Newsletter – September 2012

Sep 4, 2012

Applying extraordinary tools to meet extraordinary circumstances


The publication of a newsletter implicitly implies a reference to current events and for over three years now it is striking to note that the business climate has continuously been negative. There are those for whom this period has been a descent into hell, those who are managing to struggle along, and a few fortunate ones who continue to grow on a fragile basis as the unrelenting crisis is reducing niches of prosperity rapidly.


The key element here is the duration. Such an extended period without a reversal in the business cycle has company directors facing management challenges that are completely unknown to them since the last crisis of this scale dates back to the 1930’s. What makes this context so particular is that it dents the effectiveness the arsenal of initiatives – be they strategic, commercial or operational – heretofore used by management teams to re-energize a company. Why? Because in today’s environment, it is often the “heart of the machine”, that is to say the employees, that are no longer able to respond as expected.


To get to this point there is no need to reach extreme situations such the one being experienced by the Swiss private banking sector. In this particular case, the succession of bad news resembles the “perfect storm” and “after-work» conversations confirm that the level of demobilization and alienation with regard to one’s job and employer has reached a truly critical and unprecedented level. Without reaching such an extreme, many companies face a situation today where most teams are in effect running on empty.


Uncertainty and the sustained absence of future prospects incite the individual to curl up in survival mode, considerably increasing passivity. This is followed by a decrease in individual performance and degradation of the quality of teamwork. Not only does the development process atrophy, but the operational risks increase. It is the heart of the enterprise, the very substance of company performance that is affected. Under these conditions, the traditional management levers become remarkably ineffective.


Faced with an environment that strongly pushes individuals and teams towards a generalized wait and see attitude, management is thus increasingly disarmed. It is nevertheless widely acknowledged that the success of a company does not solely depend on the environment in which it evolves. More than ever before for this generation of corporate leaders, the fate of companies is going to play out in the months and years to come based on their capacity to mobilize and to create the circumstances and conditions for success.


Action, radical at times, has become more than ever a necessity at precisely the same time the dynamics of the company are at their lowest. The problem runs deep, and to remedy it requires going beyond the usual boundaries of corporate communication and dialogue. We are not referring here to outdoor team building activities where the pitch and roll of a Zodiac in the rapids can weld its passengers into a united team. This is about facing individual and team mobilization challenges head-on.


In depth programs on mobilization exist. To produce useful results however they need to cover several themes. The first of these concerns personal transitions that enable individuals to evolve from a defensive attitude towards the new reality faced by the company to one position which integrates this reality and restores their capacity to forge ahead. After that comes team performance. This makes uses the diversity of individual profiles within any given team to reactivate its ability to perform. With this work accomplished conditions are then met for the development of a positive agenda that will in effect restart the engine of the company.


That being said, undertaking such a journey is far from easy. Our experience has shown us that the subjects treated are extremely sensitive and the stakes are high. The risk of derailment is not negligible if those who handle the initiative do not show the utmost rigor in the management of this sensitive process. Under the exceptional circumstances in which we’re living there is unfortunately no alternative; for many it has become urgent to act in order still be able to build a future for their company.


Edgar Brandt Advisory