Fear of Failure: Paralysis of Employees

by James P. Tate on February 28, 2018

Many times, in my consulting career I have seen good, knowledgeable employees refuse to act on a new project or to implement a change.  The first reaction to a seemingly recalcitrant employee is to just fire them and move on.  However, this visceral reaction is the wrong approach.  The first question to ask is: Why is a good employee who has been a strong worker, suddenly resisting change or forward progress.

This resistance can be a plain refusal to take action; or, many times it materializes as a slow down as the employee asks questions or bugs you for minutely detailed instructions before taking action.  Many of us have experienced this response.  The employee asks incessantly for detailed instructions on his assigned task.  It appears to us as if he is engaged in a deliberate “slow down” to avoid having to work.  We are constantly interrupted to answer questions to which the employee should already know the answer.  In some cases, the employee has already been instructed on how to preform the task.  Why is he asking the same questions over again?

The answer could be something as simple as fear of failure.  If the employee believes the project is important then he could also bear the fear that its failure could cost him his job.  To avoid this job loss, he wants to make sure he doesn’t make a mistake.  Oddly enough, his constant nagging for instructions to protect himself, may actually cause you to become so frustrated that you want to fire him!

Now we have defined the problem. How do we fix it?  The fix is a change in direction for you.  You must not fall into the trap of providing the detailed explanation and instructions.  Rather, you must work to engage the employee to develop his own instructions.  The employee must learn to fill in the details of your instructions and perform the work as you want it performed.

When he asks you a question, resist the impulse to answer the question.  While this may seem to be the fastest method to keeping the work moving on schedule, it is only enabling the employee to refer to you for every detail.  Instead, you should ask the employee how he would answer the question.  How would he perform the task given to him to achieve the end goal?  His first reaction will be to say he doesn’t know how.  This exposed his real inner fear.  You must be persistent and get him to volunteer an answer.  The answer will probably be wrong, but that’s to be expected, he is frightened of failure.  Coax him toward a better answer and when he gets close to the better answer, praise him for his response.  In this manner, your reaction will accomplish three results: First, it will allow him to engage in the organizations goal.  Second, it will build self confidence in his ability to answer future questions.  Finally, he will gain some understanding of your standards and what makes you happy in his performance.

Everybody wins with this result.  You now have an employee who is self-confident enough to act and work on his own.  You have a loyal employee who is devoted to the organization.  You don’t have to spend time hiring and training a new replacement for the employee you shouldn’t have fired to begin with!



Preparing Subordinates for the Next Promotion

by James P. Tate on December 8, 2017

A graduate school professor in Organizational Behavior posed a hypothesis to our class:  The best way to reduce or eliminate poor morale and to engage subordinates in the goals of the organization is to prepare them for the next promotion.  Our class was made up largely of experienced business managers and field grade army and air force officers.  Needless to say, this hypothesis created a great deal of discussion throughout the semester.

It was a piece of advice that I have never forgotten and each time I met with subordinates over the next 30 years of my business and consulting career, I thought back on this hypothesis.  It is a simple, yet effective, means of focusing the subordinates on the goals and success of the organization.  But, how do you implement it?

First, you must clearly state the organization’s objectives and goals.  (Objectives are what you want to accomplish: goals are the numerical ends you want to achieve to meet your objectives.)  Then, you must identify those subordinates that have potential for promotion.  Meeting with these subordinates, you discuss with them what they want in their careers and offer the opportunity for advancement to match their interests, abilities and desires.  All this sounds like Human Resources 101, right?

The next phase is the most challenging for you.  You have to develop a plan to give the subordinate increasing responsibilities and tasks that challenge him to develop a higher skill level.  These responsibilities and tasks should align with the organizational objectives.  Thus, the subordinate is working toward the organizational objectives at the same time he is working to improve his personal skills and gain business strength.  The employee should recognize that his success correlates with the success of the organization.

Be prepared for failure.  Anyone who is trying something new is bound to make mistakes and experience failure.  These errors only prove he is trying.  Use the failures as a training opportunity.  Discuss the mistake and get the subordinate to analyze his mistake and come up with a remedial action or understand what caused the mistake.

Does this method take time?  Yes.  However, it will produce dividends in the strong cadre of subordinates who are dedicated to you and the organization.  After all, you are the one who helped them gain a promotion.



February Manufacturing Survey – Federal Bank of Richmond

November 29, 2017

The Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond publishes each month the survey results of manufacturing activity in the West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland area served by the bank.  This information is compiled each month from responses submitted to the Bank by manufacturing firms in the five state area.  The survey can be found here.

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Quote of the Month – St. Nick

November 29, 2017

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night. Santa Claus, American Icon

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Disaster Planning – Protect Your Operations

September 25, 2017

The recent natural catastrophes, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria have had a major impact on families and businesses in many areas of the country.  The scope of each disaster has been significant in terms of geographic area and the economic affects.  While the personal human tragedy has been heart-rending, this essay will focus on suggestions […]

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Virtual Factory- A Technique Whose Time Has Come

August 23, 2017

In all the excitement and dreaming about the impact of computer software and virtual reality in the production world there has been one quiet project that could measurably enhance the use of computer software on the manufacturing process. In a recent article in The Economist magazine (July 15, 2017 issue, page 58) a real factory […]

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Manufacturing is Growing in America!!

July 24, 2017

We have been hearing about the loss of manufacturing jobs in America for, at least, the past twenty years!  The recent political campaign focused on the loss of jobs and how important it was to bring manufacturing back to America.  But let’s look more closely at the hard data. Although manufacturing jobs have indeed been […]

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Napoleon Meets His Waterloo

June 13, 2017

There will be no article for the June 2017 e-bulletin.  I will be participating in the 202nd anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium.  The e-bulletin will resume in July.

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Non-Value Added Activities- Quality Control?

April 26, 2017

In the Lean philosophy the activities in a value stream are typically divided into “value-added” and “non-value added”.  Value-added activities are defined as those for which the customer is willing to pay.  These include those operations to transform the raw material at each stage of production into a finished good that meets the customer’s requirements.  […]

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The Fear of Change- The Risk & How to Manage It

March 25, 2017

With each new project being implemented in a business organization, there are two risks.  The first risk, and the most obvious, is the danger that you didn’t select the right solution for the business challenge? The second risk is the danger of poor implementation of the solution.  A good idea badly implemented will yield a […]

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