Paul Brown, Joan Kingsley, and Sue Paterson, The Fear-Free Organization: Vital Insights from Neuroscience to Transform Your Business Culture

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In this book, the authors seek to demonstrate how fear, a powerful emotion that tend to override others, gets in the way of individual performance at work. As a consequence, it also affects organizational performance negatively, and it especially damps down efforts in implementing change. One of the questions they are trying to answer is how we manage and lead in such a way as NOT to induce fear?

While reading this book, I had the following questions in mind:

  • Why do we need a fear-free organization?
  • Why does fear matter?
  • How do we control fear or manage its impacts?
  • What roles do leaders play in organizations?
  • How do we create and maintain organizations where individuals thrive?
  • How de we create and maintain organizations that perform well and who can adapt to changes in market conditions without deletious effects on individuals?

Given the often difficult conditions in which organizations must carry out business and the need to manage ever-accelerating change (or so it often appears to individuals within organizations), it is essential to understand the underlying mechanisms that influence behaviors and relationships in order to foster the most fruitful ones.

The authors look at the neurobiological foundations of emotions, the self and the ability to learn. As an opposite of fear, trust generates more energy and leads to more positive results.  They say on page 218:

Fear is the wrecker of trust. Trust is the antidote to fear. It can only come from individuals who first of all trust themselves, understand their own strengths and weaknesses, do not  exaggerate on either side of the scale, and have integrity.

Because fear is linked with survival and because the brain associates change with a threat to stability, we can conclude that human beings are hard-wired to resist change and to fight for the maintenance of status quo. In extreme cases, constant change may create so much stress and fear as to drive people crazy. On page 21, the authors give the exemple of King Christian of Denmark whose fear-ridden childhood drove him to madness and whose strange behavior forms the basis for Per Olov Enquist’s novel The Visit of the Royal Physician.

Five of the eight basic human emotions (fear, anger, disgust, shame, and sadness) lead human beings to focus on survival, whereas only 2 (excitement/joy and trust/love) foster a sense of attachment. The remaining one (surprise/startle) can lead to either depending on context.

The authors propose the following process to ensure a fear-free organization: First, we must start with a good-hearted leader, use human resources professionals to “organize energy”, have the right metrics to understand how energy is mobilized to generate the right results, and design all systems to “secure attachment”. On page 224, the authors say “Begin to see that profit is the statement of how energy has been applied in the system and that there is a remarkably bountiful supply of energy in people if properly attached so that energy is outward flowing, in the service of the organization, no inward flowing, in survival mode.” We must also foster the right cultural dynamics, make sure we make good use of meeting time, bring joy back at work and encourage behaviors that highlight the joy and trust that people feel. And lastly, let’s be clear that is not going to be a final end state, but will require constant work to maintain.

The authors provide a foundation from neuroscience for all the idea they propose. Given I have little knowledge in this area, I could not assess whether their presentation is accurate but it has certainly sparked my interest.

Reference

Brown, Paul, Joan Kingsley and Sue Paterson, The Fear-Free Organization: Vital insight from neuroscience to transform your business culture. Kogan Page, London, UK: 2015.

Books and authors recommended by the authors:

Frederic Laloux, Reinventing Organizations: A guide to creating organizations inspired by the next stage of consciousness, Nelson, Parker, Brussels:2014.

Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations by authors associated with Vital Smarts

Stone, Patten and Heen, Difficult Conversations

David Rock’s SCARF model

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow

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