Many remodelers tell of frustration with employees who don’t step up to the plate and take responsibility for their work. In some cases it’s not just one or two staff members — it’s most or all of them.

Depending on company size, if it’s just one or two staff who aren’t stepping up, you may have the wrong employees. But if this is a team-wide problem, then you need to look closely at the leadership and culture of your company.

Perhaps fear has become a management strategy and that fear has come to define company culture. Here are some signs that fear has infiltrated your business.

The Signs

  • Employees have stopped offering their opinions or solutions when problems arise. Rather than risk being proactive, they wait or ask for solutions from management.
  • Employees aren’t interacting with one another about their efforts, the status of their projects, how they can help each other, or how to share and maximize company resources. Individual employees are afraid that sharing ideas with another employee might limit or compromise their own advancement or political clout.

The Causes

  • Management blatantly or covertly stifles staff opinions. The company owner and the management team are more concerned with maintaining status and political clout than with helping employees grow and assume responsibility.
  • Many entrepreneurs only focus on objective measurements and detailed reports, neglecting the subjective reasons why employees may not be performing as they should. When numbers and metrics are the only way employees and their efforts are evaluated, fear can fester.

Steps Toward Change

Business owners and managers need to recognize and respect employees’ opinions and feelings. Consider setting aside reports at your next company meeting or during employee reviews and take time to ask your employees what they think and how they feel about you, your managers, and your business. Ask them why they think they aren’t meeting the expectations of your objective metrics. Be aware that it may take some coaxing if fear has overtaken the culture and they don’t want to risk sharing their feelings.

You may be surprised by what you learn, and your staff may share insights that enlighten you.

A mentor once told me the story of a meeting between Napoleon Bonaparte and his military staff. Several officers complained about the poor quality and performance of soldiers, pointing out that this was the reason for not reaching certain objectives. Napoleon’s response: “Gentlemen, there are no bad soldiers, only bad officers.”

Shawn McCadden founded, operated, and sold a successful design/build company. A co-founder of the Residential Design/Build Institute, he speaks at industry events and consults with remodelers.