Assuage Fears to Make Better Decisions pt. 2

ARTICLE – Our five-part series with Elaine O’Connor continues. In order to assess where we are now and test for the presence of fear there are a few factors that we need to take into consideration before getting started.

This is a five-part series sharing the Point of View of Houston Principal, Elaine O’Connor. A new part of her Point of View will be shared each week.

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Assess – Where We Are Now

The first step for every executive is to test for the presence of fear, i.e. determine where we are now. Before launching into an assessment, the executive should define the goals and objectives of this initiative and develop an approach to engage employees, to communicate with them and provide them with visibility into the process and its results. Clear communication will establish a common understanding of the goals, objectives and motivation behind why the assessment is being prepared. This is an important step as it helps set the expectation that employees should provide honest, candid responses to the assessment. The very nature of the fears being discussed here may cause employees to be reluctant to share their true sentiments. Ensuring anonymity during the assessment process will help employees feel safe in sharing their thoughts.

Surveying provides a high volume of low fidelity data, and so should be coupled with other tools such as observing employees in their interactions and interviewing a subset of employees to obtain a related set of low volume, high fidelity data. The resulting data can then be interpreted to form a hypothesis on which fears are present within the organization.

The survey should be designed to ensure anonymity, with demographics questions kept to a minimum and included only at the end to avoid influencing how employees answer the survey questions. Consider not gathering any demographic data at all, creating a completely anonymous survey. It is important to design the survey to minimize the risk of fatigue, where survey respondents become tired of the survey task and the quality of the data they provide begins to deteriorate, often leading to “don’t know” or “straight-line” (i.e. choosing answers down the same column) style responses. Due to the in-person nature of observations and interviews, designating an impartial third party to facilitate these activities, consolidate the responses and then present the results to the executive will provide the sense of anonymity needed to help employees respond with complete candor.

To be effective, survey and interview questions should be framed within the context of time to diminish biases. Mood refers to how an individual feels right now, and changes many times throughout the day. Personality disposition, or traits, refers to how someone feels generally. The survey should focus more towards the mood end of the spectrum, but not hone in on how the person feels right now. The questions should be bounded within the timeframe of the past few weeks. Another option is to run two sets of survey questions, to test for the presence of fears recently compared to generally which will highlight recent variations.

The executive may not agree with what employees have said in their assessment responses, believing that they are not telling the truth or are not describing the reality of the situation. This is a trap that every executive should be careful to avoid falling into, because the employees are telling their truth. The executive should not attempt to explain away, disqualify or disprove the results, but should take them as given. Any difference of opinion between the employees and the executive defines the gap between how the executive perceives the current culture and how the employees see it.


Coming up next week: Strategize – Where Do We Need To Be


Part 1: Summary & Assertion, Background & Context

  1. […] Part 1: Summary & Assertion, Background & Context Part 2: Assess – Where we are now […]

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