A Guide to Demolishing a Fear-Based Company Culture

If you work in a fear-based atmosphere, you’re familiar with the symptoms. Perhaps your workplace has an anonymous suggestion box or a toll-free phone for receiving feedback. High turnover, “in” and “out” groups and even immature grudge-holding from senior executives are all possibilities.

The tense, apprehensive atmosphere is almost palpable—evident it’s that your coworkers aren’t happy, but they’re reluctant to say it.

Unfortunately, most traditional cultures are founded on fear, which is often the result of an autocratic leader. That’s most likely why 46% of employees are unsatisfied with their employers’ experiences.

Long-term employees adopt a survival mindset in these situations. There is no room to be creative or take calculated risks. In fear-based cultures, everyone learns to “swim beneath the surface,” as the term goes.

Related: Adopting Successful Entrepreneurs’ Learned Habits

Middle Managers Have a One-of-a-Kind Opportunity

You’re in a terrific position as a middle manager to recognize fear-based qualities.

You and your peers are the ones who have firsthand experience with fear. You’ve seen coworkers lose promotions or even their jobs as a result of expressing criticism, and it’s made you afraid of speaking up.

It can be daunting to consider taking a stance against what appears to be an intimidating, unstoppable force while you are experiencing such intense fear. However, if you muster the bravery, you may bring about long-term change in your firm by breaking its fear-based culture from within.

For example, the head of one of the companies where I worked promoted a fear-based culture. The company’s human resources director took a strong stance and began holding weekly meetings for managers to discuss the company’s culture and employee-related issues.

The leaders realized that while they might not be able to convince or persuade the chairman, they could still influence the culture below them by being extremely supportive. They served as a barrier between the chairman’s authoritarian bullying and the employees.

Related: Gratitude in Our Not-So-New-Normal Situation

Do you want to change your company’s fear-based culture?

Begin by taking these measures to move toward a more people-centered approach. Speaking up, no matter how frightening it may feel, is worthwhile. It can have a significant impact on other employees in your company. Furthermore, there are over 900,000 fresh employment openings, so you may always look elsewhere.

Recognize that your culture is fear-based, and take the following three steps to respectfully change it:

Provide Evidence to Back Up Your Worries.

Data is what leaders live and breathe. In their daily lives, they’re used to deciphering financial reports and making data-driven judgments. Speaking their language and providing evidence to back up your claims will help you build clout and trust with your bosses.

If the data isn’t available, you’ll have to collect it yourself, either through a focused survey or a third-party evaluation—just make sure you receive permission beforehand.

Then, back up your results with statistics from the industry. For example, 47% of job seekers say the culture made them want to quit, while employees who feel heard are 4.6 times more likely to feel encouraged to do their best work.

After you’ve completed your research, make a strategic strategy to share your results with leaders. Perhaps you can attend a leadership team meeting as a guest presenter, schedule time with an understanding vice president, or inquire with HR about what they recommend.

Maintain a courteous tone in both your speech and any written critique, regardless of how you approach your presentation. Give your leaders time to respond once you’ve presented the facts and let your study speak for itself.

Related: How to Make a Financial Plan

Encourage Leaders to Adopt a Coaching Attitude Rather Than a Disciplinary One.

The use of punitive techniques rather than mentoring and problem-solving is at the heart of a fear-based culture. Encourage your leadership team to go outside the box when it comes to dealing with performance and behavior issues. If they’re interested, assist them in developing new strategies.

Investigate alternatives to your senior executives’ current disciplinary policy, and then work with HR to implement the change. (This is frequently easier said than done because HR owns the policy and has been programmed to believe it reduces risk.) Internal coaches, external coaches, and leaders with coaching skills are all used by many businesses.

As your senior executives learn to give up their harsh policies in favor of more personalized and solution-focused ways, executive coaching can yield a 788 percent return on investment.

Assist Leaders in Gaining Employee Trust.

The problem with a fear-based environment is that it quickly spirals out of control. The fewer employees trust their bosses, the more they feel compelled to keep their thoughts and opinions to themselves. Managers must find a means to instill trust and safety in the areas of influence of their staff.

Encourage your team’s leaders to get to know each team member on a personal level.

This is best accomplished through regular one-on-one sessions in which team members are encouraged to raise questions and express concerns. Managers can make employees feel heard and understand that their feedback is actually being considered by listening to and facilitating team members’ ideas for solutions to existing problems.

If managers have offices, they should aim to keep an open-door policy—both literally and metaphorically—so that employees know they may stop in at any time to talk or ask questions.

Culture transformation does not happen overnight, but it is feasible.

Taking a systematic strategy to engage with your leadership team is crucial to eliminating a fear-based culture. You may guide them toward a more people-focused management style that creates trust, rapport, and engagement once you’ve helped them comprehend your point of view using facts.

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