No one wakes up in the morning, bounces out of bed, and eagerly declares, “I can’t wait to be ignored today! I hope my work doesn’t matter to anyone. I’m going in early because I’m not making a difference. Since no one cares about my work I am going after solving that really tough problem.”
No one says, “I hope to be humiliated today. When that happens, I really get excited to be at work and I engage more. I am going to do my best work today while I stress about my future. That anxiety helps me focus on the customer and really work to satisfy them.”
Who says that? No one says that.
But every day in organizations across the country, leaders and teams use fear based management and team practices to try to get people to comply and perform. They try to scare team members in to contributing. Which is absurd. But it happens all the time.
This doesn’t mean that when faced with these kinds of fear based practices that individuals can’t rise above them and overcome the negativity. Many do. People are resilient and can make huge vats of lemonade out of truckloads of lemons dumped on them if need be.
But make no mistake, organizations that use fear as a management strategy cannot be getting the best work from team members who are threatened, intimidated, and worried for their safety. They are usually not even getting mediocre work.
When we foster a culture of fear, people are so preoccupied by that fear and the physical and psychological toll it takes, so preoccupied figuring out how to survive, that they can’t bring or do their best.
Organizations spend a great deal of effort trying to improve employee engagement scores and dealing with the high cost of turnover. But if you want engagement, stop the fear and love your people. If you want stability, stop the fear and love your people. If you want satisfied customers, stop the fear and love your people. If you want to sleep better at night, stop the fear and love your people.
People ask all the time,"But what does that actually mean? How do I do that?"
In the 50 research interviews I've done, people describe three ways to decrease fear and increase love at work.
1. A loving workplace means my leader cares about me as a person. My leader greets me in the morning, and asks how I’m doing. My leader takes the time to know who I am and what I care about. My leader is interested in my development ... finds out how I hope to grow ... and works with me to find such opportunities to stretch and learn. My leader offers me new challenges … listens to my ideas … and coaches me.
2. A loving workplace means my team is like a family. We support each other. We share information. We have respectful conversations and respectful conflicts. We want each person to be themselves and bring their perspective, skills, and experience. My team shares food, celebrates milestones, and laughs together, but my team also works hard together to meet goals and deliver value.
3. A loving workplace means I am supported if I face a personal crisis. Life happens to us all. We face sickness, tragedy, and loss. That is part of being human. My leader and team understand that and empathize. I am not expected to check my humanity at the door and pretend like nothing’s wrong, if it is. Rather, I can be honest about what I am facing. I am supported in practical ways during hard times. My leader and team members ask about how I’m doing, so I know they care about me. And when the crisis passes, our relationships are stronger and more trusting. I am more committed to the work and the organization than ever.
What comes of all this love? Innovation. Productivity. Creativity. Problem solving. Stability. Healthy conflict. Satisfied customers. Loyalty. Dedication. Learning. Growth. Happiness.
If you are a leader who has allowed fear to be your management strategy or you've built your team culture on fear, you’ve probably got less than 6 months to turn it around. Many people in my research interviews describe tolerating a fearful work environment for about 6 months and then leaving when things didn’t get better. So the clock is ticking.
But you can begin today to decrease fear and increase safety by doing some simple things to create a loving workplace. Let your team members know you care about them. Say hello. Ask about their weekend. Bring food for the team and stand around for 15 minutes talking and eating together. Acknowledge when people are facing a hard time. Leave a note of encouragement. In essence, make your team and your leadership more human. These actions may seem trivial but such simple human acts create trusting workplace relationships which create the context for performance.
Then you can wake up and actually say, “I can’t wait to go to work today! I no longer check my humanity at the door, but instead I show love for my team members. I know each of them, and I really demonstrate care for them as people. I make sure they have the opportunity to grow and that their different perspectives are valuable. We trust and respect each other on my team. They know their contributions matter and it shows in our work. Together we are making a real difference for our customers."
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