A casestudy with Ricky: How to get rid of a culture of fear?

Ricky is very ambitious and brought a lot of energy into the room when we first met. “Hi Arvid, great to see you! I have a big problem to solve and would love to hear your ideas.”

If you give someone a compliment, you judge their suggestion

After about 20 minutes she told the story of her company. When she joined about a year ago, there was a problem with results and a culture of fear. The results were somewhat better, but she could not grasp the cultural problems.


It seemed to her that these issues were deep within the DNA of people. Not sharing information, talking behind peoples backs, never truly cooperating within teams. It was a serieus problem and she wanted me to give her a magic wand. And so I did, although it was not that magical.


I showed her the process of FeedForward. At first she responded negative. “This is going to take a lot of time, and I need change now!” A mistake a lot of leaders make. Culture is basically all the collective behaviour people show together within a company. It takes years to develop and will not change overnight. Unless there is absolute panic, but there was not.


Ricky thought about the plan for a couple of days and then asked me to teach her. I asked her to invite eight of her most important stakeholders on all levels within the company. Within an hour they all understood how it worked. And you might do too. But the proof of the pudding, was in the eating as they say.


She created a goal: ‘I want to lead the change within the company towards a culture of trust and team-effort’. We did a little test round, and a man from HR gave her a suggestion: “Don’t shoot the messenger if people tell you bad news”. Ricky nodded and said ‘Great idea George’.


I clapped my hands and looked around the room. Three people were smiling because they understood my intervention. The others looked surprised, including Ricky. “If you give George a compliment, first of all you are judging his suggestion. Secondly, if you don’t do this next time, he will know you hate his idea. So let’s tell it very bluntly: SHUT UP and thank him.”


They all laughed, but it is something you really need to rehearse and just do. Help each other to stop responding to suggestions. First think about them. Then act.


It took about fifteen months for Ricky to see results. Her stakeholders started their own process after the first six months and did the same with their stakeholders. Ricky created a FeedForward culture and truly measured change. But it is not something that will show overnight. And it is hard to do. Leadership is not easy. Leading the pact is not just about status and success. Like we have learned in a previous articles, it is not about know-how, but about show-how.


Feedback is useless, but FeedForward is one of the most powerful tools to use. You create growth for yourself as a leader and, if executed correctly, will create a reciprocal cultural that enables change.


Read more about how to quit giving and receiving feedback and start implementing FeedForward in Leadership Lessons #8: FeedForward.

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