Moving from “Fear” to “Doing”

October 20, 2020, by: fbgconsulting

They say fear is paralyzing. When confronted with the unknown you tend to not “do” or to hold back your actions to reassess and identify where and how to mitigate your risks.  This is terrible and frightening from a personal perspective, but it’s even harder to understand within an organization – since they are intended to act.

The organization had operated for a long time without an engagement survey. Largely the delay was a result of fear.  Fear of being criticized, mocked, objected. Finally, a new HR Head convinced a reluctant management team that this was a good way to take the pulse of how the employees were feeling. The convincing argument was that not knowing was not going to improve anything; and that there was nothing that couldn’t improve after they knew where to focus.

Participation in the survey was high and there was a lot of enthusiasm from employees in telling their side. As excitement from employees to express their opinion increased so did leadership’s level of anxiousness with the results.

Of course, there were positive feelings about the organization. In this case it was the family-like environment, the stability it offered, the quality of the product and the strong values the company represented.

Then there were the areas of improvement – those largely centered around leadership.  Top of mind were the lack of career opportunities, low level of recognition for a job well done and a hierarchical environment that prompted little consideration to the opinion of the non-leaders.  Evidently now the truth had been discovered and prompted leadership to action.

Even before knowing what the focus would be, some critical leaders felt that they were being personally judged and were committed to sabotaging the feedback.

They were feeling “exposed”.  They had never been criticized and as the date for presenting the results at a town hall meeting approached, their personal insecurities surfaced.

The HR Head wanted to keep herself as part of the management team and not be the “messenger”, so she requested the survey provider to take on that task.

The person in charge of the commercial part of business felt personally impacted, in particular because he was the successor to the CEO. His train of thought was that this would damage the leadership brand.  He lobbied with his peers to not have the results disclosed in a group setting to leaders and only share a summary (conveniently manicured) with employees. None of these options seem reasonable to HR. They defeated the purpose that had prompted the survey.

The HR head decided to introduce the leadership feedback session making it evident that when people refuse to hear the results, they become ignorant. She stressed that when you don’t have the strength of character to understand what others think you become ignorant. When you are ignorant you can’t act; and it prevents any opportunity to improve. She stressed that doing nothing is not a way out it’s a decision to not care, not move forward, not be better. They were not happy, but they listened – more out of shame…shame of being  considered “ignorant”.

Results were presented on the same day to the employee base and the HR head knew how difficult this would be for leadership.  Management gathered in the back of the room as if to say: “we’re a solid group, we’re watching and not responsible for whatever you said about us”. The HR head and facilitator faced the crowd and delivered the results.

The convincing factor was when during the questions and comments section employees changed leadership’s perspective.  Some employees expressed gratitude, hope and positive expectations. Some thanked leadership for being sincere with the results and for asking how they felt. Some asked how they could help to improve the organizational environment. It was clear how the facial expression and body language of leadership was changing with every comment.

A strong action plan for improvement with the participation from key influencers was put together. The engagement survey intended to “Not Do Anything” had resulted in “Doing”. So, if you’re hesitant about conducting an employee survey ask yourself:

  • What are you scared of?
  • What’s the worst that can happen?
  • How much worse is it not knowing than knowing?

You will find lots of reasons to move forward and “Do”.