INSEAD Professor, Gilles Hilary, and Managing Director of Alchimie Asia, Vip Vyas, have written a good blog post about fear in organizations. They argue that a culture of fear does not reduce the risk of major failures; it actually enhances the probability of a catastrophe. They offer a list of signs that your organization may possess a culture of fear that enhances risk of failure and stifles innovation:
• An absence of frank and open dialogue. For example, when important conversations happen either before or after meetings, but everyone remains silent during the official discussion.
• A resistance to participate, for fear of being ridiculed, overlooked or “shot down”.
• Only notional alignment (“lip-service”) on action plans, underpinned by a collective belief that those plans will be ineffective anyway.
• A partial or total reluctance to pass any bad news upwards.
• A culture of “going through the motions” without any real engagement; and
• A focus on salient but unlikely catastrophic outcomes.
Does your organization have these characteristics? Are senior leaders aware of the climate of fear that they have created? The opposite climate, on the other hand, is a climate of candor. In those climates, people talk openly about problems and issues, and they are not afraid to share bad news. Those types of cultures not only help senior leaders spot hidden risks, but they also promote creativity and innovation because people do not fear being labeled a failure.