Tom Rieger, author of Breaking the Fear Barrier: How Destroys Companies from the Inside Out and What to Do About It, joined the show recently.
Tom's book is imminently readable and includes imminently doable tips and steps you can take within your own organization to reverse this rising tide of fear that only serves to threaten your organization's sustainability. He's pulled the company's global research across a dozen countries spanning six continents to identify the "fear barrier" and to show how and why fear destroys companies. The book explains how to transform a fear-plagued organization into one that is courageous and unstoppable.
Mr. Rieger is a Senior Practice Expert for Gallup, has pioneered the study and science of organizational barriers. Rieger is an expert in applying behavioral economic principles to uncover how complex systems self-destruct -- and how to correct those problems. Through this work, he has become a recognized leader in developing methods and frameworks to identify and remove barriers to organizational and societal success.
- You can listen to our conversation here.
- You can read Part One of our interview here.
Now, once an organization has grown and become big, a global presence, a global corporation, it still faces fear. And I was preparing for this show I came across a post by John Moore over at Brand Autopsy and CrackerJack Marketer titled Why Does Big Mean Bad and Can It Be Avoided? And I thought in light of your book I would ask:
Why does big mean fearful and can it be avoided?
Well, larger organizations will have more departments and more groups clamoring for more information and resources. Budget time in big companies is basically open warfare.
You know, take Shared Services Group. They could never meet all the needs and all these needs could be legitimate. And you may have enough for 3 IT initiatives and you have requests for 50. So, some people are going to win and some people are going to lose. And that makes inter-departmental conflict unavoidable.
Information sharing also gets more difficult with size. You have that many more links to try and fill with information.
So, fairness starts to suffer and certainly resources start to get tighter and tighter. And that’s when fear comes in and people are sitting there saying:
“Wait a minute. How am I going to meet my goals?
And I may have to get very territorial with the resources I have, maybe even empire-build.
Or, if nothing else I’ve got to set some controls on how people deal with my department. "
And again, it’s all with the best of intentions. But when that happens it makes it that much more difficult for the organization to succeed.
Now. This does not mean that only large organizations can have these types of barriers. It can happen anywhere. But I do agree with you that it is more common to see this is as business gets more complex.
I live in a small town in rural Iowa. We see parochialism in all its glory on a regular basis. I am afraid at times I may have glorified it, too. But small towns do not have the exclusive on this. It happens in organizations of all sizes. In fact, you write that parochialism is the foundation of the pyramid of bureaucracy. Could we say parochialism is the foundation in our response to fear in an organizational setting?
You first have to see where the problem lies.
- Is it parochialism?
- Is it territorialism?
- Is it empire-building or something else?
But, you are right that you have got to start with parochialism to some degree. Because, quite frankly that’s where the cancer starts. That’s where it all begins.
Territorialism, which is the next level of what I call the Pyramid of Bureaucracy, is often a response to the parochialism of others.
" Ok, if you’re not going to make the exception for what I need so I better make sure my groups don’t make exception for anybody else.
And if that’s not enough if I start to feel that no matter how much control I have other the resources at my disposal I may not succeed then I may need to build an empire...and take over other departments or perform duplicate functions."
So, it does start with parochialism. And you do need to overcome the bricks-and-mortars of parochialism which is usually rules and policies that benefit the few while harming the many.
I always see the foundation as the most important, biggest, strongest element. What makes parochialism then the biggest, baddest, response to fear of loss?
Well, as I said, that’s where it all starts. You start to have these walls built with absolute rules; things I call gospels. We talked about customer service earlier...you ever called a call center with an issue. And it went horribly wrong? And at the end of it, after just arguing and arguing and getting nowhere, they say:
" Is there anything else I can help with you today?"
And you just want to strangle them! They have to say that even though it makes things worse.
So, parochialism is the absolute rules.
And there are other types of rules we’ll talk about as the show proceeds. But once you have that foundation then that does lead to some of these other types of barriers that we see such as Territorialism and Empire-Building, and so on.
You bring up such great examples that I am always flashing back to call center experiences and that classic one where after not helping you with any issue they ask:
Is there anything else I can help with you today?
There’s nothing to say.
I actually heard a call-center representative use that phrase to tell a customer to shut-up. They said:
Ma’am is there anything else I can help you with today...?
And he’s got a ticker and he’s made one more step forward to handling as many calls as he can.
How does an organization begin to overcome parochialism? What's one good step a listener can take today to chip away at this foundation?
What we see today is that parochialism is usually based on rules and policies. Why not audit the rules and policies?
There are things that you can look at to see do these rules make sense? What we want to do is ask:
What is the rule trying to do?
Is there a legitimate need?
Is it a need that is focused on overall success or is it just some small narrow version of process checking-off?
And if you answer that question then you ought to look at:
What’s the ratio of what’s the rule trying to protect against versus what is the rule preventing?
So, if the rule is protecting something legitimate more than it’s preventing something you want, then it’s probably ok; maybe you need to adjust it. If it’s preventing more than it’s protecting it’s probably a bad rule.
So, one thing we want to use with parochialism is a rules audit. You want to go in and see if these rules make sense. There are gospels that are absolute. Maybe they should be guidelines, more conditional.
If you really trust your employees, maybe you empower them to make decisions and actually use their brain. I know that’s a novel concept. But give them a guideline and hold them accountable. You know there’s the great quote from Spider-Man:
With great power comes great responsibility.
You can’t let people be loose cannons. You have to hold them accountable.
But the most harmful rules we find aren’t even rules. They’re what we call “ghosts”. They are things that people think are rules, but they’re not. Very often organizations are haunted by hundreds of ghosts.
You know what? There’s nothing wrong with doing an old-fashioned ghost-busting party and rooting out and dispelling the myths.
That’s such a great example you gave of having a ghostbusting party. Just to go through all the assumptions and all the well that’s the way we’ve always done it....and have a little fun with it and create some engagement with it and create some new ways of doing it. Get some ownership in what they’re doing.
That’s what happens on the frontlines. That wasn’t my idea. We were doing somework in an organization and some frontline employee raised their hand and said
Why don’t we do ghostbusting?
And I thought: That’s a great idea!
Again, it always comes to back to so many opportunities to create engagement. And it seems it’s always the will that is lacking, the courage and the creativity.
Level two of this pyramid is territorialism. What or who does territorialism protect us from?
Managers become territorial when they fear their resources are going to be sucked up by another part of the organization. It could be information. It could be money. More commonly it would be what people in that department are allowed to do for others.
It becomes institutional when people get confused about their strategy and performance goals. People start to say:
" I’m not going to help you."
We had one manufacturing company where there was a quality-control group that was there to really help with issues and make sure the product they were going to ship was up to spec. You could have a crisis situation with someone on the floor had test a batch and you could test it in an hour.
But the manager of that department had a rule about the certain way that memo had to be and they didn’t want any exceptions and they didn’t want their people stepping out of their comfort zone and the could delay the results being release by up to a day. Meanwhile, the plant’s shutdown.
But the person running that department wanted to make sure that they kept absolute control of how they ran that department. Again, it helped that manager reach their goals but it hurt the company’s overall performance.
We hear lots of talk of openness and transparency in organizations. And that seems like an excellent antidote to territorialism. Is it? Do you see openness and transparency as an antidote to territorialism?
Sometimes. But I’ve seen people be very open and transparent about the fact that they are being territorial.
What I will say is that if the territorialism is about control of the information then absolutely. However, if you have a manager in an office worrying that if they lose one more penny of their budget, have to take one more exception, then they won’t hit their goals...then I don’t care how open the organization is; territorialism is a big risk.
You know I’ve been working in organizational development since 1986 and I’ve never seen so much fear in the workplace. Fear is what leads to the types of behaviors we write about in the book.
So, no, if anything the openness is getting worse. But especially if that’s terriorialism about information then that’s something you have to address.
So, let’s go back to that point you just made. You DON’T see a trend towards more openness and transparency in companies.
I do and I don’t.
I see a lot more technology being available. At least in the companies I’ve worked in or brought into, there’s a lot more territorialism about information. The tools are there. But not everyone can use them.
We had one hospital chain that brought in a great new information system with email and get better control of communications around an issue. But they gave only 1/3 of employees access to it.
We got with a national consumer electronics sales and marketing organization that had invested all sorts in a new customer information system and didn’t give the sales force access to it.
So, sure there are tools in place and when used properly that can help. Unfortunately information is power and power is hoarded. So, in some cases yes, information is more available.
But there’s a flip-side to that information barrier that we see. And that’s not necessarily information transmission but information assimilation. When you have too much information that’s just as bad. One client we worked with this got so bad they actually called it process tsunami. If you added up the notes from every meeting and every form they had to fill out and every memo they received and the time required to do that it was 26 hours a day. That manager would never step out of their office, never deal with another customer.
But, more information isn’t always the answer. More importantly, do people have the access to what information they need, when they need.
That kind of openness? Absolutely critical. But just throwing more information out there isn’t going to work.
And these, parochialism and territorialism all lead toward Empire-Building, the 3rd and final building block, in this pyramid of bureaucracy; maybe the all seeing eye of bureaucracy. You list a few examples that I swear, again, resounded in my ears creating almost flashbacks. You profiled Doug Conant, CEO of Campbell Soup. How did he tears down those walls in Campbell Soup? What was the result?
Based on his interview with magazine, Gallup Journal, he did a few things.
He started by ripping up the org chart and getting rid of quite a few silos. Then rebuilding organization based on a common mission, focusing on employee engagement, and having a unified focus.
The result was pretty remarkable in terms of a turn-around for the company. And I would never sit here and say this was all due to those efforts. But, if youlook at earnings per share for Campbell’s Soup in 2008 it was $1.85 and by 2010 it was $2.45. During tough times, if you’re aggressive and do these things then you can have a pretty big difference.
That raises some pretty big point. The leadership has to behind this. I ask a CEO two questions before we start this work and the answer to both have to be “yes” otherwise we’re wasting our time.
- Are you willing to look in the mirror?
- Is everything on the table? Or tell us what isn’t.
Because those two things aren’t really crystal clear then you can’t see those types of institutional change.
Love those two questions! Would you give them to me again?
- Are you willing to look in the mirror as a leader of an organization and look at your own practices and strategies?
- I’m going to assume everything is on the table unless you tell me otherwise.
Fear arises from the lack of vision, understanding. It is the opposite of courage. How do we, individually and collectively in our organizations, begin to empower courage for ourselves? What’s one step you’ve seen an organization take to move in this direction?
You know, I talk in the book about courage-enablers and courage-killers. There’s a few critical things you have to do.
First, you gotta have a laser-like focus on an overall strategic mission; not individual or group missions but an overall strategic mission. That should be the glue and your guidepost for everything in your organization.
You need to lead with strengths, make sure you set up people for success.
But most of all you have to moral courage with vital courage. There are all sorts of different kind of courage. Vital courage is all about the survival instinct. It’s instinctive. It’s what I do to survive, to better myself, to better my family. It may just come naturally.
Moral courage is doing something for the greater good. In this case, it’s doing something for the company.
So, the challenge that organizations need to always be thinking about is are you aligning those two things up. They both have to be there to defeat fear.
Let me give you an example. We once worked with one collections group for one financial services company. They had a huge spike in employee turnover. There were multiple reasons behind it. But one of the reasons was the new management system they put in. The team leaders were set up to be paid by the average dollars per hour that was collected by their team. On the surface it that makes perfect sense; that’s what you’d want to do.
However, the way they promoted someone was the manager would nominate someone from their group to go into a management training pool where they would eventually learn new skills to lead another team.
So, I’m a manager and it’s time to promote someone and I have a choice. I could take my best performer who may have also the best management talent and move them out of my group and this pool. And guess what happens when I do that? I just got a huge pay-cut because my numbers will drop. And since my numbers dropped, I’ll have a horrible performance review at the end of the year.
But, it’s doing the right thing for the company by putting the best person in the talent pool even though I’m suffering for it.
On the other hand, you could take your problem-person who could barely manage to tie their shoes much less do anything else and move them out of the group.
And guess what? You just gave yourself a raise! Not only did you give yourself a raise but you guaranteed yourself a great performance review at the end of the year.
So, in one case someone was displaying moral at the expense of vital. And in the other case someone was showing vital courage, what’s best for them, at the expense of moral courage or what’s best for the company.
Now, another client of mine had the exact same system as this client but they did something different. They provided a bonus if the person they placed in the management training program succeeded in their first year That gave them time to build the numbers back up in their group, recognize the contribution they were making in the company and not have this problem.
There are ways to overcome it. But you have to be very deliberate about it.
Excellent! That’s so great.
Part Three of this conversation will be published Sunday, August 28.