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Breaking The Fear Barrier In Business

Note: I have been looking forward to having Tom Rieger guest on my Blog Talk Radio show, Talk Business With Howard, for some time now. It all started when I discovered his book, Breaking The Fear Barrier: How Fear Destroys Companies And What To Do About It, one Saturday afternoon. I found the book to be so spot on to what happens in business every day that I reviewed the book on SmallBizTrends. Tom’s book is one that every CEO, president, business owner, entrepreneur and founder should read. Fear is what holds us, as well as our companies, back from greater success and profit. It is a business subject that needs to be discussed so that as business people we can recognize fear and deal with it effectively just as we do any other business problem or issue.

Tom, thank you for being a guest on the show this Wednesday, June 20th at 11 AM/ET (8 AM/PT) and for sharing this blog post. -Howard-

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Tom Rieger, author of Breaking The Fear BarrierBreaking The Fear Barrier by Tom Rieger

In the current business environment, there is much to fear.  The economy has not recovered, budgets remain tight, and unemployment is still too high.  When the stakes are this high, when failure is not an option, and when alternatives are few and far between, hanging on to whatever budget, decision rights, or resources a manager may have may be viewed not just as a way of getting the job done, but of survival.

Imagine someone sitting at their desk, wondering how they will meet their goals in the face of ever increasing pressure and dwindling resources.  The pressure to perform is still there, but the time and tools needed to foster success are becoming more and more scarce.  In the face of that fear of failure, or fear of losing what little resources that department does still control, a manager might feel the need to put in place policies, procedures, and practices to protect that department’s ability to succeed in completing their one part of the process… eliminating exceptions, forcing other departments to follow their rules and fill out their forms, becoming less flexible, and focusing just on checking off that one box that must be checked.

The problem is sometimes doing those things makes it harder for others in the organization to succeed.  And, as a result, it makes it harder for the organization as a whole to achieve mission success.  With the best of intentions, a barrier is born.

If left unchecked, these barriers tend to follow a three-step progression.  The first stage is parochialism, which is a narrowing of focus, where everything is viewed through the lens of that one department.  It is the creation of a “my way or the highway” mentality, where a particular silo starts to view their world not by the overall picture, but by just their one piece of the puzzle.

As competition over resources intensifies, or in times of change and uncertainty, parochialism can evolve into territorialism.  While parochialism is about controlling interactions with those outside of the silo, territorialism is about controlling what is inside.  Fear of not meeting goals, not getting that bonus, or not maintaining a certain level of status and decision rights may compel some to exert excessive control over people, budget, or information, further fortifying the walls that they have built around their castle.

But sometimes territorialism is not enough.  Few departments can meet their goals without the help and support of other parts of the organization.  If left unchecked, parochialism and territorialism will spread from department to department.  Inevitably, some groups will begin to feel that their self-sufficiency is threatened.  In that face of that perceived or real threat, some managers may feel they have no choice but to empire build.  Empire building is not just attempts to take control of information, budget, or people.  It can also lead to the creation of duplicate functions, or even open warfare during budget season.

Focus on mission gets lost in conflict and red tape.  Common sense takes a back seat to expediency, and the organization begins to decay.

It does not need to be that way.  While these barriers may seem to be impenetrable to those inside the organization, it is important to remember that they were created internally.  If they were created internally, they can be dismantled internally.

It begins with identifying where the barriers exist, and the root cause that led to each one’s creation.  If barriers are more often than not created with the best of intentions, then there is a need, real or perceived, that led to its creation.  Understanding those needs, and resetting focus back to organizational success, are some of the first steps to overcoming these challenges.

By addressing the barriers, aligning all reference points, decisions, and priorities around the broader mission, and creating a culture of courage where local success has a known and measurable impact of overall success, the fear barrier can be broken.

When done effectively, the impact can be transformational, not just on a company’s culture, but also on hard metrics relating to efficiency, turnover, innovation, response time, and productivity.  Breaking the fear barrier ultimately is what can enable an organization to unlock their full potential to succeed, prosper, and grow.

Tom Rieger is the President and CEO of NBI (National Business Innovations, LLC) and Vice President of NBI’s sister company, NSI, Inc. NBI leverages the combined expertise of both organizations to help unleash the potential of organizations and individuals through applied behavioral economics and the latest research in the social sciences. Reiger has pioneered the study and science of organizational barriers, and is an expert in applying behavioral principles to help understand why large complex systems self-destruct.

His recent book, Breaking The Fear Barrier, was named by 800-CEO-READ as of the five best management books of 2011.

Rieger has over 25 years’ experience in organizational and consumer behavior, including 17 years with Gallup, Inc.


Join Tom and me on Wednesday, June 20th at 11 AM/ET (8 AM/PT) on Blog Talk Radio for what will certainly be an interesting conversation about Breaking The Fear Barrier in your business – or listen to the show replay which will be displayed at the top of this blog post. Thanks for listening.

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