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“Ultimately, we know very well that the other side of all fear is freedom.” —Marilyn Ferguson, author of The aquarium conspiracy
Whenever we are about to make a difficult decision or try something new, we instinctively consider the risk. We ask ourselves a lot of questions that start with “But what if ….” This phrase is then followed by any potential concerns with varying degrees of probability based on past experience, fears, and worst-case scenarios.
Everyone is scared. Some fears protect us from very real threats, while others paralyze us irrationally. I’ve explored what I’ve identified as the most common fears that impede the transition from Command & Control to Trust & Inspire. Here, we will take on a fear that many people face and offer a solution that will help you change both your mindset and your skill set.
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But what if it doesn’t work?
Leaders are responsible for results. The idea of trying a new way of leading when it could jeopardize the perceived certainty of the usual outcome can be terrifying. It can fail. It may not work. There is a risk.
However, the game has changed. If you haven’t already, you’ll soon find that there’s a much greater risk in assuming that you can continue to get the “usual results” with the usual approach. Operating in today’s world with yesterday’s command and control leadership style is a risk few of us can take.
Solution: A Trust & Inspire leader balances risk and return.
Mindset: I think the potential return can outweigh the risk.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos once said, “Failure and invention are inseparable twins.” In a letter to shareholders, Bezos also noted: “If you are good at correcting your course, making a mistake can be less expensive than you think, while being slow will be expensive.”
This has become the new paradigm of innovation in the technology sector: it fails quickly, it learns faster.
The reality is that risk and return go hand in hand. Whenever you try something new, there is a chance that it might fail. But there is also the possibility of success! There are situations where risk could outweigh profitability. Assess the work to be done and then ask questions such as: What are the risks involved? How likely and serious are these risks? Are your people ready and equipped to do that? Do you think that they will respond to your belief in them and live up to the opportunity? How could the potential return be? What will this do for the culture? Is it worth it?
Find the balance
As always, try to balance risk and return. In doing so, I find that most focus on trying to minimize risk and less on maximizing return. Instead of thinking about what could go wrong, imagine all that could go wrong when you have an empowered, committed, and even inspired team.
When I worked with a government agency in the provincial civil service of a foreign country, they wanted to create a Trust & Inspire culture as a means to better serve both their constituents and their own employees. This client said that most agencies seemed to focus almost exclusively on minimizing the risks, to make sure nothing could go wrong so that they could not be blamed for a mishap.
But this particular agency took the exact opposite approach. They asked provocative questions: “Yes, we want to be aware of the risk, but how can we maximize everything that could go well? How do we maximize the chances?”
They still took the risk into account and managed it properly, but that did not define them. What defined them was their focus on maximizing everything that could turn out well.
Netflix’s emphasis from the beginning has been on trust: the trust of its customers and the trust of its employees. During their early years as a company, they bravely ventured and broke up. They set up two separate companies, one for their traditional mail-in-the-box movie delivery model and the other for their new real-time playback service.
Creating two separate companies was not necessarily a bad decision.
But they made a pretty big mistake when they asked customers to subscribe to the two services separately. Customers hated it. They felt exploited and lost confidence in the company.
Netflix paid a price for its error. But they quickly corrected the course. They came back and said, “We listen to you. You’re right and we trust you.”
Netflix calls its trust in its people “freedom and responsibility.” It is an illustration of both smart trust and the principles of risk and profitability. His leadership team communicates this idea to its employees in a statement about the company’s culture, which states: “Our goal is to inspire people rather than manage them. We trust our teams to do what they think is best for on Netflix, giving them a lot of freedom, power and information in support of their decisions, which in turn generates a sense of responsibility and self-discipline that drives us to do great work that benefits the company … One might think that that freedom would lead to chaos. But we don’t either. You have a clothes policy, but no one has come to work naked. The lesson is that you don’t need policies for everything. Most people understand the benefits of wearing clothes to work. ” .
In other words, the return is much greater than the risk taken.
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The output is exceptional. They continue: “Freedom is seldom abused…. But these are the exceptions, and we avoid over-correcting them. The fact that a few people abuse their freedom does not mean that our employees are not trustworthy.”
His style is Trust & Inspire. Yes, there is a risk, but the return is extraordinary, much greater than what a traditional organization could get. It leads to the kind of performance that people just don’t give in response to Command & Control.
These principles don’t just apply to Netflix. Remember the study that shows that high-trust organizations are eleven times more innovative than low-trust organizations. There is no doubt that some of these leaders along the way asked the same question, “What if that doesn’t work?” If you really believe that there is greatness in people, leaving that potential on the table is an unacceptable risk.
Maximum freedom for creative groups is the freedom to experiment with new ideas. Some skeptics insist that innovation is expensive. In the long run, innovation is cheap. Mediocrity is expensive, and autonomy can be the antidote. “-Tom Kelley, partner at IDEO Design Firm and author of Creative confidence
A small business customer who runs a retail jewelry chain knows how to balance risk and profitability. He began with a high propensity to trust and told his employees, “I know you will make some mistakes along the way in exercising your judgment, but I want you to know something: I forgive you in advance.” It also extended large amounts of trust to its customers by offering lifetime warranties. Regardless of the problem, if something was broken or even just lost, a customer could get a full refund. Because he trusted them.
While you are taking risks operating in this way, the rewards have been worth it. It has a 97 percent customer satisfaction score and an employee turnover rate that is one-tenth of the industry average. It also has an inventory shrinkage rate that is one-hundredth of the industry average. He has inspired his people and clients through the way he treats them.
Exceeded by Trust and inspire: how great leaders unleash greatness on othersby Stephen MR Covey with David Kasperson, McKinlee Covey and Gary T. Judd, Simon & Schuster, April 2022. Copyright © 2022 by Coveylink, LLC