Things you need to know about the book "Breaking the Fear Barrier" by Tom Rieger

Things you need to know about the book "Breaking the Fear Barrier" by Tom Rieger

In companies, fear can take many forms: fear of not meeting a goal, of not getting a bonus, of losing decision rights and respect. Fear compels employees and managers to protect themselves by creating seemingly impenetrable barriers fortified by rules and practices that benefit one group while harming others.

If this sounds familiar, then you know that, left unchecked, fear-driven barriers can spread at an alarming rate in a company. Workgroups start to define success not by reaching the company's overall goal, but by fulfilling their part of the process. Restrictive policies pile up until managers start to exert extreme control over headcount and resources. Other managers feel compelled to build empires — taking over other departments’ functions to regain or enhance their self-sufficiency. In the midst of these counterproductive activities, employees suffer, success deteriorates and efficiency dies.

While these barriers might seem insurmountable, they are not. By learning from the real-world lessons in Tom Rieger’s book, Breaking the Fear Barrier, leaders, managers and employees can overcome the barriers that plague their company. It takes courageous leadership and can be difficult, but the result will be nothing less than transformational. 

In this book you will learn:

• How your worst enemy is not always your competition.

• Why so many organizations plague themselves with cumbersome, lumbering bureaucracies that can’t quickly respond to market changes.

• How some of your rules could be hurting your company’s overall success.

• How to find the courage to fix what’s wrong in your organization. 

Here are a few highlights from the book:

In the aftermath of the Great Recession, while organizations are dealing with widespread loss and fear, it’s easy for them to give up hope that they can get back that edge, that swagger and that fierce pride that drove success in the past. But it’s still out there. That hope still lives inside every employee, manager and leader. To unleash that hope, organizations must utterly destroy the fear barrier. The first step is to understand how fear works, and how barriers are constructed and sustained so that the underlying root causes can be destroyed one by one. The second step is to create an environment where courageous behavior can flourish and thrive.

This is a difficult journey, but one that can mean the difference between success and utter failure; between dreams realized and hopes dashed. It is a journey we can’t afford not to take .What largely drove that fear of loss, we discovered, was an endemic sense of entitlement. Whether the issue was pay, a bonus, a promotion, decision rights, a big office, headcount or a budget, people would go to great lengths to protect something they felt they were entitled to — even if doing so was not in the best interest of the organization as a whole. The victims of these protective decisions often knew how harmful these behaviors were, but they were powerless to do anything about them.

People often face a basic dilemma between what is best for them personally versus what is best for the organization. Barriers inevitably spring up when these two dynamics are in conflict, but when they are in perfect alignment, organizations can avoid these barriers.If these two forces are not managed properly, fear of loss can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

  • Parochialism.When functional silos create protective policies and rules, defining success by focusing on only what happens in their own little world, and losing sight of the ultimate outcome, a company has reached the first level of bureaucracy: Parochialism.Sustaining parochialism isn’t easy. It takes a lot of effort. So to deal with incessant interruptions, exceptions and problems, parochial departments (and often whole companies) make new rules to protect themselves: rules that control actions, rules that restrict the flow of information, rules that limit and define how others will deal with that department, rules about the rules for changing the rules — all to serve the parochial needs of a local “ruler.”

Rules tend to enforce parochialism when they are absolute. General Motors (GM) used to have a rule that senior executives had to review presentations three times: They’d read the presentation before the meeting, sit through the presentation and read the minutes of the presentation afterward. This is part of the reason why GM executives routinely read 600-700 pages of documents a day, ranging from divisional performance results to lease agreements, leaving them with little time for selling cars.

Managers and leaders who are acting in a parochial manner don’t think they’re doing anything wrong. Often it is the contrary: They strongly believe that they are taking a courageous stand for what is best. They may even have been rewarded for their actions even though those actions are clearly harming the organization. 

Overcoming Parochialism

There are two steps to addressing parochialism: treating the symptoms and curing the disease. The symptoms of parochialism are rules that prevent more than they protect, making life easier for those within the silo at the expense of the broader organization’s success.Conducting an audit of these rules is a critical part of addressing the symptoms of parochialism.

To identify the rules that you need to audit, start by asking which rules sometimes get in the way and are not mandated by law. Different people from different parts of the organization will have different views about whether a rule is good or bad. Those who benefit from the rule will like it. But those who have to live with its negative repercussions may have several examples of how the rule hurts the overall success of the organization more than it protects it against loss or liability.Once the organization has identified the debatable rules, the audit can begin.A rule audit follows six sequential steps:

1. Identify the need that the rule is supposed to fulfill, and evaluate the validity of that need. Every rule should have a clear, established and valid need that it fulfills.

2. Assess ownership of the rule. Assessing rule ownership should be easy, and in many cases, it is. Accounting owns accounting rules, customer service owns customer service rules and so on. When no one owns a rule, no one is accountable for deciding whether it’s good or bad.

3. Determine how effective the rule is in meeting its intended need. If the rule doesn’t demonstrate that it improves performance, then the rule needs to be scrapped in favor of a different one to meet the intended need.

4. Find unintended consequences of the rule. To determine if a rule has unintended consequences, auditors need input from a wide range of employees, inside and outside the department that owns the rule, as well as from internal and external customers.

5. Establish the type of rule it is and the type it should be. Rules that make up the bricks and mortar of parochialism are usually gospels, or rules that must always be followed without exception. Some rules are guidelines. Some rules establish a boundary that should not and cannot be crossed. These are ground rules. The most elusive rules are ghosts. Ghosts are rules that are not really rules. Most ghosts start off as a practice to cope with a specific situation. But over time, those situations change or simply cease to exist. And yet the rule survives because old habits can be hard to break.

6. Adjust and communicate. Leaders must clearly communicate changes and adjustments to rule types, owners, needs and other pertinent information to the entire organization 

  • Territorialism. Often, managers feel that they have no choice but to maintain the tightest level of control possible over people and budgets to ensure that no penny is wasted and no assets are lost, especially to other departments. They may pressure front-line workers to meet short-term goals at the expense of meeting their specific departmental goals. By doing so, these managers create even thicker barriers to protect their turf.

These barriers institutionalize the problem of fear. If managers are worried enough, they may feel forced to start controlling resources, projects and people just to maintain control. They believe this is a solution to a temporary problem, but it rarely is. What starts out as a fear-based reaction can soon become standard operating procedure. Tight control becomes more and more prevalent, and it inevitably affects interdepartmental behavior. The whole scenario creates a low-grade siege mentality. This condition is the second level of the pyramid of bureaucracy: territorialism.

To be clear about terms, parochialism and territorialism differ in various ways. They are the result of different dynamics and they have different manifestations: While parochialism is about protection from outside, territorialism is about control over what is inside, regardless of the impact on front-line staff or other departments. While parochialism and territorialism are not the same thing, they are not mutually exclusive. A parochial manager can also be territorial, and vice versa. Here are some of the many ways territorial managers exercise control:

• Taking away freedom. Low empowerment, despite high levels of accountability, is a serious barrier that exists to some degree in virtually all organizations.

• Taking away extra time. Every job requires a certain amount of time to perform. Territorialism systematically fills every minute with bare-minimum tasks, leaving no time for outstanding performance and certainly none for personal empowerment.

• Eliminating opportunities to gain knowledge or skills. In times of scarcity, training is often the first thing to go, even though that training may help prepare employees for transfers, advancement or new ways of doing things.

• Restricting information flow. By keeping employees in the dark — about issues as major as strategy or as minor as office supply entitlements — managers limit employee participation and effectiveness.

• Withholding support. Perhaps the most insidious way for a territorial manager to limit empowerment is to implicitly or explicitly express that employees are empowered at their own risk and that they will not be supported if things go wrong 

Overcoming Territorialism

Territorialism is about maintaining control over people and resources inside a silo. So overcoming territorialism involves addressing what the people within that silo are — or, more importantly, are not — empowered to do and how they are held accountable.

The first step to creating appropriate levels of empowerment is to determine the factors that are limiting it.To find out, companies can conduct an employee survey in which workers indicate how much they agree or disagree with empowerment issues. Once organizations establish which aspects of empowerment are a problem, they can take appropriate corrective action.

Freedom to make decisions. If employees lack the freedom to make decisions, it’s probably because of their workgroup’s territorial manager. Determining the appropriate level of employee’s decision-making freedom comes down to establishing a shared, unifying, mission oriented company goal and a reasonable set of ground rules. That goal should then become the ultimate barometer of good and bad decisions.

Time. The most common empowerment killer is lack of time. To address this problem, organizations must determine what the administrative task capacity (time left over after mission critical work) for a particular function actually is. Once you know that time capacity, prioritize tasks based on the overall business.

Training opportunities. Training criteria should be as objective as possible. And companies should expect and encourage managers to ensure that their staff continues to learn and grow.

Access to information or resources. A culture of information sharing should be a deliberate strategy, along with rewards for sharing and penalties for hoarding.

Employee participation and innovation. Mapping the communication flow in an organization can shed light on where information is flowing well, where it is blocked, where it is vulnerable and where it is too many layers removed.

Managerial support. Holding employees accountable for the overall success of the organization and empowering them to succeed in furthering these objectives, including placing them with a talented manager, can help prevent territorial behavior from reaching a critical mass.

  • Empire Building.Territorial managers and leaders can control their fiefdoms unchecked as long as they don’t have to deal with other departments. But when they do, fear of loss of their ability to maintain control can drive them to spread their sphere of power over others. Fear reaches its apex in an organization when individual departments start building empires. Empire building is the pinnacle and most extreme level of the pyramid of bureaucracy.

Empire building occurs when one group attempts to regain or enhance its self-sufficiency by encroachment or by expanding its span of control even when that is not in the best interest of the organization. There are several signs that empire building has begun: Departments compete for IT initiatives. Recruiting may become back- logged. Leaders either directly or indirectly control other independent groups by “speaking for them”; by claiming the right to prioritize time or resources for different departments; or, in empire building’s most severe form, by creating duplicate functions of their own.

Empire building cannot exist without parochialism and territorialism. The preconditions for empire building are endemic fear, different views of success, tight control over resources and lack of shared accountabilities — the bricks and mortar of parochialism and territorialism. When faced with parochial and territorial colleagues and the barriers they build, managers might feel that they have no other choice but to build empires. 

Overcoming Empire Building

Decisions that foster empire building are typically a result of short-term thinking. One type of short-term thinking is a sin of omission, when decisions are made for short-term benefit without a full realization of the ultimate effect. A sin of omission is a barrier created by a hasty decision or a badly planned move, such as pulling resources off one project to save another, thus making it impossible for the first project to succeed. This becomes a problem when there is collateral damage to the broader organization.

Another type of short-term thinking is a sin of commission, when people realize that there will be long-term consequences, but they sweep those concerns under the rug. When unpleasant consequences are well-known but brushed aside, dismissed or minimized until it’s too late, organizations are creating a sin of commission. 

Courage Enablers

Removing barriers is only the first step. Leaders must give employees the encouragement, energy, commitment from above and support to try new things and to focus on the greater good of the overall organization. Leaders need to give special attention to courage enablers to ensure that new barriers aren’t built. Once rules, empowerment, accountability, information flow and resources have all been addressed, managers need to foster courageous behavior through four types of actions:

• Aligning vital courage and moral courage.Shane Lopez and the late C.R. Snyder are perhaps the foremost experts in research regarding hope and courage. They defined vital courage as the “inspiration for actions that improve one’s lot in life or that ultimately promote survival.” Moral courage is “the authentic expression of one’s beliefs or values in pursuit of justice or the common good despite power differentials, dissent, disapproval or rejection.” While vital courage is inward- ly focused (survival), moral courage is outwardly focused (ideology). Vital courage is about what’s best for the employee. Moral courage is about what’s best for the organization.

• Matching responsibilities with strengths.Organizations that effectively create individualized career paths for talented employees have seen dramatic benefits. One heavy equipment manufacturer began to use a strengths-based approach to determine eligibility for a fast-track manager training program. The failure rate for those going through the program dropped from an unacceptably high level to virtually zero within six months.

• Engaging employees. Engaged employees are good for business. In a financial services company, higher levels of engagement meant stronger productivity. In a manufacturing firm, greater engagement resulted in fewer accidents. In a hospital, increased engagement led to improvements in patient outcomes and safety rates. Other businesses saw increased sales, lower turnover, better customer relationships and higher market share. What all of these organizations found is that engaged employees are a prerequisite for courage and success.

• Rewarding courageous behavior. The reward doesn’t have to be a trophy or a bonus; it could be a note from a manager, a pat on the back or a story told at a department meeting. Whatever the vehicle, leaders should reinforce and celebrate courageous behavior. And the reward should be meaningful to the person you are rewarding and clearly linked to the types of new behaviors you are seeking. 

Beware of Courage Killers

Managers who lack the talent to do their job effectively are at the source of many courage killers. There are many ways for these managers to discourage courageous behavior in an organization. Some of the more common courage killers are:

• Inconsistency. To reduce inconsistency and create courageous behavior, organizations must have clear and objective rules that they communicate well and that everyone in the organization fully understands. They should enforce those rules as consistently as possible, based on hard outcome metrics rather than opinion.

• Playing the blame game. This courage killer tells workers that they are empowered at their own risk. But failure results in recriminations, regardless of whether the employee has the support and blessing of his manager.Managers who are not willing to support employees who are acting within the rules or with the manager’s consent send a message that they cannot be trusted. But managers who publicly stand behind their employees and encourage intellectual energy and initiative are tremendously beneficial to their companies.

• Hoarding information. To be empowered, employees must have access to the information and resources they need to do their jobs properly.Ultimately, unless there is a compelling legal or regulatory reason to keep information from employees, companies should not tolerate information hoarding.

• Public floggings. A technical analyst in an industrial products company joined the organization with high hopes and expectations. However, her optimism was quickly dashed. When the manager of her work group was disappointed in an employee’s performance, that manager would get an inch from the offending employee’s face and scream at him or her in front of the entire group during meetings. After witnessing a few of these episodes, the new employee quit and took another job, even though the pay was lower.

• Subjectivity/rewarding subservience over service. When organizations base performance metrics on clearly communicated and achievable targets that pertain to objective outcomes, then everyone knows exactly what they need to do.

• Excessive control. Organizations must set ground rules for the types of decisions employees can make. As long as employees stay within those parameters and there is some accountability for results, they should be free to make decisions. 


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