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  • Writer's pictureLeverage Safety

Moving Beyond Fear: Building a Culture of Sustainable Performance

Updated: Jul 16

Fear has long been used as a conquering tactic throughout history. It has driven people to build monumental structures and conquer civilizations. However, is it our goal to conquer employees? While fear might temporarily improve safety performance, it is an ineffective approach for achieving and sustaining excellence in organizational culture and performance. In this article, we will explore the limitations of fear as a motivator and the need to shift towards more positive and sustainable approaches.

The Role of Discipline

Discipline certainly has its place in performance management, especially when an employee engages in malicious actions or flagrantly violates established rules. In such cases, negative consequences like termination may be necessary to maintain order and protect the organization. However, relying solely on fear-based disciplinary measures is limited in its ability to inspire discretionary effort and long-term performance improvement.

Accountability and Consequences

Many well-intentioned leaders have emphasized accountability in their organizations. While accountability can be valuable, it sometimes leads to the creation of additional rules, narrowly-defined performance expectations, and documented consequences for failure. Unfortunately, this approach often focuses on identifying and penalizing failure rather than fostering a culture of continuous improvement and motivation.

The Negative Focus

One common pitfall is framing performance expectations in negative terms, outlining what not to do rather than focusing on positive goals. This approach leads to a culture where supervisors constantly monitor employees for deviations from expectations. It creates an environment centered around avoiding failure rather than inspiring success. This fear-based mindset can be demotivating and hinder the potential for sustained performance improvement.

Understanding the Root Cause

To drive performance improvement, it is crucial to understand the underlying reasons for undesirable performance. Merely creating new rules and increasing accountability will not lead to sustainable improvement if the root cause is not addressed. While influencing performance is challenging, it is essential to move beyond surface-level solutions and delve into the complex factors influencing behavior.

Moving Towards Positive Reinforcement

Author David Weinberger discusses the concept of "Accountabalism," which attempts to solve complex problems by imposing simple rules and measures on individuals. This approach overlooks the nuances of human behavior and the need for intrinsic motivation. Instead of relying solely on fear-based accountability, organizations should explore the power of positive reinforcement and intrinsic motivation to drive sustainable performance improvement.

Shifting the Mindset

While many companies have progressive discipline procedures, few have progressive positive reinforcement policies. In the pursuit of sustainable performance, it is essential to create a culture where employees understand that consequences exist but are intrinsically motivated to work together towards success. It's a mindset shift from fear of failure to a mindset focused on achievement and collaboration.

Relying on fear as a motivator is a limited approach that can hinder long-term performance improvement and create a culture of avoidance rather than inspiration. Organizations must move beyond fear and explore the power of positive reinforcement, intrinsic motivation, and a collaborative mindset. In the next article, we will delve into a proven and internally-implementable approach to foster sustainable performance and inspire success. Remember, sustainable performance cannot be achieved by instilling fear; it requires a culture that values growth, collaboration, and intrinsic motivation.

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