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Fear: The Big Inhibitor of Innovation and Transformation
continued from page 13


Conquering Fear

The first part of mitigating fear is having a reason to embrace
the fear - a story that each employee can identify with in
answering the question: Why should I change? That story is a
story of why the organization must change and a story of why
each individual needs to learn new ways of working to enable
that organizational change. Employees need to make meaning
personally of the Why in ways that make sense to them. That
"making sense" must emotionally connect with the individual.

Everyone is fearful - individual differences are a matter of
degree. And what differs is how one manages his or her fears.

Often, we need to help people find the "WIFM" - the what's
in it for me? Will it help me stay relevant? Will it help my career?
Will it help me be a better person or more successful in my life?
We don't usually know what will resonate, but ultimately the
motivation needs to come from an intrinsic place. Conversations
with employees individually and/or in small teams are necessary.
The company story and the common individual whys must be
continuously discussed and referred to for a long period of time
until the new way of working becomes a habit. And the new way
of working requires people to embrace their fears and to have the
courage to go forward. Change is hard. Helping people buy in to
change takes time and effort by leaders and managers.
If people buy in to the Why then they can move to the How.
What mindsets and behaviors will be needed to accomplish the
transformation? What kind of work environment is needed to
enable those new mindsets and behaviors - both culturally and

With respect to mitigating fear, culturally the leadership needs
to create a "psychologically safe workplace" following the research
of Professor Amy Edmondson of Harvard Business School. A
psychologically safe workplace is one where people agree to do no
harm to each other and to act civilly at all times. It is a place where
everyone can speak up, be candid and have difficult conversations
without the fear of - or actual - punishment or retribution.
It is a place where it is safe to challenge the status quo, to
challenge each other's thinking, to challenge higher-ups' thinking
and decisions, to admit one's mistakes, and to say I don't know.
A safe workplace should mitigate corporate politics and internal
competition, and it should enable collaboration, teamwork and
learning. In order for that to happen, leaders and managers need
to empower people and ensure their safety. Leaders need to show
their own weaknesses, they need to fail in front of others and pick
themselves back up and try again. Initiatives and trials need to be
rewarded, not only the successes, but the effort and spirit. At some
point this becomes the norm.

Behaviorally, how do leaders enable workers to overcome
their fears? How do leaders learn to personally embrace and deal
with their own fears? Leaders need to become more human by
acknowledging their fears publicly to others and encouraging their
direct reports to do the same. Having nonjudgmental, respectful,
caring, compassionate, safe conversations about fear starts at the
top. Leaders have to take the first steps in being vulnerable with
others and leaders need to have the conversations with others that
result in the co-creation of the rules of engagement that can lead
to creating an environment where it is psychologically safe for
employees to talk about and work through their fears of change.
We have learned that for many leaders it is much easier to
start the fear discussion by asking them a series of questions:
"Why would your employees be fearful of the change that is
needed? What can you do to mitigate that fear?" Then move to
the personal discussion. "What about you - what fears do you
have about the transformation? How can you mitigate your fear?"
Transformation is very personal, and though we read studies and
survey outcomes, we very infrequently hear about reasons for the
fears. Acknowledging that everyone has personal reasons for their
fears is a powerful step.
Then managers and leaders can have conversations with
small groups of employees and ask them what they need from
the company in order not to be so fearful and to be courageous.
Leaders and managers can ask employees: "How can I help you
feel safe here? What do I need to do differently?"
We are not saying you should lower your standards of
performance. What we are saying is that if you want big changes
in human behaviors, you need to face fear in the workplace
courageously, both individually and organizationally.
As Abraham Maslow so aptly stated:
"An individual engages in learning to the extent he (or she) is
not crippled by fear and to the extent he (or she) feels safe enough
to dare."
Edward D. Hess is a professor of business
administration, Batten executive-in-residence and a
Batten Faculty Fellow at Darden. Dr. Donna Murdoch
is an adjunct assistant professor of Adult Learning and
Leadership at Columbia University Teachers College and
a partner at Rose Rock Dynamics.

This article has been reproduced with permission from University Of Virginia's Darden School Of Business.
This piece originally appeared on Darden Ideas to Action.
14 CHESTER COUNT Y Medicine | SPRING 2019


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