Friday, December 14, 2012
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:
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.
Coercive, negative power (Intensely emotional, with voice effects and body movements)
“WHO did THIS!!?”
Travels rapidly down the line…all the way
Backstabbing the boss when problems arise (to your subordinates or to your peers)
“Do you BELIEVE this?”
Subtle backstabbing (to subordinates or peers)
A variant: Malicious obedience
“So and so wants it this way!” (Raises eyebrows) “So, we’ll DO it this way!”
Manager has relinquished responsibility
A “yes-man”- afraid to take authority-a bureaucrat
The organization floats
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.
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:
Posted by Joe Jenney at 8:26 AM