I recently came across a blog post called “Fear Cultures: Do Scared People Innovate?”, which spoke to business leaders about creating workplaces that enable all staff members to feel like they can participate in discussion and innovation without fear of “rocking the boat”.
The writer said:
“We come across many clients and participants who have ideas that would revolutionise their business – were it not for the fact that they are simply too scared to change the status quo or put their head above the parapet and experiment with new things. It seems to be common practice for senior leaders to speak openly about encouraging innovation and supporting people who make mistakes, yet when it comes to their behaviours and actions there is all too often a mismatch. Beholden to their shareholders and markets, these leaders inadvertently create a 'top down fear culture'.”
In the midst of the 2nd wave of a global pandemic, people are naturally more fearful and more cautious. With layoffs and furloughs as a result of COVID and a complete redesign for some of the way we work, the temptation, at an individual level as well as an organisational level is often to just keep your head down and play it safe. No one wants to rock to the boat or challenge the status quo even if it means continuing doing things in ways that could be improved upon for a better result. Irrespective of company culture people are living in fear and here is the crux of it: Scared people don’t innovate. They don’t fully participate. They eventually just do the job they’re tasked with doing and can’t wait to get home in the evenings. When people are in a state of fear, they may deliver on objectives not because they are passionate about them but because if they don’t, they are afraid of the consequences – this constrains creativity and collaboration.
Over the past 10 years we’re been hearing more and more about “disruption” being the key to business success. New businesses have emerged in a lockdown that were almost inconsiderable before. Take JEFF to new gym – its already has 60 000 online members globally all joining to do online workouts. Checkers 60/60 – a fleet of scooter riders delivering groceries ordered on an app in 60 minutes – a big wake up call to competitors in the grocery retail sector.
So, what if you encouraged everyone in your company to speak up, make mistakes, talk about innovation – no matter what position they hold now or whatever underlying fears they may have? What if you raised the level of consciousness among your staff member, to create a place where everyone is “vibrating” at a higher level than they did before?
Science has proven that the cells of creative, happy, engaged employees vibrate at a higher frequency than sad, fearful, disengaged people. “Good vibrations” undoubtedly produce better results. The types of organisations (and there are many) that encourage every employee to be constantly looking to implement value-creating ideas that fall within their sphere of control, create a culture of learning and continuous improvement, where people aren’t scared of every possible repercussion.
Now, this may sound like I’ve headed back to the 70s , but facts are facts: Like truly does attract like and – just as a table is a bunch of atoms all vibrating at the same level to create the object – humans are atoms too, and can raise their levels of vibration to encourage greater innovation, compassion, change and happiness.
I recognise that the work from home (MS Teams, Zoom, Skype) dynamic adds another layer of complexity to this challenge – not actually “seeing” people or seeing them way less frequently allows for less opportunity to influence those vibrations - it just means we have to be very alive to all the warning sings of the people we lead .
Inspired leaders know this and change a culture of fear to a culture of elevated enthusiasm and productivity. They allow for open problem solving - the opportunity to shift perceptions away from “good” and “bad” labels and always look for the learning opportunities and the chance to continuously improve. Leaders in this zone recover very quickly from setbacks, demonstrating a higher vibrational level by their extreme resilience. They are constantly experiencing, learning and improving and this culture spreads quickly.
Uplifting people and getting rid of the directing and controlling fear based “I’m the leader, I’ll decide” mentality, can work wonders. After all, who knows more about packaging your company’s goods than the packers themselves? Who understands customers better than your customer-facing staff? Chances are, they could come up with a number of ways to create a faster system in packaging and a better customer experience than the director who only hears about issues.
Now more than ever we need to disrupt and innovate: Uplift your staff members and give them the opportunity to share ideas with you that may change the face of your business. Raise your level of vibration, compassion and enthusiasm, and watch your teams do the same. It could mean the difference between being in the red and staying in the black in these strange but exciting times in Africa.