Using Process to Fight Fear on Learning Initiatives

fight-fear
October 31, 2013

It’s Halloween, so it seems like a good day to talk about fear.

One of my clients shared with me that she has been doing a lot of thinking about the influence fear has had in her professional life. She pondered the questions “What if I had spoken up in that meeting when my gut was telling me that the path the team was going down would lead to a dead end? What if I simply said no to a request I believed was not aligned to the company’s true goals and mission?”

In these turbulent economic times, it seems like fear is part of everyone’s work life. Whether our fear comes from losing a job, a sale, a goal or simply admitting you don’t know the answer, the end result seems to be the same. Often decisions are made based on fear, resulting in wasted time and resources. How do we stop this cycle before it starts? How do we truly learn from these experiences and achieve greater understanding and usefulness in our organizations?

My client’s latest training initiative was two weeks away from being deployed. During a meeting with the CLO, it became clear that her project might be put on hold or cancelled altogether. She shared with me that she was afraid of her project getting cancelled and losing her job. My client had a dilemma: how could she overcome her fear, disagree with leadership and try to save her project? I advised her to take a deep breath, swallow hard and look at the bottom-line cost of derailing a training event; focus on the business issues, not the emotional issues.

The reconsideration/cancellation of a nearly-complete or newly deployed learning solution affects the organization both qualitatively and quantitatively. The cost to the organization is great, including the budget dollars and hours spent on resourcing the project not to mention the project team engagement, motivation and morale. The most significant cost to the organization is inability to realize and benefit from the objectives and goals of the training. Fear and failure to change results in ongoing costs and prevents the organization from ever seeing a return on their investment.

The first step in resolving the “fear factor” at work is to acknowledge when you are having an emotional response to fear. The twist in your gut, racing heart and that tingle in your fingers is your body having a visceral reaction to fear. It isn’t a pleasant feeling and many of us react by “doing something” about it, and quickly. At times, we jump from the proverbial frying pan right into the fire.

What we need to do is seek out the business issue not the emotional issue to be resolved. It is imperative to understand not only your own fear factor but also how fear motivates others to react. Once you have identified your fear and understand where it is coming from, you can present the facts. Having a thorough change management process in place is one way to help stakeholders realize the impact their change in direction can have on the organization as a whole. In addition, weekly budget and status updates are key to keeping your stakeholders engaged in your projects and initiatives, and understanding the impact of changes. When leaders are engaged and seeing progress, they will be more inclined to provide ongoing support to your training initiative.

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