraid to take authority-a bureaucrat
The organization floats
Numerical goals
Another form of negativity is ineffective reliance on or ineffective implementation of numerical goals. Recalling that most organizations have some variant of management by objective numerical goals are inherent in today’s work environment. However emphasis on numerical goals can be positive or negative. It’s positive if the goals are achievable, if the workers have had some input into setting the goals or at least offered the opportunity to discuss them before the goals are adopted, if they understand the reason the goals are necessary and if they are provided feedback on progress toward the goals.
Numerical goals are bad when they distort the business environment, when workers have no opportunity to participate in the goal setting process, when the reason for the goals isn't understood and when they cannot easily see how well they are progressing toward the goals. Bad numerical goals are demotivating. W. Edwards Deming’s famous Red Bead Experiment clearly demonstrates the demotivating characteristic of bad numerical goals. The Red Bead Experiment is discussed in a later lecture.
There needs to be an upfront agreement on what will result from achieving goals. Sometimes this is simple survival of the organization, which is easily understood and highly motivating, but sometimes the reasons for goals are more abstract and therefore workers need to know why they are expected to put in extra effort to achieve the goals. Achieving goals needs to be rewarded when the goals are extraordinary and not just the organization’s normal work. Non-monetary rewards are usually the best because they are easier to be perceived as fair to everyone involved.
Sometimes it’s better to have global goals rather than numerical goals; where global goals make sense, e.g. perhaps to have the best record in the enterprise rather than a specific number where specific numbers are arbitrary. Workers can get behind being the best but have problems understanding why some arbitrary numerical goal is worth their best efforts.

Dealing with impossible goals

Sometimes goals are flowed down to low levels of an organization by high level managers without explanation or the opportunity to discuss the merits of the goals or the applicability of the goals to the low level organization. Examples of where this can be extremely negative include where sales, profit, growth or similar targets are set arbitrarily without regard to the realities of the market the subordinate organization addresses.
The effective leader doesn't fall into the trap of trying to meet unrealistic sales goals by blindly chasing new markets and thereby wasting valuable resources or trying to meet unrealistic profit goals by deferring critical investment, maintenance or other expenses necessary for the sustained health of the organization. Such responses are an extreme form of malicious obedience that can ultimately destroy both the organization and harm all the stakeholders, including harming the manager’s reputation.
What does the effective leader do in such situations?  To a great extent the response depends on the relationship a manager has with superiors. For the purpose of this training let’s assume the relationship is neutral. In this case there are a series of steps to be followed. Understanding this simple case should enable you to think through other cases. First, you must assume that the higher level managers don’t know the details of the organization’s environment so that the goals are reasonable to these managers. Second, you must communicate to the higher level mangers that you understand the goals and are working on plans to achieve them. This buys you a little time for the next step, which is to develop several alternatives based on the business environment your organization operates in. These must include trying to achieve the goals along with your assessment of the likely results. Stretch goals are healthy if they aren't completely unrealistic. Also, there is always the possibility that your superiors do understand your environment and still want you to pursue the stated goals. They may understand something you have missed or have other strategic reasons. Examine other alternatives such as continuing on previous years plans, scaling back the goals, closing out or selling the organization and other options that could be achieved.
When you have worked out these alternatives and have mastered your understanding of them and your business environment you should approach your boss and say that your analysis is showing that there are difficulties in achieving the goals and that you have identified some alternatives that may be better; assuming your alternatives are better. Ask for your bosses help in reviewing your draft analysis. Hopefully your boss agrees and you have the opportunity to present your carefully developed story as a “draft” analysis. This gives you the opportunity to present the facts of your business environment and how these facts impact achieving the expected goals as well as the alternatives. You must be loyal to the enterprise first and your organization second if you are to achieve what is best for the enterprise and for your organization in the long term.
At this point you may think the course I suggest is selling out your organization. This is not true. If you think about it carefully what is best for the enterprise is almost always what is best for the subordinate organization. Your workers are stakeholders but so are the owners, management, community and you. Every organization requires investment to remain viable. This investment may include capital equipment, cash for research and development of new products or services or just management attention. A healthy organization provides a return on investment to its stakeholders. If your organization’s return isn’t competitive with other parts of the enterprise then it isn’t healthy. Selling it to another enterprise or merging it with another organization may enable it to get well. If it isn’t healthy and there isn’t a home for it where the necessary investment is available then it isn’t providing a good career environment for the workers in the organization.  Keeping such an organization alive just lets the workers grow older as they spin their wheels in dead end jobs and robs all stakeholders of better opportunities. Better to close the operation.  In the long run this is a better solution for almost all of the stakeholders. Admittedly, there will be some workers, e.g. those nearing retirement, that will be harmed by such a decision and compassionate enterprises attempt to minimize this harm.
If you keep the interest of all stakeholders in mind you can be objective and work with your bosses to find the best solution. If you focus just on preserving your organization then you become part of the problem and damage your ability to manage your organization effectively.
I have included this long discussion because there are two important principles involved that you should take away and it points to a third important principle. First, you must keep the interests of all stakeholders in mind when faced with difficult management situations and second you must be loyal to the enterprise in order to maintain your effectiveness and ultimately the loyalty of the people you manage. Note, as shown in the example above, this doesn’t mean saluting dumb things that your bosses propose. It means trying to work with your bosses in a constructive way to find effective solutions to problems. I know and you know that there are times when you won’t be successful. We have all encountered senior managers whose attitude is “it’s my way or the highway” even when they pursue impossible strategies or unobtainable goals. We just have to accept that there are battles that we can’t win and not waste our energies dwelling on these situations. This brings up the third principle. Spending energy on issues that we can influence is positive energy and increases our circle of influence (the sum of those things we can influence). Spending energy on issues we can’t influence is negative energy and shrinks our circle of influence. That’s why you must not dwell on issues you can’t influence or battles you lost beyond reflecting on lessons learned; it’s negative energy and makes you less able to function effectively in the future.


If you are studying in a team then divide in half. One half give examples of reactions to negativity in terms of statements subordinates might make to themselves, e.g. I hate my boss.
The other half state reactions in “psychological terms”, e.g. hate decreases altruism.
You may try this if working alone but it’s easier and a more effective learning experience when done as a team.
This lecture has concentrated on fear resulting from managers expressing negativity and has attempted to show that negativity has many forms, all of which result in reducing the effectiveness of the organization. Now is the time to review the action plan you developed in lecture 10. Are there changes you need to make in your list of seven or eight top priority actions based on what you have learned in lectures 11 - 13? If so make them now and start to follow these changes in your daily work because if you have been expressing negativity it will decrease the potential for success from your other actions. To assist you the next topic discusses a way to manage problems without inducing fear.

If you find that the pace of blog posts isn’t compatible with the pace you  would like to maintain in studying this material you can buy the book “The Manager’s Guide for Effective Leadership” at:
or hard copy or for nook at:
or hard copy or E-book at:

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

12 Effective Listening

Effective listening habits are essential to developing respect from your workers and to being able to sell your ideas to anyone. This lecture describes why and suggests how to practice effective listening.
Steven Covey’s book “The 7 Basic Habits of Highly Effective People” describes habits that characterize highly effective people and leaders that build trust in their organizations. I only address habit 5 from the book, which I have found especially valuable in my personal and management experience. I am going to touch lightly on two topics related to that habit. Please get a copy of Covey’s book and read more. At the very least study the two topics I address here in more detail.
The first topic is what Covey calls empathetic listening. The sad fact is that most of us aren't good listeners. We hear just enough to formulate a response then wait impatiently to get the opening to give our response. We do this with our co-workers, customers, spouses, children and friends. Only our children are honest enough to say “you don’t listen to me”. When they say this it’s because we haven’t been empathetic listeners. I’ll try to explain what Covey means. To be an empathetic listener you need to project yourself into the speaker’s situation and try to understand why they are saying what they are saying. It means feeding back your understanding of what they said. For example, by saying “do you mean to say that …….” This shows the speaker that you are listening and trying to understand. With our children we often respond without listening because “we have been there”. We need to stop and realize that our children don’t know that. When we respond too quickly they just know that we really didn't listen to them. Unfortunately we tend to do the same thing with customers and with our co-workers, bosses and subordinates. They are just too polite to tell us we aren't listening but they feel it just like our kids.
Human nature says that if someone isn't listening to me then there is no reason I should listen to them. This is what Covey is getting at. If you wish to communicate effectively to someone; your customer, your kid or your worker, you must first convince them that you understand their situation, their concerns and their desires. If they aren't convinced you understand then they are not going to listen to your logic any better than you listened to theirs.
That brings us to the second topic related to the habit. In our work we are often in a “marketing” mode. We are trying to convince someone of our point of view. Covey says to be an effective salesperson of our point of view we have to satisfy three criteria. First, we have to establish our credibility.  This means we have to give the person we are marketing to a reason why they should listen to us. It may be because of our position, e.g. as a parent or a boss. If it isn't obvious then we have to establish it. When we meet new people in our business world there is a ritual that we go through. We exchange business cards and discuss something about ourselves to connect with each other. When you are in this situation think about what you can say that will convince others they should listen to you. It may be your position, your background, your work on some topic of interest to them or your acquaintance with someone you know they admire. Covey’s message is that until you have established your credibility as someone that should be listened to others aren't likely to really listen to you or consider you logic.
The second criterion that Covey says we must satisfy is empathetic listening. The targets of our marketing must be convinced that we understand their situation and their problems before they will listen to our logical arguments. Once we have convinced them we understand their problems then they will listen to us.
Remember the sequence: credibility, empathetic listening, and then your logical arguments. To be an effective leader you must be an effective communicator and to be an effective communicator you must follow the three steps defined by Covey. It is fundamental human nature and you can’t get around it no matter how much of a hurry you are in or how good of a salesperson you think you are.
The hard part of practicing Covey’s habit 5 is the emphatic listening. It’s crucial that you learn this skill. If you have children five years old or older they give you the perfect opportunity to start practicing. I guarantee you the rewards are worth the effort with your children. If you don’t have children then commit to listening better to your spouse and/or your friends. You must make this a habit so that it becomes second nature and you do it as a matter of course in your work environment.
Start today. Truly listen to others and only respond with your arguments when you are convinced they know you have understood what they were saying. At the end of a conversation review how you listened and rehearse how you should have listened if you didn't meet your expectations. Now practice this habit every day in every situation. You will be amazed at the results. If you find that you are not practicing enough write reminders on 3 x 5 cards and place them where you will encounter them during your day, e.g. in your bathroom, in your briefcase, on your desk, etc. Leave the cards in place for at least a week, then remove them and see if you can remember without them. If not put them back for another week.

If you find that the pace of blog posts isn’t compatible with the pace you  would like to maintain in studying this material you can buy the book “The Manager’s Guide for Effective Leadership” at:
or hard copy or for nook at:
or hard copy or E-book at: