Fear - Deming's Point 8 - Reduce fear throughout the organization

Kevin Mader

One of THE Original Covers!
Dr. Deming's Point 8 states:

"Reduce fear throughout the organization by encouraging open, two-way, non-punitive communication. The economic loss resulting from fear to ask questions or report trouble is appalling."

I would like to ask the group to relate stories of fear in their organizations and how fear is addressed (or not) within the organization.




I think I am very lucky here. We have a few avenues for employees to report anything, from abuse to suggestions.
We have an employee advocate, who is the person any employee can visit, state their problems and have him follow up. Sometimes the issues are quite serious, including REDACTED harrassment or something lighter like overtime not being paid out correctly.
We also have an anonymous hotline for employees to call that investigates employee complaints and deals as a third party to bring resolution.
Any idea's or suggestions employee's have are dealt with through a suggestion program, and any idea implemented after being reviewed by a panel are rewarded with cash. Quite the incentive to get money for coming up with ideas. These ideas include changes for better safety, cost saving ideas or just improving process flows.
The suggestion program works extremely well.

I'm interested to see how other companies are dealing with this issue. Good question Kevin.


I ain't scared!

Good topic.
There is a general fear of the General Manager at our facility. He has what he likes to call a “strong personality”. His capabilities are extraordinary and there is widespread respect for his knowledge. He is not a people person. If you have a thin skin, or take his comments personally, he can be quite unbearable. There have been occasions where some people, my self included, have lost it during one of his lectures. I mean like, F.Y. or with an angry response. He doesn’t react like you would expect. After you reach a quiet agreement, have a cup of coffee and it is forgotten. I mean really forgotten. I wouldn’t make a habit out of it, but he will admit he was wrong. He has a flat line reporting authority on the Org Chart with approx. 1/3 of the workforce reporting directly to him. He very rarely delegates. So, for those who do not report directly to him, the fear of his “wrath” is very real. Those of us, who have reported to him, 8 years for me, understand the personality and deal with it. We realize his value to the organization. I’ve grown under his tutelage and just shrug off his occasional rude behavior. Early on, he upset me to the point that I went home. I didn’t trust myself to behave in a rationale manner. He paid for the time off and has told others to go home and cool down. They, too, were paid.
So, what has been done about it? Nothing. All work performed here is done like he will see it. This has been a good thing. You hear things like “don’t let XXX see that” or ” XXX is not going to like that”. In my case, if someone balks on an assignment, I just say, “XXXX wants it done”. Fear can be a good thing if it’s administered correctly. There is also a thin line between fear and respect for the position of the policy makers.
Hey, great avitar.

Kevin Mader

One of THE Original Covers!
As Sporty has noted in the post above, Fear comes in many forms and from many sources. Fear retards the ability to create Flow in an organization, reduces internal motivation, and creates distrust amongst many other unwanted outcomes. When reading energy’s post, I can’t help but make a very similar connection in the organization I work for. I suppose many of you can do the same.

As Dr. Deming points out in his books, in most organizations you can’t bring the boss anything but good news in fear of some form of reprisal. Reprisal may not be immediate either. It may come much later in the ill-fated concept of “performance review”. Not only can it come later, it often is repeated, the indelible stink of a bad outcome one can’t shed. The only lessoned learned: don’t do that again!! If we are not allowed to learn from our failures, how will we avoid such pitfalls in the future?

When fear is rampant in an organization, it is my belief that cooperation, challenge, and choice are abandoned. When we look at the ritual of performance review, fear of a bad grade interferes with the work necessary to bring excellence to the workplace. To get a good grade, we ‘choose’ projects and tasks that have low risk and a high probability of success. ‘Challenge’ is replaced by work of less meaning, or no meaning, so that we can reign supreme. Supreme over what! Each other? How will we ‘cooperate’ with one another if we are competing against one another?

When we use rating systems for people, we invariably create competition in our organizations. Fear of lost promotions, lower raises, and in general, lower status interpersonally stifle: communication, creativity, cooperation, challenge, and choice (lots of Cs there). Fear of retribution will instill an attitude of “playing it safe.” Who could blame a person? The game becomes one of survival.

When reading energy’s post and relating it to my own experience, I wonder if the same feelings are felt (energy, your back up in a minute). Here, we had a VP of Operations, very sharp and energetic. It is hard not to admire this quality. However, his people skills were also limited. Short with folks when they didn’t think his way and always second-guessed. It wasn’t uncommon to give direction only to see the opposite done because the person who asked you for it, asked him later. Make a mistake: here about it and often with folks present. Later, the nice apology but the damage was done. Who wants to make a decision if it will be second-guessed as ‘public record’ or overturned without your consultation? I term this: Learned Helplessness. What an ugly condition to be reduced to a puppet. Motivation: vanquished! Sadly, an unmotivated employee is as likely to be fired as one who continually makes ‘mistakes’ (or so they are called as folks ignore the fact that the System is mostly responsible for the problems). Fear grows from many directions: damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Well, I should turn this back to the group before I run on for a while.



p.s. I found the sole picture I had of myself on my computer here and used it as the Avitar. Thanks for getting me my first one though!!


Trusted Information Resource
my story

Kevin and all...Great topic!!!

I work for a small company, sole proprietor who has turned over day to day to a group of core people who have worked for him for a very long time. For the most part, things run pretty smooth.

A few years ago, one of the shop guys told the owner I said something critical of his actions. I was called into the plant managers office, and the owner tore into me hard, with language that I found appalling. I shut my mouth, contemplated walking out and never looking back. When he finished, he asked me if I had anything to say. This is what I told him "Never in my life have I been spoken to in such a fashion by the owner of a company I worked for. Perhaps I need to move on." He was silent. Then he asked the plant manager to leave (btw..his jaw was on the ground, no on had ever said something like this to the owner before). The owner then turned to me and appologised. He and I have had the best relationship ever since. I turned the fear he was trying to push onto me right back at him.

Fear is a tool used by many, but recognize it and move past it.


Kevin Mader

One of THE Original Covers!

I call the approach the owner used “Management by Intimidation”. I might have read that somewhere, so don’t give me too much credit.

I worked for a very prominent Medical Device Manufacturer who used those techniques. The problem is that after a bit, the hostage will take on the kidnapper’s disposition and continue to spread this Fear tactic. It was rampant throughout.
When we think about the traditional Western Management Philosophy of Command Control, it is an inescapable conclusion that we tend to manage with ‘carrots and sticks’. If you do this and do it well enough, incentives and rewards are received. Do that and do it poorly, suffer the wrath of the stick! Is that what we are after? Raise them up artificially and then beat them down? There is a better way.

Using fear to manipulate people is Skinnerian Thinking at work. Why try to educate a worker on the need to do something when you can use “carrots or sticks” to get it done and presumably faster? One method requires effort: the other does not.



Michael T

Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration.

Greetings all... great topic!

Dr. Deming had the right of it. Organizations must drive out fear in order for there to be true growth, both in the organization and in the individual. How is a person to grow except from making mistakes? We don't learn anything when we do something right, we learn when we do something incorrect. If fear of retribution for making a mistake is the culture of the organization, then little mistakes (those that can't be ignored) are buried. These little mistakes will ultimately become a big mistake that could get someone hurt or worse. Worse yet, managers walk around denying that anything is wrong for fear that they will be viewed as ineffectual. This is a truly a self-perpetuating cycle - since they are ineffectual because of their fear.

Since fear is one of the strongest emotions we have (i.e. the fight or flight syndrome) the tension level from fear is devistating. Not only does it hinder production, it can cause physical illness rates to skyrocket and cost the company many thousands of dollars paying out sick-leave benefits due to employees being out due to mental illness reasons.

Since we're telling war stories, I worked for a Plant Manager who used to go onto the plant floor, grab a product off of the production line, inspect it and if it didn't pass his inspection, he would to throw it across the shop floor and start cursing at all the employees around. Now, this is that same man who, when production was a little behind or past a ship date, would tell the same employees, "That's good enough - just ship it." Nice guy, huh?

Personally, I evaluate the abilities of anyone I work with (subordinates, peers and seniors, alike) on their ability to get the job done without the use of coercion or fear. If you have to resort to fear and intimidation - ya just don't get it.


Jim Biz

Great subject Kevin!!

Thinking - there are many folks that deal with this type of issue daily.. in one form or another..

At a former employer the outright "intimidation" was not used - but actions by "those in charge" - tended to mold the internal culture - into a similar "fear" type reaction...

- tell one person in great detail what needs to be done - then go tell another "exactly the opposite" - then go tell the third person they no longer need to be "in the loop...

No consistant management decisions were being made at all.!!

The resulting confusion over time developed an environment where no one was bold enough to venture forth and make any type of decision.. if for no other reason "frustration".



Super Moderator
Fear!! Bah...Humbug!!!!!:p

I've got more that 1/2 dozen gun-shot wounds, a real good scar from being knifed, and assorted other holes in my skin from flying pieces of metal. Words tossed at me don't mean squat. If it ain't big enough to eat me it can kiss my 5th point of contact.

I cannot be intimidated and other folks should learn not to be also. Managers (I won't say Leaders because there are very few of those) only do what they can get away with. Rudeness, intimidation, and other negative characteristics have no place in the modern business establishment.

I just left an environment working as a contractor for a US gov't office. The GS-13 puke that ran it was one of worst of the worst. He threatened, intimidated, humiliated and chastised on a daily basis. Most of the time I smiled back at him, the rest of the time I just turned my back and walked away. He was out of line and knew it....so do most other people that act that way. I now make about 3 times as much working for myself and laughing.

Use, and tell other folks to use whatever legal resources are at hand to control un-warranted and un-professional actions occurring in the workplace. It's hard I know and I talk kinda tough too, but I've been there more than once and if there is one thing I've learned it's this...Most of the people that resort to bad manners and bullying are really cowards who will back down or run when confronted. You just need to be correct in the way you do it.

Michael T

Originally posted by Randy
I cannot be intimidated and other folks should learn not to be also.

Hi Randy,

By-and-large, I would agree with you. After spending 11 years in the Navy, I've learned not to be afraid of most anything anyone has to dish out. Most of it is just chest puffing anyway. However, most people on the shop floor don't have that kind of background/experience.

For example, take Joe Average... a working stiff who may or may not have a high school diploma. He's a good worker making a fairly decent wage (non-union shop for argument's sake), has a wife, two kids, a mortgage, a car payment -- perhaps two, and is virtually living from paycheck to paycheck. He is definitely afraid of losing his job and definitely has to take Mr. Bully Supervisor or Ms. Bully Manager very seriously when he or she starts barking. God forbid he turns his back on them in the middle of a tirade... that would be tatamount to job suicide. He simply cannot afford to do that. So he has to suck it up (so to speak) and just go on working, trying his best to draw as little attention to himself as possible. Does he want to come to work? Hell no. Does he take pride in his job or satisfaction in a job well done? Highly doubtful. He probably never knows when he's doing a good job. There isn't that kind of feedback. Does he hate coming to work every day? Yepper. Would he be willing to go the extra mile for the company when they needed it? Don't even think about it. Could he quit... sure, but how long would it take him to find another job that pays a decent wage?

Now - if the culture of the company allows this type of action to take place, you can bet that he has no recourse if he goes to HR. Legal action? How can he afford it?

I just wanted to point out the hopelessness that fear can generate in the average worker.

Food for thought....

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