Monday, April 4, 2011

Servant Leadership Practice--Fear Factor

I'm not talking about the TV show with the name in the headline. A recent survey showed that over 80% of our employees will leave and go to another job if given the opportunity (and that's up from 60% in 2010). Only 5 percent want to stay. What keeps them from going now?

Besides the illogic of going to someplace new where the current employees are unhappy, it would seem fear keeps people from changing from something known to something unknown: fear of failure, failure of loss of house or well-being, fear of any number of things.

We can't eliminate their fear. We can try to make changes that will encourage them to stay. Servant Leadership is about that. Certainly, we can avoid contributing to their fear by inducing fear in the workplace.

William Edwards Deming, the management guru, made it one of his 14 rules to drive fear from the workplace. Too much fear creates paralysis and shuts down communication. People won't open up about problems to be fixed. Nor will they take any risks to make things better.

Alternatively, Judith Bardwick argues that too little fear creates entitlement. A little bit increases productivity. It's done by increasing the pressure, but not threats.

Many years ago, I opened up to my wife that the reason I had to work longer, take the business trips during family events and generally abandon them was because I was fearful of losing my job. The dysfunctional management in that company put a lot of pressure on its staff. Threats were common. I wanted to change jobs but couldn't. They took advantage of me and my family. They abused us. I put up with a lot of "stuff" because I was unwilling to risk having me, my wife and two little daughters on the street.

So I ask, "What keeps your employees there?" Do they want to be there? Or are they afraid of leaving?

I do know it's possible to create workplaces where people can't wait for the Monday morning alarm clock. I've had employees say they'd rather be at work than at home. I've had occupational therapists volunteering to come to our workplace to teach about spinal care because they wanted to see what kind of 'voodoo' was going on. Their patients from our company wanted to get back to work. No other patients talked like that.

Perhaps they're part of the 5% that want to stay. You can make it happen too. Today, ask someone to be honest with you without fear of retribution. Ask them if they'd change jobs if they could and what's keeping them from leaving. Ask them for one thing they'd change in your company or department if they could. Or you could find someone who made a mistake and is fearful of losing their job. Talk to them about  what they'll do differently next time. You've invested a lot in them. Why not try to help them become productive?

For C12 and Truth@Work members, we are reminded to do good works, not out of fear of "the wrath to come", but out of a response to God's grace and mercy. Zacchaeus certainly did, as well as countless others. Wouldn't your employees do the same?

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