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The Anxiety Factor

The Anxiety Factor
By William J. Murray
President & Co-Founder
Eagle Learning Center

Charles Dickens could probably have written the description of the last half of this century as he did about the late 1700's:

"It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”

The Fabulous Fifties ended with the Tumultuous Sixties which gave way to the Soaring Seventies. The Eighties came in like a bull and ended like a wounded bear. According to several studies, 75% of American businesses are experiencing either little growth, no growth, or an actual decline in sales and marketshare. Customers seem to be less loyal than ever before and retaining business is harder than ever. The Nineties have become what Alvin Tofler predicted in his book, Future Shock, over twenty-five years ago. There is nothing that is constant. Everything is changing. Continuing success in business has become elusive to most.

Many companies realize that they have to change. The marketplace is overwhelmed with phrases like downsizing, rightsizing, reengineering, self-managed teams, etc. The Wall Street Journal reported that most of the companies that are claiming to be using one or more of those strategies are merely laying a good percentage of their people off and really doing nothing more than expecting the people who stay to do more work.

Organizations must do more. They can begin by helping their people get through the negative emotions of change. This is important because it is the attitude of the work force that has the greatest effect on their business results. Leaders must recognize that it is the rank and file worker who has the knowledge to make things better in changing times.

Yet, organizations are reporting that 64% their quality programs or customer satisfaction programs are failing miserably. In 11%, the quality programs are working (they are meeting ISO 9000 or other quality standards), but they are still not experiencing the leap in marketshare that they wanted. What is the problem? They are not considering the negative impact of The Anxiety Factor.

In view of all this, let’s look at the attitudes of management and the work cultures of organizations and their effect on the energy of a company.

The attitudes of any organization are cyclical. These attitudes tend to follow a particular order and are continually rotating as change itself affects the organization. Consider this diagram.

Content— The organization can be in an attitude of contentment. Results are happening. Things are going well. Because the work units are so positive, most of what is attempted is accomplished. This is a wonderful time. Success is repeated and things continually get better. You extend large budgets, the employees have good benefits and good salaries, while profits are fantastic.  "Whoopee!"

Denial— This attitude is analogous to a conversation between two dinosaurs. One says, "We're rulers of the earth.  Isn't it great?"  The other answers, "Yeah, nothing can touch us. (Pause) Isn't it getting a little cold?" Management of many organizations today have this attitude. They believe that they are rulers of the earth and they believe that nothing is wrong. Yet, they hear their salespeople saying things like: "I'm hearing from our customers that they are not getting delivery fast enough." "We've got to change that." "Our competition is coming out with a new line. We'd better keep up." "The economy is hurting our place in the market." "We need to change the way we . . ." Those may not be the exact words, but they're close. And, in the corners of their minds is a whisper: "Isn't it getting a little cold?" And, it is. Reality is that delivery isn't fast enough, competition is more aggressive, the economy is hurting, or whatever. The simple truth is that they are in trouble and denying it.

 Anxiety—People like Alvin Tofler, author of Future Shock, have been telling us for over twenty-five years that the pace of change would only accelerate. The organization’s ability to grow and change depends on its ability to help its people deal with the anxiety of change—The Anxiety Factor. When people are anxious their performance fails. The work unit fails to solve problems, to meet requests, to meet quotas, etc. During change, anxiety is high. Most of us want to be known as people who accept and deal with change—who accept and deal with present reality. In fact, many of us will set about proving that we welcome change. For some, this challenge is too great. It goes against too many beliefs they have learned in the past. Changes provide new situations and new tests where weaknesses may reveal themselves or past beliefs may be proven wrong. Many try to hold on to the old ways and do not see change as an opportunity. For them, change equals threat. Their effectiveness takes a nose dive.

Renewal— Renewal is the attitude for those organizations who deal with the Anxiety Factor and begin to grow and change. They are still anxious, but the anxiety contains a positive view of the future. There is a commitment and cry by everyone in the organization for innovation, for doing things differently. Albert Einstein said, "The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them." A new level of thinking is happening. The organization has chosen to break free of the anxiety of change and embrace it.

Management has typically thought in the past that they could use their positional power to get the results that they wanted. Research shows, however, that there is only a .2 correlation that if management dictates the results that they want that those results happen. Just a short while ago, prevailing management thought was that by simply going to the downsized work unit and demanding, “You do this. You document this. You treat the customer better. You improve this,” the results they wanted would happen. They were wrong.


 However, there is something that does make the results happen. In fact, there is a .55 to a .60 correlation, a very high correlation, that if management will just help create a more positive work culture, increased quality and customer satisfaction will be the result. Of course, this adds up to increased results.

It is the culture that drives results. Management has less impact on any employee than the culture does. Performance is culture linked.

The research is clear—the more positive the culture, the better and more consistent are the results.

 We at Eagle Learning Center have discovered from our research that 75% of companies are experiencing the Anxiety Factor. Our expertise is to work with organizations so that, in a very short period of time, people’s anxiety is reduced so that the organization can move quickly towards Renewal.

 There is a Chinese allegory that concerns one being in a dark cave with a tiger. You can barely see the tiger, but the tiger must be faced. The only way out of the darkness into the sunlight is to face the tiger. The tiger is fear, and the story challenges us to face whatever fear (anxiety) we must in order to live and grow -- to become what is possible.


 You must face the fear! What you are capable of becoming is the result of facing the fear. Despite The Anxiety Factor, this is a time for optimism. T. George Harris, psychologist said, "Social movements are not caused by failure and frustration, but spring from rising strength, 'a snake of hope'. Even prison riots start when the food is getting better, not worse." Getting through anxiety, as painful as it seems, is a predictor of a positive future, not of a negative one.  By facing The Anxiety Factor, you can create this “snake of hope” and inspire people to charge past the tiger.

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