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Freedom and Fear

Eliminating fear in the workplace is key to the flow of ideas

We have all worked in organizations where the boss is either someone who is unapproachable or a somewhat feared figure. The old expression “I’m just a mushroom,” which translates to “I’m kept in the dark and fed crap,” is amusing, but carries with it a poignant message: that the employee really doesn’t know, or care, what’s going on.

Such a work culture stifles business, as the potential for getting ideas and feedback from your employees is lost. If one considers the number of employees in a typical resort casino, somewhere in that group of people rests an exciting idea that just might make the difference between your operation and the guy next door.

The problem is, how does the organization extract that information if the boss is unapproachable, and if the employee is uncommitted and feels unimportant? Without a change to the employee culture, that idea will remain locked away.

Consider this: Who is the person who is always talking to your guests? Who is the one hearing their comments? It’s your employees, and to get your employees to come forward with those comments and their creative solutions is a convoluted process—and one that is not easily solved.

The first part of that process is to eliminate fear and create freedom, because if your employees are afraid, there is no starting point to build on.

“The Four Freedoms” were originally authored and circulated in 1987 by Keith Reinhard, and he revised them slightly in 2003. They have been slightly modified here to fit the gaming industry, but they remain, at heart, true to his thinking. Without eliminating fear as the first step, casino leadership will never unlock the freedom to access the employee talent, input and ideas that are waiting for them.

Because talent is the ultimate resource of any creative enterprise—and to survive, a resort casino must be creative—an operation committed to creative achievement must first be an operation committed to the identification and nurturing of the latent talent that is within it.

Talent is rare, hard to identify and, it must be said, only moderately useful in its raw state. To realize talent’s full potential, those responsible for the success of the operation must provide talent with an environment that encourages creative accomplishment. And this means creating a culture of freedom.

Talent freezes in the grip of fear. The creative mind shuts down, constricting the natural flow of ideas. Fear is paralyzing beyond reason.

It is not “the truth” that people fear. Fear results from “not knowing the truth.” Fear is created by motives that are suspect, by decisions made in secret for which the basis is not fully disclosed, and by the arbitrary use of power by those who control an idea’s destiny.

Fear is created by intimidation. Management by intimidation has no place in our operations.

It is in the very nature of creative talent to venture beyond the known, to investigate the un-heard of, to pick through scary places untrod by conventional minds, to go where no one has gone before. Because there are no assurances that such creative forays will succeed, the explorers must be granted the freedom to fail, to sustain their desire to venture forth again.

It is the job of management to first point talented people in the right direction, then judge the value of their discoveries. But if the quest for the new is to be responsible and intelligent, talent must not be criticized for daring to fail.

A degree of healthy ferment is required in any creative organization. But talent flounders in the chaos of uncertainty caused by management indecision, inconsistency or vacillation; talent requires benign discipline.

The talented mind may seem erratic, but it welcomes an understanding of responsibilities that is clear, yet roomy enough to permit the floating dream. These responsibilities must be well understood and freely agreed to by all parties before an individual joins the operation. Once committed, all parties must live up to the agreement.

It is particularly important that all management actions and communications be consistent with this understanding.

The first priority of an operation that depends on its people for success must be the well-being of every individual.

Each has a right to be treated with dignity, to be encouraged and supported in his or her ambitions for higher achievement, and, to the extent possible, to be provided with a place where a career can grow in the direction of the individual’s own choosing.

But beyond providing for professional growth, talented people must also be allowed to enjoy a life in which there is time for personal fulfilment, and for laughter and love and celebration.

If it was suggested to you that a successful manager makes 51 percent good decisions and a very successful manager makes 80 percent good decisions, then by implication, bad decisions are a normal part of the management process, no matter how good a manager is.

Perhaps it is a truism that management may be judged by the way it manages the bad decisions, not the good ones. Given, then, that bad decisions are part of the normal management process, the gaming organization must not have managers afraid of taking the risk to make decisions and, further, to encourage the freedom to make them without fear of retribution.

For employees, there must be freedom to speak up, to think outside the box, to come forward with information and ideas. They can only do so if they feel the freedom flowing throughout the operation.

When an operation fails to create freedom as an integral part of the operational plan, it will fail to maximize its potential, and instead of being a leader it will end up following in others’ footsteps. Not being the leader may well mean not creating the revenues needed for sustainable growth. So, spend a moment thinking about fear and freedom in your operation.

Chris Brammer is an associate of Gaming Market Advisors, one of the gaming industry’s leading consulting firms. He has over 25 years of experience in the industy, and is well-known as an innovator in casino management, design and marketing.

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