Monday, October 27, 2014

Fear in the Organization

Queen Latifa once quoted “Fear can be good when you're walking past an alley at night or when you need to check the locks on your doors before you go to bed, but it's not good when you have a goal and you're fearful of obstacles. We often get trapped by our fears, but anyone who has had success has failed before”

Most of us have worked in an organization where your peers, direct reports, managers, directors, VPs, or even someone on the executive team displays some sort of fear.  Fear can be good in some cases as it highlights the need for a better risk management or a solid strategy before moving forward but in certain scenarios, having employees that live in fear, especially management is dangerous for the department and can be very harmful to the overall organization.  In my opinion, there are three reasons why fear exists in the organization and key decisions that you as an employee can make to handle the fear.

First is the fear of unknown.  This could be caused when employees think of ideas that are very “green” or otherwise known as original, brand new or have never been tried or tested.  Often these precedence setting events come with a lot of resistance due to the lack of knowledge that others have in the organization.  In my experience, this fear comes into fruition when people in the organization that hear these “green” ideas start immediately saying no or the word “but”. 

Second type of fear that is detrimental is the fear of change.  Let’s face it, we are creatures of habit and we like stability.  An article from HR Focus highlights 50% of quality improvement programs and 30% of process reengineering efforts are unsuccessful due to lack of change management.   When new ideas or a different way of managing a problem comes into light, it often triggers a fear in people.  This is especially true when the change involves a re-organization, mergers and acquisition, new enterprise resource planning applications like Oracle or SAP get introduced.  Questions start arising such as, “Am I going to lose my job?”,   “How will this impact my current day to day?”,  “Who will be my new management?”,  or “Do I have the skills to do my job?”  These questions start generating fear which creates a brick wall in some individuals.  A great example is when I was a business analyst 9 years ago and was introduced a process that took an individual hours and sometimes days to reconcile.  I found a way to automate the process and was really excited to share it with the individual.  Rather than welcoming me with open arms and sharing my same enthusiasm, the first comment that came out of her mouth was “Why are you automating my process?  I had a system down in handling this.  Now I’m probably going to get replaced”.  I’ve noticed this attitude with some of the tenure employees in the organization and it is a fear of being replaced or letting go before retirement that exuberates the fear of change.

The third type of fear in my opinion is the worst of all, which is the fear of perception.  “How is this going to make me look?”  It is less about the organization and more about “me” as an individual.  An example that made me really think about this type of fear is when I shared an idea about a use of a particular technology.  As an employee of an organization, I believe it is our job to bring best practices or new technology to the right individuals that can evaluate and provide support.  When I met with my superior to share an article that I read and how we can leverage the technology in our organization to our benefit, the immediate reaction was NO.  Few weeks passed and another manager approached me about this particular technology.  I shared my findings and my opinions.  This manager decided to take action and found a way to fund this project.  This information came back to the individual that I had originally discussed and he was not happy.  He had a conversation with me and started stating:  “This is making me look bad.  Why did you share your thoughts…I now have to pretend to support it”.    These comments made me feel that this individual was basing his decision out of fear – fear of how he is looking to the organization.

As an employee, when you face fear of the unknown, fear of change, or fear of perception, you can handle it in a few ways.  First, Educate!!!  Educate your direct reports, indirect reports, peers, management, and etc.  Find creative ways to educate such as email, face to face, or internal social media.  Second, communicate to the people that will be directly or indirectly impacted.  The more they know, the more people are likely to understand the impact.  Third, practice great listening skills.  One of my favorite authors Stephen Covey wrote, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”.  If we don’t embrace change or find creative ways to bring people along to embrace the change, we will become like an “egg” described in the quote from CS Lewis.  “It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.”