FUD (Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt); how to create or destroy it.

FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt). This came to mind from Jeffrey Brooks' post on organisational maturity in Back2ITSM..

Machiavelli didn't use the acronym 'FUD', but much of his advice on being a prince relied upon it. Managers who take ‘The Art of War’ or ‘The Prince’ too literally as their guide see it as a tool to manage. It certainly can help an ambitious and ruthless individual climb to the top of an organisational greasy pole. Unfortunately it leaves a dysfunctional organisation in its wake. From the point of view of the individual Machiavellian, this is a good thing too – a disunited organisation, full of internal strife, isn’t going to be in a state to mount an effective coup against its leadership.


Acquisitions, mergers, demergers or reorganisations all fragment companies breaking communication paths and processes, making it more difficult for people to know what is happening. They also, obviously, bring plenty of change – something people are against at the best of times. The combination of change with a likelihood of job losses, demotions and, at least, changes to position, is a powerful generator of fear, uncertainty and doubt.

FUD uses up lots of energy. Everybody wants to find out what is going on and so much time is spent in informal conversations unrelated to the work of the company (much more time than usual). People also, to protect themselves, contact recruiters, and go for interviews – mopping up more time. Others will use their skills to persuade those who might do well in the new organisation that they are worth keeping. All this energy creates more FUD and, inevitably, drives down the effectiveness and efficiency of the organisation.

Is there a solution to this? If so, what is it?

Minimising mergers, acquisitions and reorganisations is one way, but, particularly in recessionary times, not a very workable solution. Rather, allocating more time to the organisational change requirements make sense.

Practically, it’s worth seeing the way the FUD is created. Fracturing the organisation breaks down communication, which creates uncertainty, which causes doubt about the future, which generates the fear.

The longer the communication takes the greater the FUD. So the simple secret is, to communicate clearly all bad news as quickly as possible. If jobs are to be lost, tell those who are going to lose them who they are so they can move from FUD to practical efforts to find new jobs. Give the worst news quickly and you remove the uncertainty and doubt, minimising the fear caused by them.

Dragging out a reorganisation or merger over several months, whilst bad news trickles out in dribs and drabs through rumour and the sight of job losses elsewhere is an excellent way of continuing FUD, destroying staff loyalty and building a fractious, mistrustful and ineffective organisation.

With good news, to end on a positive note, the opposite approach is best. Release a little bit of good news each week, reinforcing grounds for optimism regularly. Make sure never to waste a collection of good news by handing it all out at once.

Be public and open about bad news – be secretive and miserly with good news.

Last modified on Thursday, 14 March 2013 08:35
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