Author, Consultant, Executive Coach - Helping people and organizations grow into desired results

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Are you ready...for the UPturn?

A city broods in the dark...but the dawn will come again.

Greetings from Hong Kong, where, to be frank, things seem a bit grim. Here in the world's third-largest financial centre, banks are busily making cuts to staff and rolling back their recent expansion.

Speaking to one senior VP at a multinational bank here, the thing I noticed was that he seemed less concerned about the volatility of the markets than he was about the impending layoffs...and the rounds of political infighting and bloodletting that have intensified as a result.

A global economic shift is taking place, that is clear. There's nothing like large-scale uncertainty and financial instability to drive people straight into their limbic "lizard-brain" of emotional reactivity - a trend not discouraged by media outlets that seem to want to frighten, not inform. Even the business press is glutted with articles on "surviving the downturn" and "managing through a recession" and "leadership despite layoffs".

As people are driven into survival-based fight-flight-freeze responses, the practical results are: teams fall apart; bad behaviour becomes the norm; secrecy, infighting, politicking and point-scoring become the order of the day. Productivity - the very thing needed to pull a company through these times - plummets and it's every individual for him/herself.

Are you ready for the upturn?

At this point I want to suggest another point of view - being ready for the upturn.

To counter the divisive trends noted above and steer the ship toward calmer seas, it makes good business sense to get people out of their lizard-brain mode and find a way to get their rational minds back in the game.

To put it in a broader context, what's happening now in the economy was largely inevitable. Securitization, the separation of lender from risk, and other speculative and highly leveraged transactions had become unsustainable practices. We have lived through - and enjoyed - a long period financial success - and excess.

These financial practices have arguably been the logical outgrowth of a mentality and societal goals that are shaped by the ceaseless and senseless focus on profit at any cost. Not only are individuals and companies now paying the financial piper, the planet is suffering from our myopic mania for short-term gain.

On the long view, this correction of excesses may even be timely - otherwise as a species and a culture we'd have careened happily over the edge, setting in motion cascades of consequences that would doom the planet and ourselves.

As the pendulum swings back in the other direction, will it be a pleasant process? No - it has the potential to be a unpleasant as the other extreme was excessive. The process of creating balance and reintegrating a broader view, though difficult, is as necessary for society as it is helpful for individuals.

The long-term, rational policy suggests we get into the best possible position in our organizations and companies to be successful when the current period ends and things have shifted. The current climate (economic and environmental) won't last forever; we face an important turning-point.

At this stage there's great potential here for far-sighted companies to create the high-performance, humanistic and productive environments that will be needed to take us forward into the future.

These are not decisions you want to be making using your panicked limbic lizard-brain in knee-jerk mode, but rather your rational brain seeking signs of resilience and hope.

So although the night seems to be getting ever-darker, keep your eye on the brightest lights as they show a way through the darkness. The dawn will come again...

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