Redesigning work: overcoming the fear of failure

When it comes to ways of working, the pandemic has had many positive effects: organisations and people alike have expanded their workplace skills, challenged long held workplace assumptions, and eradicated bad habits.

But while there is much to be excited about as we reimagine the way we work, there can also be a downside to moving away from long-established habits and traditions: fear.

With a recession looming and the war for talent raging on, many leaders are feeling overwhelmed by an increasing fear of failure that is making it ever harder to cope with employees’ new workplace expectations.

Many of us will be familiar with the fear of falling productivity that many leaders have grappled with since the emergence of hybrid working practices – fears which have turned out to be mostly unfounded. But others are worried about the implications of an environment where some have more autonomy over where and when they work, and others don’t; of the loss of networking opportunities and serendipitous connections; of the widening privilege gap between office workers and those in customer-facing or factory roles.

All these fears are valid and natural: but they pose a real risk. Leaders who allow fear to overwhelm them can easily fall back into familiar ways of operating – losing the ground they gained over the past two years. It’s vital for leaders to work hard to prevent fear from impacting their ability to remain inclusive and empathetic towards others – but how?

Redefining the problem is an important first step. In challenging times, it’s easier to see problems as binary choices – instead of the complex and nuanced issues they really are. Instead of thinking in terms of office vs. home working or full-time vs part-time, leaders need to think in terms of scenarios and outcomes which must be deployed together to solve organisational problems.

It’s also crucial for leaders to change how they think about their role. Rather than striving to be someone who helps the organisation remain consistent in spite of change, they need to embrace the job of managing the change process. They must take an active, collaborative and visionary role in redesigning work by crafting the employee proposition and working empathetically with people to create change that is fair, inclusive and fit for a successful future.

For more detail on how leaders can overcome the fear of failure, read Lynda Gratton’s latest MIT Sloan Review article, The Four-Step Process for Redesigning Work.