Reducing fear top of the manager's to-do list

Managers must reduce employees' fear and foster their creativity, says LBS study.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

A survey of 1,060 managers worldwide by London Business School boffins Julian Birkinshaw and Gary Hamel shows that many employees spend their time at work distracted by a nagging sense of fear.

Thanks to the chilly economic climate, they might be terrified about losing their job or scared of making a mistake – whatever the cause, it dampens initiative and fosters mediocrity. That’s got to be a bad thing.

Not only that, but the survey – which asked what the critical challenges facing managers today are – also revealed their reluctance to develop the creative side of employees. It seems that when it comes to work, we’re stuck in a beige sludge of boringness. What’s needed is a huge injection of imagination. Just like all those free-thinking bankers who came up with those clever CDOs and CDSs. Or maybe not...

‘It is no secret that traditional organisation structures suppress imagination and creativity,’ write the profs. Apparently most of us have plenty of latent creativity and passion that don’t find an outlet in the workplace, and Birkinshaw and Hamel suggest turning to non-business organisations for inspiration. Any one for circus skills at lunchtime? After all, swinging on a trapeze with your boss might just do the trick.

So, why are we still stifling creativity and allowing our colleagues to quake in fear? Apparently the biggest barriers to reinventing management are limited bandwidth (not enough time, too few resources); old and orthodox thinking, and disincentives to act, out of fear of change and executive self-interest. Because it’s always been like that, in other words.

Birkinshaw and Hamel take this as a cry for help – ‘Managers are saying, in essence: we would love to pursue these exciting challenges, but we are already running at full pace, with no slack; our colleagues and our bosses have no interest in disrupting the status quo; and we are so stuck in old-style thinking that we cannot imagine an alternative.’

MT might have the answer – why not get your mitts on a copy of our book The Management Masterclass for inspiration and advice on how to improve levels of trust and get the creative juices flowing at work?

As Sir Terry Leahy says in his foreword: ‘Every person in your team deserves respect for the contribution they make towards meeting shared goals. This is critical to building trust. So too is your attitude to mistakes. Mistakes happen, they are the price you must pay for allowing people to take risks. It is better to learn a lesson from a mistake, than never to take a risk at all.’

Hmm. But would BP’s Tony Hayward agree?

In today's bulletin:

Dancing in the dark: What's St Vince up to?
Small business lending crisis not ending yet
Editor's blog: are we in for more fat cat protests?
Reducing fear top of the manager's to-do list
Power cuts and burst pipes cost SMEs nearly £600m a year

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