Management by Fear – A Practice To Abolish!
“The world is not dangerous because of those who do harm, but because of those who look at it without doing anything.” – Albert Einstein
People have been telling others what to do since the beginning of mankind. The historical way of determining who gets their way was the stronger rules the weaker. Originally this was physical strength, later it extended to mental dexterity and more formidable weapons. This approach still has a place in society – the military strength of competing forces determines who sets the rules.
The same approach naturally extended to the workplace in the birth of the industrial age. Bosses told others what to do (i.e. bossed them around) based on their ability to inflict hardship and economic loss on those under their subordination.
As time has passed, bosses have gotten very good at using their positional power to dictate not only their subordinates’ actions, but also their words. Those who survive and progress in the organization are those who learn well to say the “right” things and do the “right” things – the things the boss wants done and said. Eventually they even learn to think the same way the boss does. Those who cannot accomplish this either exit or fail to progress in the organization.
Management by fear stunts the potential of the organization from the top. Rather than unleashing the collective intelligence of the whole, the enterprise cannot grow beyond the boss’ capability. But, there is another element of management by fear that shows up in shop floors around the world daily, and this is our focus for today.
On the shop floor, the essence of improvement is finding and fixing root causes of failures. Of course failures will occur in any system, and nobody wants them. But failures are also precious keys that open the door to improvement. Only by careful analysis of failures can we find the roots of our problems. And only once these roots are identified can steps be taken to ensure that particular failure never occurs again. This is the essence of continuous improvement – it is OK to fail, but never OK to fail to learn from the failure!
Let’s look at three examples with respect to safety, quality and equipment failures to contrast Management by Fear with World Class Management.
|Topic||Management by Fear – punishment based||World Class Management – process based|
|Safety||If someone got hurt, we must find out who did something wrong to punish them.||If someone got hurt, we must find the root cause of the failure to ensure we fix it so no one can be hurt the same way again.|
|Quality||If defective product was produced, we must find out who caused it to punish them.||If defective product was produced, we must find the root cause so we can put countermeasures in place to avoid producing that defect in the future.|
|Equipment Failure||If a machine fails, we must find out who operated it or maintained it incorrectly to punish them.||If a machine fails, we must identify the failure mode and take steps in our maintenance and/or operating processes to prevent it from failing that way again.|
Management by fear is based on the underlying assumption that people are the cause of failures, and we must punish them so others will be afraid to repeat that failure in the future because they do not want to suffer the same fate. The problem with this is that if people are afraid of punishment, how likely do you think it will be that the organization will be able to identify the correct root causes of failures when they occur?
Of course the answer is that accurate root cause identification will become difficult to impossible, because when a failure occurs the natural inclination of those involved in the process will be to hide the truth of what occurred to protect themselves and their coworkers from blame. The result of fear based management is that root causes of failures are not identified, not fixed, and the organization is destined to continue to repeat the same failures. Management by fear causes unnecessary loss of productivity, equipment failures, quality problems and worker injury and even death in manufacturing operations around the world.
In contrast, world class management is based on the underlying assumption that processes are the cause of failures, and we must relentlessly work to improve them to avoid loss of productivity, equipment utilization, quality and safety. With a root cause elimination focus, employees willingly share the truth of what happened because they know the goal is to figure out why they did it so the process can be fool-proofed (poka-yoked) to avoid anyone doing the same thing next time.
For example, if operator Tom pushed button A on the control panel when he should have pushed B, why did he do it and how can we prevent it next time? If we punish Tom, nothing gets fixed in the process and we can be sure some day operator Jerry will accidentally do the same thing. If instead we focus on the question why Tom pushed button A, we may discover an ergonomic change to the panel to reposition or color code the buttons, or even modify the PLC to render button A inoperative when it should not be pushed. We have effectively decreased the chance of Jerry pushing button A in that situation, possibly to almost zero.
This is not to say that our people never take deliberate actions or inactions that undermine our processes and create safety incidents, quality problems and equipment failures. People are still human, and there will be occasion for consequences when an employee decides to deliberately sidestep a procedure so they can play another hand of cards in the break room.
Nevertheless, a culture of world class management is vastly more effective to limit those decisions because it is inherently more respectful of our human capital. Which creates a more engaging workplace that fosters employee loyalty and brings their whole self to the job – the one where our workers are treated like the problem or the one where they are given the chance to be part of solving the program? The answer is obvious.
I welcome your comments, opinions and examples to this post.
Please feel free to contact me if you want to discuss how to implement World Class management in your workforce. I get excited by the opportunity to guide companies to these transformational principles.