Anxiety and Trust

A process of change can take on many guises. It can be a major crisis or a great opportunity. Yet every single process of change involves two decisive components: Anxiety and Trust. There is no certainty in life. It is never there, but its absence is most apparent in processes that are first and foremost about change.

Uncertainty, however, creates anxiety. Uncertainty about what we are facing implies potential danger. Potential danger is the basic trigger of anxiety. Part of our fear of that which we do not know is anticipatory anxiety: the fear of fear itself. This anxiety is the kind of fear that paralyses us humans more than anything else. It makes us blind. Chronic anticipatory anxiety and excessive fear block a clear view of reality and thus disable the ability to perceive potential. It prevents learning, flexibility and development. These, however, are tools that are essential to surviving a crisis.

The success of a process will hinge on your attitude towards fear and anxiety (your own as well as that of your colleagues) and the way this attitude affects your relationship to confidence and hope. What courses of action are open to managers in a situation that is shaped by uncertainty? How can they reduce anxiety and establish trust; how can they make sure that they and their employees will not fall into a state of anxious paralysis in the face of potential danger and threat? If you allow room for these questions and attempt to find answers to them, you will be able to master any crisis.

Fear: Processes of change entail concrete threats for all those who are involved. These can include the loss of a workplace, status loss, an increased workload, the fear of not being good enough. Each process of change has its winners and its losers. These fears are real or are felt to be real and refer to potential realities. They are concrete and relate to a particular issue.

Anxiety: Diffuse anxieties do not need to be directed towards a given object. These are basic anxieties that are contained in the essence of human existence and are differently well developed in each person, depending on personal histories. They emerge in response to individual triggers.

Managers can respond to both fear and anxiety in positive ways. Basic anxieties include:

  • the fear of change – experience of transience and uncertainty
  • the fear of finality – experience of bondage
  • the fear of closeness – experience of dependency
  • the fear of individuation – experience of isolation, lack of shelter

Avoidance strategies in response to anxiety

  • Avoidance: Avoidance of situations and persons who trigger anxiety.
  • Trivialization: Belittling the anxiety, playing down its symptoms.
  • Repression: Deflecting from the anxiety, the anxiety is numbed and protective excuses are made.
  • Denial: The anxiety is utterly ignored. It is given no place in the individual’s range of emotions.
  • Exaggeration: Overdrawn precautions and their compulsive repetition aim to reduce anxiety.
  • Generalisation: Creating norms to correspond with individual anxieties.
  • Heroization: Only the strong can handle anxiety. You are a hero.

In the short term, these strategies can reduce anxiety. However, they all result in an inability to deal with the threatening situation in a clear, appropriate and constructive manner. It becomes impossible to employ the available resources for a constructive treatment of the crisis. The potential to actually solve the crisis is thus blocked. In the long term, avoidance strategies result in rising personal anxiety levels. The avoidance strategies will increasingly fail, and this failure will cause social, psychological and physical symptoms of illness.

More than 26 per cent of medical complaints registered in the EU are due to psychological disorders: they make up more incidences than heart disease and cancer. The greatest part of these 26 per cent are related to anxiety and depression.
Fourteen per cent of Europe’s total population have suffered anxiety disorder!

Anxiety causes personal suffering as well as a loss of creative and productive capacity: it is, beyond anything else, an enormous macroeconomic factor. The statistics of the Bundesverband der Betriebskrankenkassen [federal association of company health insurance funds] show that a quarter of all sick-leave certificates and a twelfth of all days off work in Germany are explained by psychological disorders. Since the early 1990s, the percentage of sick-leave due to such disorders has more than doubled.

It used to be the case that an employee entering a company could be certain that one day he or she would be handed a golden watch to mark their 25 years with the company. Nowadays, it can happen that everything is fine on a Thursday and the department is closing down on the following Monday. Restructuring processes in companies can trigger anxieties when they result in demands that individuals fulfil new roles that do not match their personality: for example, when an assiduous accountant with a knack for numbers is suddenly required to enter customer service and give advice. In the modern society we live in, all relationships are qualified by the possibility of their dissolution. This considerably adds to a sense of uncertainty.

What needs to be done?

1. Recognition

  • The first thing managers have to do in order to properly deal with active anxieties in a situation of change is to recognize them. It does not matter whether these are concrete fears or diffuse anxieties, whether they are realistic or not.
  • You will find it easier to deal with the anxieties of others when you are able to recognize basic anxieties in your own life for yourself. Once you have accepted your own fears, you will not need to resort to a defensive reaction when you are confronted with anxiety.

2. Reduction of Anxiety
The emotional opposite of fear is trust. There are two types of trust. They are interdependent:

  • Trust in yourself and your own capabilities and
  • Trust in others

Fear knocked. Trust opened. There was no-one there. (Chinese)

When confronted with a situation of change that triggers their anxieties, employees in a company will turn to their superiors for guidance. As a manager, you thus have to contribute to ensuring that

  • your colleagues trust you
  • you create situations and an atmosphere in which your colleagues can believe in themselves and their capabilities (self-efficacy).

We know from child psychology that certain experiences cause a child to lose their absolute trust in themselves and their environment. These forms of disappointment also affect adults, thus reducing their belief in themselves and their environment, e.g., their business:

I. Trust in management is lost when:

  • there is a sense of being left alone; when there is nobody there when help is needed
  • superiors announce something and do not keep it
  • superiors appear to be acting without reason or arbitrarily, especially with regard to negative sanctions
  • superiors vent their temper on their employees
  • there is no continuity in management behaviour. In other words: your colleagues will only trust you if there is a clear and functional management coalition

II. Trust in one’s own person and capabilities is lost when:

  • demands that are made are continuously set too high, so that employees will repeatedly experience a failure to succeed
  • criticism is delivered much more frequently than appreciation is voiced
  • employees feel that they are helplessly delivered to a situation
  • superiors are overly protective and controlling, they don’t allow their employees the room to make their own experiences
  • they cannot experience their own ability to learn, effect and be independent
  • there is no differentiation between uncertainty regarding the self and uncertainty regarding the situation
  • superiors or employees feel that they have to be flawless

Trust in oneself and one’s own abilities will rise, given:

Experience of self-efficacy
Whenever people experience that they can have an effect, that they are actors who make a difference, their trust in themselves will grow. This is most effective when a person has successfully handled a difficult situation. If these successes are then ascribed to that person, the expectation of self-efficacy will grow most: difficult future situations are faced with more confidence and individual failures are met with a greater tolerance for frustration.

Substitutional experience
Watching other people master a difficult task or believe that they can handle it, raises a person’s own belief in their ability to handle it. Greater similarity and proximity between the person watching and the person being watched will increase the influence the example can have.

Verbal encouragement
People who are met with confidence and benevolence and who are trusted by others that they can master a given situation are more likely to believe in themselves than those whose abilities are doubted. At the same time, it is important not to make unrealistic demands.

Emotional control
People who are able to influence their level of agitation (e.g., using breathing techniques, disciplined thought and self-reflection, sport to vent physical excitement, etc.), are more likely to believe in themselves and their self-efficacy, as they experience that they are not helplessly delivered to their own emotions and states of agitation.

Thus, the following is valid: There are many reasons to be anxious. When anxieties are recognized and not avoided, the human ability to act will be retained and people will be able to handle crises. And to stay healthy. There is no certainty. There is confidence.

Fear and joy are magnifying glasses. (Jeremias Gotthelf)

Rüdiger Müngersdorff, Katja Schröder

Cultural sensitivity allows a more effective Change Management: organizational culture as a field of discourses in tension

Cultural anthropologists have addressed the cultural aspects of organizations and companies since the 1920s, beginning with the Hawthorne Experiments. Now, economists and management have come to recognize that organizational culture is a resource for economic success that should not be underestimated. There are two trends in the debates about a precise definition of organizational culture: while one group assumes that every company has a culture (instrumental view, objectivism, organizational culture as subsystem), the other side argues that every company is a culture (institutional view, subjectivism, organizational culture as an encompassing system) (see, e.g. Franken 2004: 219f). Both groups, however, tend to disregard a fundamental aspect of culture: its dynamic nature.

In the following analysis, organizational culture will be considered as a field of discourses in tension within which employees have a range of possible courses of action at their disposal. Following Rainer Keller’s sociology of knowledge approach to discourse (Keller 2005), discourse is understood to be »ensembles of meaningful units structured by content and form, which are produced within a specific set of practices: structured connection of interpretation/action. They provide meaning […] to social phenomena and therefore constitute their social reality. They are simultaneously an expression and constitutive condition of the social.« (Keller 1999).

According to cultural anthropologist Wolfgang Kaschuba, a discourse includes

  • a set system of argumentation,
  • a system that defines a topical field and sets the rules of engagement,
  • a thought system that configures the perception of reality and
  • a social practice system that connects manners of thinking and acting. (Kaschuba 1999: 236f)

Every social system prefers a certain type of discourse and controls, organizes and channels the production of all discourses so as to maintain order (see, e.g., Foucault 1994). Philosopher Jean-François Lyotard, however, made it clear that any single social system is always percolated by several discourses, which will either support each other or are mutually exclusive in a state of the differend (Lyotard 1987). Even where one discourse is excluded or suppressed by the publicly advanced and currently more powerful discourses that does not mean that it does not have any influence or cannot even become that major discourse in particular situations.

From this point of view, every company is a lived culture, where the manner in which culture is lived will be defined by (competing) discourses. A company can, however, also have a culture, e.g., by having a displayed culture that may be enforced by top management by means of discourse in order to attain a principle set of concrete values, norms and rules. The discrepancy between displayed and lived culture is, as change projects show time and again, one of the most important reasons for resentment and a lack of motivation among the employees. In this context, a differend in discourses will soon develop into internal crises of plausibility within companies, and these will sooner or later seep outside via the employees and can cause lasting damage to the company’s, brand’s or product’s reputation.

However, change management that goes deeper than the mere surface essentially produces a differend in discourses and therefore a field of discourses in tension: the »old« lived organizational culture (condition as is) is confronted with a »new« displayed organizational culture (condition as desired). Change management has to face the challenge of turning displayed into lived culture – easily said, but much more difficultly done. Each lived organizational culture has discourse resources that can support change towards a displayed culture; it can, however, also raise discourse barriers that will hinder successful change management.

Against this background, cultural anthropology and its own theoretic, methodic and practical set of tools emerges as a leading discipline for a change management that has a sensibility for culture and therefore will have a lasting effect…

Johannes Ries

This text is an extract from the article »Führungs-Kraft Unternehmenswerte: Kultursensibles Change Management im diskursiven Spannungsfeld von Unternehmenskulturen«, published in the anthology »Die verdeckten Spielregeln der Veränderung«, ed. by Johannes Ries and Susanne Spülbeck, Lit-Verlag, 2015. Available at bookstores.

»Empower and trust your people and you will be positively surprised!« – Example of a bottom-up-process

Imagine you are an employee in a medium-sized business with a history. You are well connected within your organization, are considered creative or you are committed – ideally you are even all three of those things. You are still several levels from the top of the company hierarchy and at this point you are certainly not at the forefront of important, strategic projects.

One day, you and several other colleagues receive an offer from the management team: If you want to and feel ready for it, you are invited to incite »bottom-up« changes in the company, to think important topics »out of the box« and bring them forward on your own initiative. This approach is supposed to contribute to enlivening and fostering the dynamic of the company culture in the context of a long-term strategic (re-)orientation. It is the hoped that this will be the way to new, future achievements and a continuation of a successful company history. In practice, you will be able to chose a topic during the kick-off event – depending on personal interest and inclination. This topic would then be yours to work on freely and on your own responsibility. There will be no additional payment, special time budget or any other resources made available to you in any official way. A mentor from the management team will be available to you for support, plus there will be an offer of optional coachings and supervisions.

Well? Does that sound tempting to you, somewhat strange, fairly unclear or somehow exclusive and exciting? Are you maybe asking yourself why you of all people – the person described above – were invited, and what will happen if you fail to take up the offer? On the other hand: how serious is the management team about this? Of course also: How are you supposed to handle this on top of your existing workload?

These and many other questions were posed by the bridge people who had been invited to the kick-off event. All of the almost thirty employees who had been contacted followed the invitation and only two of them left in the course of the process – for a reason and obviously without negative consequences for themselves but rather as living proof that this was perfectly possible. The entire idea was based on voluntariness.

Let’s return to the kick-off event. At this event, it was very important, especially at the very beginning, that the entire management team was present as a visible sign of the value and relevance awarded to the issue. Furthermore, the managers showed a great commitment to the idea and supported the aims of the initiative fully and very credibly. In order to make this possible, the team had sufficient time and opportunity to discuss and address the issue in advance. The two days that were taken for the kick-off event itself were no less important. They made it possible for the selected employees to address the topics themselves as well as deal with themselves as individuals and as a newly created group or community. Thus, most of the participants were enthused for the process they were facing, even if they had originally still been hesitant. Interactive, dialogue-oriented and emotionalizing elements as a frame as well as an agenda that was adapted to the immediate needs of the group contributed their part.

Then there followed a period of just under two months to develop ideas, pin down, adapt and work on the chosen topics, develop the group, engage and involve further colleagues, etc. The mentors chosen by the given initiatives themselves had the primary role of suppressing the typical management reflex during this time: neither taking responsibility, directing, probing or controlling, nor taking decisions for the initiative that could be taken by the group itself. The mentors were only supposed to offer support as a coach where required, as soon as the initiative’s ability to act was in danger. As the need was rarely voiced, this was on the one hand a simple task for most mentors, on the other hand there emerged uncertainty whether that was to be taken as a good or a bad sign. Quite understandable! All in all, several managers experienced this mentoring role as throughly new and unusual and therefore a personal challenge.

The first review workshop luckily showed that the trust, reticence and letting go had been justified and that most of the individual initiatives were »on track«. Despite a few difficulties, the employees were also still motivated. Upon questioning, and not really surprisingly, the greatest challenge had been to find the time for this additional task. One participant, however, added quite pragmatically that all initiatives had, though, delivered good interim results, after all. Quite! With the help of cooperative advice, several participants were able to receive specific support from colleagues and therefore profit from the knowledge and experience of the bridge people community. From the point of view of the process, it was particularly important that the individual members and groups were able to see each other as part of a committed and lively community on this day.

There followed a period of approximately three months to develop the own topics further. This time, the development was coupled with the task of establishing a decision memo for the second review workshop, which would then be used by the management team for their decision on what was to happen in each individual initiative in the future.

Unsurprisingly, curiosity once again rose among the management team in advance of the second review workshop: what will the outcome be? How hard or easy will it be to take the necessary decisions and what will we be facing with those decisions? Will we be able to consider the process so far a success? What will the bridge people think?

As soon as the workshop began, one thing became clear straight away: since the space for exhibition material ran out in no time, there was obviously no lack of commitment and motivation. The presentation of the results and the decisions to be made included creatively designed video statements (by two members who were unable to attend), functioning prototypes of potential new products, results of a comprehensive, Europe-wide questionnaire among colleagues on the topic of CSR, detailed process analyses, etc. One initiative had furthermore created stickers bearing the overall initiative’s logo and brought them as a present for everyone – this idea had, incidentally, emerged during the first review workshop.

All in all, the degree of commitment of show as well as the range and variety of results still had the power to surprise. Therefore, the voting (during which all attending participants had to vote for their own five top initiatives, results or suggestions) was not an easy task for most. Eventually, the management team entered the decisive round, taking the result of this voting with them, took the necessary decisions, passed resolutions on the future approach and presented these to the assembled community. Certain topics were to be passed on to the responsible line management, some were to be continued as classic projects, yet others in a more free form in what was called a »joker team«. Some groups were asked to make their suggestions more concrete or work them out further. Some were also rejected, with an appropriate justification. Participants had already announced in advance that »I will continue by topic anyway, even if I don’t (yet) get a ›GO‹ from the management team!« or that »If my topic will not get the green light, I can switch to one of the other initiatives!«. Yes, wonderful! This is the sort of ownership and commitment that organization developers and others like to see; after all, it is an essential condition for an enlivened and more dynamic company.

The CEO’s closing words at the end of the second review essentially remain a fitting conclusion:

It is amazing and very positively surprising what is possible in a short time. We trusted our people that they will do the right thing, we gave them the necessary space and let them do their thing. That fostered potentials.


Thomas Meilinger

SYNNECTA and Logistics

You don’t have to look far to find instances of the world of VUCA. One of the most immediate examples are production supply processes: logistics. Volatile markets, uncertain conditions, complex production systems and ambiguous parameters for decision-making demand new skills.

A look at our clients reveals that an organization’s logistics sector is increasingly becoming its success factor. Logistics areas are growing disproportionately, transport costs are rising, client and delivery networks are becoming ever more global. Nevertheless, we still frequently encounter the notion that logistics are merely a service at the end of the process chain, not a driver at the spearhead of change.

In reality, we see that logistics has long since moved into the focus of top management. We have noticed a considerable increase in client requests for change accompaniment in logistics processes, particularly so in the automotive sector. Usually, they come together with a demand for qualification and the creation of logistics skills.

At SYNNECTA, a small group of experienced consultants have specialized in change management and logistics process training. Logistics projects put us at the exciting interface between the internal and external worlds, between client demands and delivery networks, between process optimization and plant harmonization. We see the trends of our society reflected in the logistics sectors of organizations: they are an indicator for change and future developments.

With the increasing concentration on key skills (make or buy) and resulting strategies to outsource, delivery chains are more and more frequently based on a division of labour. Sharp competition on global markets, short product life cycles and high client demand foster the steep rise in the number of derivative products: supply guarantees in combination with highly flexible delivery chains are moving into the focus of managerial decision-making.

Supply chain management has thus become an important component of an organization’s planning and management. Elements of logistics structures such as cross-docks, automatic small parts warehouses and tugger trains demand innovative processes, great investments and complex system landscapes as well as, importantly, behavioural change and entirely new standards of management. We have methodical answers:

  • Insight images provide us with a view of the entire process chain and clearly depict its complexity.
  • Planning games bring the reality of logistics into the seminar room and clarify, e.g., bull-whip effects and how best cost country sourcing and parts availability are related.
  • Puzzles help develop an understanding for lean processes, value streams and line back principles.
  • Defamiliarization opens up new points of view, networks create synergies.
  • Complexity is not confused with complication; we respond with simplicity and standardization.
  • SYNNECTA events formats pick up flow, pulse and rhythm.
  • Logistics connect: we understand processes and we can do people.

Renate Standfest

Change Management? It does exist. Yet: What form does it take?

»You must either make a tool out of the creature, or a man of him. You cannot make both.« (John Ruskin)

A lot of research has gone into the dynamics of Change projects and successful ways of providing support for the attainment of goals over the course of the last decades. Almost all research stresses that Change processes must be embedded in a concept that allows employees to understand why the change is happening at all and why at that time. Every change should thus be placed into a strategic context so that the individual steps make sense for the employee. Furthermore, debate must be provided for so that the change can be discussed in the form of dialogue among the different levels of the hierarchy. Dialogue means that both partners are ready to be impressed by the other side. That means that any planned change must afford room for changes to the change.

Reality is different, however. We receive specification sheets that essentially demand help in enforcing a given change, in eliminating potential resistance and furthermore ask to keep this as granular as possible. Conversations reveal that those in charge feel neither obliged nor able to provide a sensible overall frame for separate steps or to open up space for dialogue. That in itself is not even a mistake: there are, after all, plenty of manipulative communicative techniques available that make it possible to enforce change as long as a minor injury or two along the way are no object. However, it must not be forgotten that this may be a way to make employees compliant of sorts, but rarely the path to instigating motivation.

Compliance may be enough for businesses with simple and fixed processes. What about businesses that need great flexibility, entrepreneurial spirit and agility on almost all levels? What about organizations that live off their employees’ creativity and animation?

We have noticed that as change projects are conducted with this type of tooling approach, the management of the organizations at the same time speak of their need for entrepreneurial, agile, independent and responsible employees on all levels. That is an inherent contradiction. In the actual world of work, within the enforced projects and changes, employees are primarily viewed as a means to an end. It is certainly one of the most important tasks of a business to organize the division of labor in such a manner that it leads to economic success. In the reality of the workday, it is often forgotten that a business is always also a community of humans whose work gains pertinence from its meaning and who can only enact the traits of agile independent responsibility (which require space) in the context of a suitable and fair community.

Our altered and fast world of business is looking for the potential provided by humans who engage and for whom their performance in a business forms a purpose. This potential is lost as soon as employees and their performance are viewed and treated as a »tool«, a mere means to an end. It is only the former, human, employee who will raise the strength, the will and the joy to do what needs to be done in the jungle of modern organizations and their necessarily complex structures: to be agile, responsible, creative, assertive, able to face conflicts and cooperative.

This can only be achieved by an approach to Change management that goes beyond the mere TOOL oriented approach, which keeps forgetting lessons learned. Employees must be able to understand, make sense of and be involved in their context in order to be able to fulfill the demands placed upon them.

Returning to Ruskin: »You must either make a tool out of the creature, or a man of him [or women of her, indeed!]. You cannot make both.«

Rüdiger Müngersdorff