This Businessweek article – Ten Signs of a Fear-Based Workplace was written near the start of the global financial crisis. The points are nonetheless still very relevant today.
Some, like points 3 and 4, have long been unquestioningly accepted “rules” of business even – which means it is probably time to re-examine them now.
Here are the ten signs with my thoughts on each:
1. Appearances are everything. It’s not about excellence or quality, but about how I look to others. When every facet of the business is pared down to a simplistic shallow PR tactic: “perception is everything.”
2. Everyone one is talking about who’s rising and who’s falling. “A preoccupation with status and political capital” as distractions from real achievements and value creation.
3. Distrust reigns. Self censorship. Who can I tell or share an idea with? Who could backstab me? How could knowing something benefit me first and foremost?
4. Numbers rule. Only numbers are valid. Reduce everything to numbers. Measure, manage and treat everything as numbers. The whole person is just too unpredictable and scary to engage with.
5. And rules number in the thousands. Everything is a process to adhere to strictly. Don’t think, don’t question. Just follow the steps.
6. Management considers lateral communication suspect. Divide and conquer. Avoid letting the workers get together without proper managerial supervision.
7. Information is hoarded. The more I know and keep to myself, the more powerful I am. The only real information comes through whispered gossip. Official communications is empty and suspect.
8. Brown-nosers rule. Don’t rock the boat. Say yes and get ahead. “Fear-based senior leaders surround themselves with yes-men and yes-women because it’s more pleasant to hear the “right” answer than the truth.”
9. The Office evokes sad chuckles, rather than laughs. No laughing means no creativity. Real laughter indicates a level of trust, belonging and safety (to be oneself) that are critical factors for creativity.
10. Management leads by fear. By maintaining an atmosphere of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. Keeping secrets. Compartmentalising directives and goals. Keeping the workforce on edge (“You are all lucky to have a job!”) and defaulting to punitive measures.
They say everything we do in life is either driven by fear or love.
As the leader of your business, what do you choose to drive by?
As an employee, how many of these signs can you spot in your workplace? What are the choices before you?