Managing Fear in a Landscape of Change

By M. Duvernet

Fear can motivate and it can debilitate. Turning a teammate’s fear into a constructive dialogue for change and process improvement is difficult to do. Channeling that fear into something positive is often what analysts are asked to do. The symptom of that fear is most often associated with change. So how does an analyst become a catalyst for change and dissolve the fear?

It is pretty ironic to think that while a business owner is focused on the business’s numbers, the worker sometimes has no idea of what their company does for its customers. Depending on the worker, some workers have no appreciation for what it is they are doing, they just do what they are told to do. Then when something changes, and the company decides to reorganize, or the business acquires another company, or there is a new process to implement, there are feelings of fear.

Everyone has fears. But, it can be very debilitating when fear overrides project goals, and solutions are not identified because fear got in the way. This happens sometimes when fear motivates a worker to withhold information, especially if the information could change the process that keeps them employed.  All organizations, whether it is the medical industry, insurance and reinsurance, or financial advice; they all have their own way of providing value to their customers and their own internal processes toward achieving certain goals. Many of these goals deal with making money, and in order to make money it is necessary to find ways to trim costs, or add new products and services to the business portfolio.

When organizations go through this kind of transformation, or change, undoubtedly it will affect someone who is part of some business process somewhere. When change is imminent, the protective shields go up and frustration appears.  This is usually the point where an analyst is introduced to the team. Then it becomes part of the analyst’s job to manage the fear, and help the worker get past the fear to provide some sort of solution.

The idea of decreasing costs based on process improvement started with W. Edward Deming.  In 1982 Deming came out with a book entitled “Out of the Crisis,” a philosophical approach toward optimizing business processes in order to deliver the best possible products and services to the consumer. For the last thirty years many companies, worldwide, have applied Deming’s practices under the terms Total Quality Management (TQM) and Quality Assurance. These ideas of process improvement began by understanding that, “Every activity and every job is a part of the process.”

Yet, it is also important to understand that certain processes can grow to a point where they stop benefiting the company. For instance, remember the mailroom? Back in the 1990’s mailrooms were buzzing with activity. Some companies had to add workers to the mailroom just to keep up with the constant delivery of the daily mail.  Now, twenty years later, technology has taken over, email exchange services handle the delivery automatically, and all those customer mailings that once needed to be assembled and packaged manually, are done with one click accompanied by a well written digital email blast. A mailroom that once employed five workers, now only employs one.

So, how else has business changed over the last thirty years?
–          The car industry has seen emission stations come and go, as consumers demanded federally enforced clean-air standards and more fuel efficient cars.

–          The music industry has gone from vinyl record albums, to encased CDs, to MP3 and iTune files. The demand of turntables and stereo systems dropped, as anyone could carry their music with them via the MP3 player, iPod, or a Shuffle.

–          The robotics industry infiltrated the manufacturing floors of many car manufacturing plants, using hydraulics to do the heavy lifting, and utilizing computer programs to accomplish the precision work of attaching bolts and welding parts together more efficiently and faster than ever.

–          The printing industry became transformed when manual typesetting became unnecessary due to computerized desktop publishing software applications introduced by Apple®.

–          The publishing world realized the effectiveness of a robotic roll tender; a robot that automatically fed the web presses that printed the daily newspapers each day.

–          The telecommunications industry has seen significant changes with the wireless capabilities that allow communications to occur anytime, anywhere. The streaming of all kinds of file formats has enabled the transmission of not only sound, but also images and full-length movies. This has dramatically changed the need for a LAN (Local Area Network) line, as many consumers have opted to get rid of their home phone and use only their wireless devices.

Some of these changes happened gradually, while others seemed to take some businesses by surprise. Regardless, many of these new developments changed the dynamics of the workforce forever and put many workers out of work.

This last November the unemployment rates across the nation ranged from 5.4% to 10.2%. These are rates based on the data gathered by . These statistics are defined by all the counties across each state.

The most mild approach for making change less of a threat comes from a quote by Deming, “drive out the fear, so that everyone can work effectively for the company,” make them feel important for the processes they perform and make sure they feel proud in doing their job well. Deming even created fourteen key management principals to enhance business effectiveness. The idea was that as these principals were applied to the work place, company workers could embrace the idea that change is constant and understand the practices of process improvement enough to remove the fears that had become a barrier toward realizing success.  This philosophy offered the notion that change is as good for business, as much as it is for the individual.

Deming believed that once the worker became transformed and a willing participant in the unending aspects of the changes that all businesses face, they would be so happy about the changes made that they would not want to go back to the old ways. This then became the way to a happy solution, for the solution provided the remedy that stopped the pain, and thus the fears.

The reality is that when people know that change is coming, they can become defensive, put up barriers to resist the change. But as analysts we have to be the voice that solves the problem and offers the solution. To ease these fears, often all it takes is a bit of listening, some common understanding, or detailed observation, to see what it is that needs improving. There are many thoughtful ways to get past the fear.  Just remember, helpful suggestions can go a long way.  Asking questions that will allow the worker to define the answers for themselves, can work too.  Whatever the situation, management does not go out of their way to engage an analyst unless they know there is a better way of doing something. Getting past the fear is the hardest part, but once the fear is put in its place the world of solutions takes over.  The bottom line is: listen, learn, and liberate.

Copyright (C) ImageMystic LLC 2012


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