“Companies will perform better if employees are not cowed into silence,” says a recent article in The Economist (registration required).
While we don’t often discuss fear in the context of enterprise procurement, it is absolutely relevant and makes perfect sense given the expanded objectives and performance targets we face today:
“In a corporate culture based on fear and intimidation, it may appear that targets are being achieved in the short term. But in the long run, the effect is likely to be counterproductive. Studies show that fear inhibits learning. And when confronted with a problem, scared workers find ways of covering it up or getting around it with inefficient practices”
The logic of the above sentiment may be straightforward, but finding a solution by creating a safe space is a very real challenge. If fear inhibits learning, we should consider it the enemy – especially if it also prevents us from taking the kinds of calculated risks that promise the greatest return.
Perhaps the best way to start facing our fears is by naming them: fear of failure, fear of conflict, fear of being exposed for a skills weakness or a knowledge gap. Giving our fears a name not only brings them into focus, it also empowers us to rise above them.
Effective leaders are able to create safe spaces for their team. I recently led a self-awareness and change mapping workshop with a client, and their Head of Procurement had created a culture where nothing was off the table. His team was free to share any and all opinions – including on actions he had taken or his management style. And share they did! As a result, it created the most open workshop I’ve ever seen. Our results were equally impressive and should drive actions that go to the core of the challenges this team needs to overcome at all levels.
But how do you take the openness in a single workshop and apply it to business as usual? One suggestion is to create Information Amnesty. In every 1:1 and team meeting, be clear at the start that nothing that is said or shared will be held against the person sharing their opinions. Without fear of reprisal, you’ll have much more open dialog and get straight to the point faster. What’s more, you’ll eliminate the risk of misalignment in procurement and in the enterprise as a whole.
(Editors Note: this article first appeared in the Art of Procurement email newsletter. Click here to subscribe and never miss an episode, or an article!)