Successful companies will be the ones who not only survive the tough times but find it a springboard for discovering innovation
Victoria Brannen, June 09, 2011
There is no doubt that the current economic and political climate leaves us all in a greater degree of uncertainty than has been experienced for several years in many aspects of our lives. For those still in work, that has a variety of implications, on both personal and professional psyches (where that distinction still exists).
Companies who find themselves having to restructure, achieve the seemingly impossible or make sometimes desperate compromises on a more corporate level, are full of individuals who are being asked to do so on an emotional level. When companies are fighting for survival, we expect our employees to roll up their sleeves and start punching and accept the inevitable collateral damage with understanding. In reality, even if employees do have the stomach for it and can cope with the pressure, their behaviour can start to match the erratic and aggressive nature of their environment. We have all seen stories of dangerously cavalier corporate behaviour play out in the media, and this is matched by what we have seen in our experience working with companies who have been on the road to administration, or are trying to reach unrealistic financial targets given the reality of the situation.
Working with high and low profile casualties, we have seen that the root cause of the problem is often less the financial situation than the behaviour it creates. So how do you demand loyalty, resilience and 'coolheadness' from people in scenarios in which they have to deal with the fall-out from the unpredictable and belligerent nature of markets and individuals?
Continually asking this question has been one of the keys to our quick success at Maya, as although we operationally manage many leisure assets on an ongoing basis, our entry is often at a crunch point for businesses that need urgent and significant turnaround, or need steering through turbulent times. We have to find a way to support the workforces we manage through confusing times. As such, our own employees need to be not only calm and level-headed enough to keep thinking strategically, rationally and analytically throughout, but be able to gain commitment and creativity, despite having less-than-ideal breeding grounds in which to nurture them.
The ability to manage a diverse workforce through such a challenge requires a true degree of emotional intelligence. Understanding that the employees are delivering your product and service is key in an industry such as ours and the need to instil a sense of accountability, productivity and pride is not something that can be prescribed in a handbook. Listening to and mentoring individuals to find that sense of identity within the organisation, irrespective of level, is how you knit them together and lead them through as a whole. There are always those that won't make the grade, but that is the beauty of a challenge, it gives rise to questioning the status quo and changes can be made for the better.
Skills such as these cannot be learned in the executive classroom or boardroom, but rather from the ability to have an understanding of psychology and what drives behaviours. Life experience is really what gives you the edge and the ability to relate those experiences to others. As such, this excludes no-one from obtaining such insights.
At Maya, we believe in building businesses for the future on deep and sustainable foundations, yet identified from a bird's eye perspective, and so must avoid all the traps a downturn brings. Successful organisations will not allow entrenched industry rules of engagement to blinker or fetter them, as we have seen companies retrench into outmoded historical positions in order to define their position. They will not prioritise plans for short-term gain to upstage longer-term imperatives. They will not lead overstretched workforces to take shortcuts round their commonsense and common decency. Successful companies will be the ones that not only survive the tough times but find it a springboard for discovering innovation, ingenuity and respect.
Maybe dodging all of these traps is what actually replaces more traditional motivating factors and instead focuses on culture and environment, whereby team spirit and respect for one another are what hold people together and drive performance.
Victoria Brannan (pictured) is CEO, Maya Asset Management
MAYA ASSET MANAGEMENT IN A MINUTE ? Male:female ratio 33:67 ? Organisation size: 18 ? % of staff who are working mothers: 55 ? Staff managed: 154 ? Value of Portfolios managed: £50m ? Number of serious bidders after Maya's turnaround plan for Pontins: 6 ? Maya's revenue in first year's trading: £1.2 million ? Average hours worked by partners per week: 60