The Fear Factor: It Still Dominates Business Thinking

FEAR1“How’s business?” is a question we get every day.

Being one to try to avoid cliche answers, I usually try to give an honest assessment, particularly to those who actually care about the success of our firm. But, increasingly, it’s tougher to provide one in “soundbite” form.

That’s because, even after The Great Recession, things are far more complicated than they were a decade ago. Yes, we have many clients where we and they enjoy a positive, healthy, productive relationship. Yes, there are situations where business comes together quickly, with shared expectations. But there is more and more of what we, by default, casually call “weirdness” that can be frustrating and enormously counterproductive. More often, emotion overtakes logic. A force leads good people to make seemingly inexplicable decisions. The emotional force is fear.

Fear can take many forms, but here’s how we often see it play out, sometimes with more than one of these fears working together to create challenging situations:

Fear Of Risk – Change is hard. Change takes work. There’s a chance that change might not quickly lead to its intended result. Too often, this fear leads to inertia leading us to want to work faster than some clients will allow. Or, it leads to a business thinking about hiring a firm to not make a decision about that intention while the needs persist unfilled.

Fear Of Another Recession – The financial purse strings have not loosened as expected in as many places as anticipated. The sting of The Great Recession may be carried throughout the careers of some businesspeople. Even though additional funds are needed to accomplish goals in new ways, they are not being made available and progress slows.

Fear Of Getting Fired – This is especially acute in larger, corporate settings in the Post-Recession Era. Making the boss happy and keeping a job are the only priorities. Talk about quality work and innovative approaches happens less often. “Keep your head down so it doesn’t get shot off” is a mantra we see in action more than ever. (This is also why we have journalists telling us that corporate spokespeople have fewer phone calls and more email exchanges with media. “The Paper Trail” is paramount. “CYA” continues as a motivator.)

Fear Of A Lack Of Control – This is why some companies, even small ones, veer from their core business to employ as many disciplines as possible rather than work with focused “outside” firms. When the cubicle is filled with a body, there is a sense of control for a certain type of executive, even though that work could often be done more efficiently, with more expertise and perspective, for less money by hiring a firm. Or, by giving up a modicum of control, a firm could complement that internal resource to make him/her/them more successful.

Fear Of A Difficult Conversation – As we have written before, we see this more than anything. In an age where “ghosting” is part of the social realm, too many businesspeople do everything but have the tough talk. I find myself saying more than I could have ever imagined “Silence is the enemy of progress.” Yes, silence prevails while relationships either don’t improve as they would otherwise or wither away, sometimes unnecessarily.

The next several weeks will be spent by businesspeople “planning for the New Year.” But plans can go awry when fear gets in the way. It’s hard to imagine what could turn this complex scenario around. But awareness of what’s happening “out there” can’t hurt.