Culture Change and Fear

There’s no doubt that fear can prevent an organization to be what it could be, but what can be done about it…how many times have you been in a situation where there were problems to solve, but no one stepped up to the plate to solve them because of fear? Piggy-backing on my previous posting, this could be another inhibitor to making 6S truly mainstream. Take for example the following:

A defect is identified, and there is no clear root cause. Short term fixes are employed. A person is nominated to handle the problem solving, and as analysis is performed, the exercise becomes one of self-protection. Groups that are involved begin to work on proving that they are NOT the root cause. The activity becomes so muddy that no clear root cause is ever found. Whatever band-aid that was put in place becomes the solution, and the cycle starts again…

What is the bottom line here? To me – fear. Fear of being the guy or gal that stands up to say their department owns the root cause…just like fear shuts down dialog, fear can also shut down team problem solving.
So the question is, how do we foster change so that we overcome fear? How do we create a safe environment for problem solving effectively with free expression?

Comments 16

  1. michael cardus

    for organizational and personal acceptance of problems you are struggling with a culture of authority and punishment.
    Many manufacturing companies (that is where i most commonly partner with 6S projects) you are dealing with a heirachy organization that is not built on admiting mistakes it is built on being less wrong than that guy or department.
    For this 6S project to be fully implemented the culutre must shift into one of praise and incentive reward to discovering defects in the process and system. Not the incetives only going to the 6S people (who are usually not on the floor with the workers and who the workers often time have no understanding of a 6S project).
    People go where they are rewarded and avoid areas of punishment.

  2. Kosta Chingas

    Michael –

    So how do we go about doing that? I haven’t seen much if any training on how to foster culture change in a tough environment like the one you’re describing….

    Maybe theres a gap that needs to be filled here?


  3. Charlie Rataj

    A simple statement I have found useful in to prevent this kind of fear is a the concept that the problem is almost never the people, but it is the process. by placing any percieved blame on something besides a potential individual, the fear can transform itself into cooperation.

  4. Kosta Chingas

    Hi Charlie-

    Some people listen to that statement and others don’t. Some cultures believe that there is always a person behind the process….kind of like the "5-Who" process vs the "5-Why" process.

    How sucessful are you at changing the minds of people that insist on the "5-Who" process? Do you have a methodolgy to change the perception?

    Thanks for your input….looking forward to more.


  5. Sandor

    I have a large poster in the room where the LSS teams meet. It is quote from Tao-Te-King (unverified though).
    It says: The wise look for a solution, the stupid only cast the blame.

    The teams see it, the steering committee sees it at every tollgate, we talk about it constantly. It does not solve the problem, but at least makes it visible to all :)


  6. Kosta Chingas

    Hi Sandor-

    Love that approach! Where did you get that poster?


  7. Ll’Rae Robinson

    Great dialogue about culture change. I’m not a 6s "process guy" … yet, but I am a student of organizational culture. The question posed by Kosta is a great one and the root cause of it all is trust. Trust mitigates fear.

    I’m sorry but i don’t think applying process or putting up posters will get you there alone. There are several leadership development programs that can help. GRID International and the Hay Group have programs that can transform a leadership culture by building self awareness and approach awareness. What’s needed to have an effective and trusted culture is objective candor to keep people accountable to process.

    Kepner-Tregoe has problem solving and decision making models that if adopted by an organization can be transformational but only if leadership is fully supportive and a part of the process.

  8. Kosta Chingas


    Thanks for the info. Those sound helpful…maybe posters won’t get you all the way there, but they would make someone think before speaking…..maybe….


  9. Kosta Chingas

    Rick –

    You really have my blood pumping now…you’re absolutely on the mark…crisis situations are where people earn their paycheck…..why not make a crisis a pivot point for culture change?

    The length of time it takes to achieve true culture change is directly proportional to the time the original culture existed…which in many cases is a LONG time. Like you said…we need to KEEP BANGING!

    Thanks again!


  10. Rick

    Obviously posters and slogans, in and of themselves, will not get you there; but, as Kosta points out, they can help.

    Any organizational consultant worth their salt can sell you a ’leadership development program’ that will work to gradually transform culture. In these economic times, however, it will be a hard sell to have companies (especially manufacturers) pony up the funds for such "soft" training.

    No; you need to continually preach the gospel of focusing on the process, not the people. Find your early converts and use them to further your cause. Gently, and tactfully, point out that the current method of assigning blame is not solving the root cause and, consequently, problems are continuing to resurface.

    This is not an easy or quick solution. Eventually, as lingering problems are rooted out and solved, your "New Order" will reach critical mass within the organization. It must continually be fed and nurtured to sustain the gain.

    The length of time it takes to achieve this will vary greatly depending upon the organization and how deeply entrenched the "blame game" is.
    There is no easy panacea. Posters and training can help, but they are not a substitute for ’brute force and ignorance’. Roll your sleeves up, get to work and prepare to get bloody from banging your head against the wall – but, DON’T STOP BANGING!

    Most businesses are in a crisis mode right now, worried about cash flow, etc. Now is the perfect time to start this change. Nothing fosters change like a crisis, so DON’T WASTE THE CRISIS! Get to work and good luck!

  11. Sandor

    Hi Kosta,

    "Where did you get that poster?"

    I just had it printed by the company IT guys, it is our own design.

    I fully agree that slogans are will not solve the problem by themselves. They are more like symptoms – in this case positive ones.


  12. Kosta Chingas


    YES! I think you hit the mark with your comment. I have seen the situation before where a problem solver has come across as "pointing the finger" when discovering a root cause (or causes) to a problem.

    Total defensiveness results…and it results in the mutual understanding that we are trying so hard to achieve to be cut off.


    Thanks for your input….I still like the poster idea.


  13. Narayan

    While considering fixes that fail, I am only reminded of Systemic thinking. In six sigma we often do cause and effect diagrams that are linear. Not the ones with circular relationships and feedbacks. Fixes that fail are often due to this.

    Fear can certainly be an undesirable thing. Defensiveness comes from the feeling of helplessness. If intervention from six sigma experts are not associated with punishment to the ’guilty’, there will be openness in sharing valid data, clarifying the reality etc. If as a six sigma expert I discover problems through insights and data process owners and use this to blame them, I can be sure of scaring them into not sharing insights, and providing misinterpreted or distorted data.

  14. Ll’Rae Robinson

    WOW…sorry i took so long to get back.

    I appreciate what Rick shared and believe there is a place for persistence in messaging and driving home the process.

    It does bother me a bit that many still see development as "soft" training and an expense versus an investment. The bottom line is you need to get to the root cause of problems and it takes candor and competence that either environments dont foster or leaders dont have. The workforce of the future is extremely diverse, knowledgeable, and enter with greater experiences than ever before. The competition for talent alone will be won by those who know how to create and foster the right environment for retention.

    Process people think process first but people are always the decising factor in how well the process is d. Ignore the people issues and the process will not be as effective as you’ve designed.

    You’ve all got the process piece. You also need to ensure there’s leadership.


  15. Rick


    It bothers me too. However, the sad reality is that companies’ balance sheets have a side for "income" and a side for "expenses"; there is no place for "investment".

    We can get into an entire separate discussion on lean vs. traditional accounting practices, and there are some companies that have "seen the light". These companies realize that employees are more than just a pair of hands; they also have a brain and that investing in that brain can pay huge dividends. The sad reality is that those companies are in the minority.

    Shareholders (i.e. mutual fund managers who don’t care one whit about what your company actually makes or provides) don’t really care about investment in employees. They are only concerned with whether you made them money in the last quarter. Unfortunately, it could be argued that some CEOs don’t care either, so long as they get their bonuses – but that is a topic for a different post :-)

    As a change agent, I am fully behind your ideas on training and development. However, you need a healthy dose of realism as well. As the river seeks the path of least resistance around the mountain, often the change agent needs to change course in order to achieve those goals which can be achieved given the limited resources at hand.

    Thanks for the great discussion!

  16. Ll’Rae Robinson

    Well thanks for the dose Rick. :-) I love the comment about the balance sheets having no place for (human capital) investment.

    If nothing else, your appreciation for the develoment of employee shows and that’s a huge step in the right direction. We need to deliver what the customer wants in the most prompt, efficient, and cost effective manner possible, but if we are truly good agents of change we need the skills and competencies to help the customers see what they need and how it will get them the best result.

    Great thoughts Rick. Thanks to you as well for the discussion.

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