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.
- You can read Part Two of our interview here.
We can see signs in the news every hour that fear and its manifestations are in abundance these days. Fear and then perceived threats and then anger and then fighting....
I'm an art major. I'm not a brain scientist. But some earlier guests on this show have talked about the role of the amygdala or the reptile brain in handling fear, perceiving threats and reacting to them. The whole fight or flight response syndrome.
Your solution addresses fear from the outside. Behavior changes. Are there steps we can take to not feed our reptilian brain, the amygdala, basically deny it food and water?
Well, there’s two thoughts here. First, we have to recognize that not all fear is bad. You need some in your organization to help people feel the pressure to conform and meet their goals. That’s healthy so long as it’s the right level and balance with rewards.
Mark Twain had a great quote. It goes:
Courage isn’t absence of fear. It’s mastery of fear.
Secondly, we need to recognize that people are essentially emotional decision-makers. That’s just who we are. There’s some great work by Joseph Ladeau from New York University, I believe, and others that looked at visceral effects and their influence in decision-making and Ladeau actually mapped people’s brains in how they made seemingly logical decisions.
All that being said...you know if you make things objective and you recognize that you are not going to be able to just make people no longer feel fear; that’s just impossible. But you make people see things objectively, you take the subjectivity out, then you will by definition start driving things more based on metrics and more based on the truth instead of subjective fears.
So those subjective metrics and policies, those have to be driven more by emotion. It’s unavoidable. But, objective metrics, especially if they are the right thing will be driven by performance.
One thing you gotta be aware of is a subjective metric that’s masquerading as an objective number. if you just put a number to something that’s inherently subjective, it’s still subjective. You really have to look at what is each group really producing and for whom and how is that benefiting the overall mission?
Great answer again. Thank you.
I want to pursue this a moment. Early in your book you write about parochialism and the tendency for companies to focus, as they grow, more on process and less on outcomes. And I think this ties in with your point about using the right metrics and that are aligned with your core strategic goals. Some of this is driven by department managers who are unable to connect the dots. For me that reads these managers have not developed the skill to think, conceptualize, plan in a wholistic way. Would that be correct?
I think so; I think so.
You know, the probably Zane is those skills are just blatantly ignored. Managers are often made not necessarily based on management talent but as a reward. Being a manager is doing a different job. At the end of the day you have to realize that leadership positions shouldn’t be given out as trophies. They should be given out strategically. They should be given out based on who is based going to be able to serve that role and achieve your overall goal and mission.
Now, that said, there are certain concepts I talk about in the book about managing people’s reference points and expectations, where they line up or don’t, managing fear, balancing the different types of courage...personally I think should be required training for all managers.
Social media and fear or social media and courage. What's social media's role in either building or breaking the fear barrier? Have you seen an example of either?
That’s a really interesting dynamic and a fascinating to watch develop. You could really go either way.
Social media, when you think about it, is a series of one-way communications. You really can’t talk back to an email or a tweet or a blog post. You could respond to it in another one-way.
But if you take a step out of the corporate world, let’s look at Arab Spring or even the 2008 election you can see how it can be used to bring people together around an idea, to break barriers that one person alone may feel powerless to do anything about. There is that upside.
But, on the other hand it could be used the other way. You use it to intimidate, you use it to bully, you do a broadcast nasty email to the world and you could do a lot of damage to a person’s reputation. And unfortunately that happens a lot. There’s not just bullying in schools but it’s happening in companies with those broadcast torpedo emails that go out.
I look at it as a tool that could be used for good or a tool that could harm.
I like that you used the example of Arab Spring. I became fascinated as did many people. It seemed in a lot of respects, parallel to a certain degree, with some discussions going on in companies where as you describe one category of employees who are treated as prisoners with no resources or tools or time and random accountability measures. I thought the conversations, not to the same extreme, going on in some companies are about how to free up those employees to participate in creating a viable corporate economy.
Yeah, these are all things you have to think about when you’re trying to deal with these problems.
We've reached the imagination moment in our show. It's not that big a leap. Fear is an emotional response to a perceived, often imaginary, threat. Let's imagine President Obama is on line two in your office. He’s on vacation, but he’s listening in. He leaves you a message.
Tom, he says. This is President Obama. I think our national conversation is dominated by fear and its manifestations. What are three things we as a nation can do to break the fear barrier? Can you come up to the White House or over to Martha’s Vineyard and share your thoughts?
What do you say to him?
Well, first of all I’d say:
“Yeah I would love that opportunity to come. I’m essentially a patriot at heart so anything I can do to help my country I’d love to do."
But to answer that question...
First I’d say we need a mission to rally around. We need a place to plant a flag in the ground and stand behind. You look back at the ’60’s and the space race. Look at what happened in this country. You had industry of all different types and people all around all working together trying to achieve something important.
The side benefits of that were huge. If you look at the innovations and the manufacturing, especially in the world of micro-processing and computers. But, the sleeping giant needs to be awoken; it needs to be focused on accomplishing something. This country can accomplish absolutely incredible things when it’s aligned with and around something and we’re all on the same page.
That’s number one.
Secondly, I think we need to shift the paradigm. We need to start thinking about:
“Well, how can we remove the barriers that exist to job creation."
Every job you create creates more and more people paying into the system rather than draining it. When that happens you have a lower deficit, you have a more prosperous nation, without having to just focus on who’s giving up what to whom. And that, I think, is what leads us to the 3rd thing.
There’s way too much focus on that. We gotta stop acting like a couple of dogs fighting over a bone trying to think about well who’s going to have to give up something. If you look at the whole concept of fear of loss, there’s some great work by a Nobel Prize winner named Daniel Kahneman that showed there’s twice as much pain with loss than trying to gain. What that means is people will fight twice as hard to avoid a loss even if that means forgoing a gain because there’s so much pain in that perception. If all we focus on is what we’re giving up and nothing else, then that fear of loss, I guarantee you will lead to barriers and those barriers will bring any hope of progress right down to a screeching halt.
So, if we can align around the mission, focus on removing barriers to job creation, both for private companies and public sector, and then stop focusing so much on who has to give up and what and instead on what we can achieve together, then I think we can actually make some progress here.
Excellent. Those are great examples and a great answer. I love that point you made about people will fight to avoid loss and they’ll cooperate, perhaps, around the idea of a shared gain.
But, the idea of a potential loss? They’ll fight like dogs over a shared bone.
Leaders are readers. Jim Rohn said that. I'm just smart enough to quote him. You're a leader. What are you reading?
If someone is interested in the concepts of the book then there’s a few things I’d certainly suggest to them from my list.
There’s a book out there called Advances in Behavioral Economics. If you are interested in what really drives people’s decision-making then I strongly encourage you to pick it up. It’s a collection of academic papers so it might not be for everybody. But I find it fascinating and I read it over and over again.
There’s a book called And the Wolf Finally Came: The Decline and Fall of the American Steel Industry by John Hoerr ....which I think is an absolute great example of everything I talk about in the book as it related to the steel industry and Pittsburgh in the ’80’s.
You know, I was at Carnegie-Mellon, basically while all this was happening. The book is written very objectively and you can see how these entitlements and this fear of loss on both sides of the aisle; it’s not just a labor issue, it’s not just an industry or management issue, it was all three of those things. And how this all began, everyone trying to do the right thing. And this whole thing came crashing down and it’s a good example of just how much damage this kind of thing can do.
Now that the book is finally done and I can start reading again...there’re a few books on my reading list. I’ve heard there’s good book called Tribal Leadership by ....One person who reviewed the book said it’s a book I absolutely have to read.
Fantastic. I love the list of books and it helps me expand my reading list.
You’ve written a great book. And I encourage everyone to go ahead and leave the show. Go buy it, read it, embrace it. Do some of the things listed in the book. Avoid some of the things described in the book that build barriers. We can start to chip away at this whole thing.
Can you leave us with one thought on Breaking the Fear Barrier?
Sure. The one thought I’d like to leave people with is this:
You may be sitting in your office looking out your window trying to think about how you can succeed, frustrated by all these seemingly impossible and impenetrable barriers that you are surrounded by. But you have to take a step back and remember that nowhere does it say:
On the 8th day God created barriers.
These are things that companies did to themselves. They did internally. They are things you did yourself.
But if they are things you did internally, guess what? They can be unpacked and dismantled internally. It won’t be easy. But it can be done.
It has to be very deliberate. People have to be willing to look in the mirror, as I said, and put things ln the table. But, these things aren’t impossible.
Certainly there are things you’re not going to able to fix. But I guarantee there are a whole lot of things that are.
Don’t let your fear crush your hopes and dreams. If you’re really deliberate about attacking these barriers you can achieve them.
That’s so great. I so appreciate you taking the time to come on the show. Congrats on being number one in those categories on the first day. I know it’s going to only stay there.
William Seidman, co-founder of Cerebyte which gives organizations the ability and, more importantly, the confidence to dramatically improve their performance. Their pioneering technology, based on the latest science of how people think and learn, enables them to quickly capture top performers' "secret sauce" and raise the performance of everyone else to that same high level. Their solution has been adopted by companies such as Intel, Tektronix, Hewlett-Packard, 3Com, and Collagen Aesthetics, Inc. as their corporate standard for developing and deploying best practices and other forms of organizational cultural change.
The scientific foundation underlying their solution enables Cerebyte to optimize organizational performance faster and more completely than was previously thought possible. Aligning with the latest research in positive deviance, fair process, neuroscience and mass customization, their solution makes it possible to quickly capture your top performers' expert knowledge, approach and values, and then systematically coach everyone else to apply those to their own work.
I’m looking to talk with Bill for several reasons. One you can see the nice tie-in with some of our last questions about brain functions, amygdala, and the abilities of organizational members to plan and organize in an wholistic manner.
But I liked the fact that Bill reached out to me on twitter. Not many founders use Twitter and even fewer use it to reach out directly and engage with others.
And, then I’ve found he’s a very clear thinker. Makes sense. That’s his business. But still it’s refreshing and I think his conversation will be refreshing for you also. Next Wednesday, August 31 at a special time: 1:00 PM Central.
(Jeez. August 31. Where did summer go?)