Fear of Failure and Quality

Lydia wrote a great article titled “The Process Trap,” that asks weather company processes help or hinder quality of service. The trap results from a company’s inability to acknowledge and learn from problems. About half of my past workplaces fell into the trap Lydia describes. For individuals, it’s dispiriting to feel “stuck,” and for companies, these are lost opportunities for improvement.

Everyone with whom I’ve worked wanted to provide the best service possible. However, when the penalty for failure is significant, people become fearful. With fear, people’s motivations change — they become less concerned with quality and improvement and more concerned with avoiding failure. Fear of failure is a such a huge detriment to quality that one of Dr. Deming‘s fourteen points for management effectiveness is, “Drive out fear.” Deming wrote that in 1986 for Out of Crisis, so the idea is not new, but not everyone reads Deming.

When customers won’t receive acceptable service, what will employees do when fearful of deviating from standard operating procedures? They will ensure customers receive lousy service. No process will fix that, because it’s an issue of leadership. Somewhere between the person answering the phones and the board of directors, someone has to stop being scared and enable the people under them to do the best work they can. When you’re under a lot of pressure, and most managers are under pressure, it’s hard to be fearless, but not impossible. Absence of fear is necessary because it takes people to improve and adapt processes and people will avoid changing anything when scared.

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