Overcoming Fear


Fear, a natural obstacle to entrepreneurship.

The entrepreneurial spirit thrives in organizations where people can experiment and take risks. Unfortunately, the entrepreneurial spirit is more often stifled than stimulated because of organizational practices and culture. When entrepreneurial activities trigger change and uncertainty, fear is a common reaction. Building an entrepreneurial spirit is hard work, and much of that work involves overcoming fear.

This challenge is shared by many organizations. My research data from 2013 to 2016 show that only 20 to 25% of respondents say people in their organization feel “free to experiment and take initiatives”. Nearly twice as many—45%—characterize their organization culture as one where “absolute compliance to rules, processes and instructions” is the norm. Over the same period, willingness to take risk has decreased. In 2013, 43% said their organization is risk averse; in 2016 that figure rose to 53%.

It is not surprising that people worry when a big change comes along: “How does it impact my job? What is the risk for me?”

In this post, I look at two organizations that are profoundly different from each other in design and purpose, but similar in that both are undergoing significant change and both are working in similar ways to overcome fear and build internal capabilities in new ways of working.

ALE, operating under the Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise brand, is a technology services company selling communication, networking and cloud solutions. Previously part of Alcatel-Lucent and now a privately owned “startup with deep roots”, they have a permanent workforce of 2700 employees. ALE is experimenting with a new way of selling: they commit to outcome for their customers— that’s to say the results of using their software and hardware rather than simply selling the software and hardware for a fixed price. The desired outcome is negotiated between the customer at the executive level and ALE with ALE sharing risk with the customer.

NMCRS, the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, is a non-profit organization that provides financial, educational, and other need-based assistance to active duty and retired sailors and marines, family members and survivors. They have 220 employees and a continually rotating staff of volunteers from 20 to 70 years old in offices around the world. Approximately 2700 volunteers are serving at a given point in time and a total of 4,000 over a year. This 112 year-old organization went from having only a static website 5 years ago to having a modern digital workplace today. A personalized learning management system will be rolled out in October 2016.

“I can’t learn this”, a common fear.

In my conversations with several people in both organizations, the subject of fear came up multiple times. People in both organizations were concerned about their ability to learn new ways of working.

“That inner fear, that inner monologue, can sometimes be very loud. That is a personal challenge.”

At ALE, Neal Tilley, Senior Director for the education market says selling to vertical markets rather than selling products and features across the board to all customers is a radical change for the sales force. Negotiating outcome with executives in a healthcare company or educational institute is very different from selling features to IT directors. “Not all sales people feel comfortable. They think ‘I might not be as successful selling as I used to be’. That inner fear, that inner monologue, can sometimes be very loud. That is a personal challenge.”

At NMCRS, Shelley Marshall, Chief Development and Communications Officer explains how going digital was a culture change that became very personal. “Not only did we have to change the culture, but we had to deal with fear. It was really important for us to get to the root of that, to understand everybody’s different perspective, especially the fear of ‘I won’t be able to learn this’.”

Involve people directly in new value creation.

Both ALE and NMCRS find that involving the very people who are fearful is a powerful approach to adoption.

Tilley explains: “At ALE we work hand in hand with our sales people to develop detailed market understanding and business value statements.” Rodolphe Goudin, Sales Specialist describes what he heard at a recent sales conference in France when the new approach was presented: “This is something very powerful. Beyond any theory, beyond any speech, people are engaged. This is why I involve sales people directly in the new value creation process.”

“Beyond any theory, beyond any speech, people are engaged.”

Ann Creeden, Director of Training for NMCRS talks about their new personalized learning management system: “We have 10 pilots going and are getting feedback every day. It’s the established, long-term employees that find change is hard sometimes. The fact that they’re part of the development piece, and that they’ve done their input has helped with the acceptance of the new approach.”

Raise the bar through communication.

A Senior Product Manager at ALE’s Digital Transformation Office emphasizes: “There is never enough communication about what we are doing. There are people with whom we’ve been talking time, and time, and time again and each time they seem to understand, and when we come back later asking for their feedback or decision we realize that it does not all hold inside the brain because it is a profound change.”

“There is never enough communication about what we are doing.”

Tilley adds: “We need to educate our customers as much as our support teams and our business partners about how aligning outcomes to the selling model is mutually beneficial for all of us. It’s really important for success.”

Marshall says: “Digital has helped NMCRS improve our professional standing because of the consistency of communication to volunteers, donors and clients—sailors or marines. When they look at us in Naples, Italy, we’re still the same organization that they knew when they were San Diego, California.

Don’t forget people themselves in your passion to lead change!

It seems obvious, but in the passion of leading change it is easy to forget to include the people involved proactively and communicate relentlessly.



Nothing matches your request, please try again with a different search term.