Pendulums And Pitfalls

Everyday we hear warnings in one form or another about the looming “Fiscal Cliff.” However one thing that seems apparent to someone like myself is the increasingly changing tone or tenor heard across the media landscapes.

To paraphrase what’s emerging are lyrics such as, “Well it’s not really a cliff – it’s more like a slope.” or “Just because we go over doesn’t really mean it’s something we can’t fix.” These are probably the most dangerous warning signs one can hear if you’ve ever been involved in crisis management.

Crisis or turn around management is not for the faint of heart. The landscape is littered with the unsuccessful. It’s a pretty exclusive club. So being part of this club more than just once, I believe I can share a little perspective.

When dealing in a crisis at first everyone seems willing to do anything in order to save the entity. Until you actually begin to improve its condition. Then everything begins to change. And not always for the better. Sometimes it’s for the worst.

One of the hardest aspects to explain to people (and management) is what I coined the “pendulum rule.” This is where you’re deep into the crisis and just as you begin making advancements in either holding it back, or actually turning it around. People start to elude that the worst has past, or it’s over.

You begin to hear rumblings of people declaring victory over the matter. Worse is when everyone begins lining up to take credit. Or they begin taking to the airwaves or press to say its over. Or that it wasn’t or isn’t as bad as they first thought. etc. etc. This is where things get very dangerous for a company. Where the odds for survival can go from 50/50 to nil in a heartbeat.

Before a crisis can be declared over or for that matter even negated some will begin looking for increased wages, recognition, or more because as far as they’re concerned – it was because of “them” the crisis has been curtailed. It’s one thing to deal or handle this issue at the personnel level. However when this clarion call begins being heralded by management. You really have issues.

The main reason why this issue is so destructive is the timing. It usually takes place as a pendulum swing has just passed. However what most never contemplate or for that matter realize is this: Just when you think you’ve dodged a swing – the return stroke can be far more devastating.

The reason is you believe the danger has passed so you leave your guard down. Then as the returning blow strikes its impact is far more devastating because you were already weak, and now you’re caught further off guard. As long as a pendulum swings it can hurt – or worse. Just because it may lose some momentum doesn’t mean you can survive every swing. No matter how small.

It’s the defensive position you remain in while it continues to swing that’s paramount for survival. There is no rest to be taken while it swings. That’s why the goal must be to tie down or last the swinging arm. (That also portends to knowing what it is but that’s another column) Until then the crisis is never truly over. Yet most believe they can jettison the crisis tone and go back to business as usual thinking all is clear. As I said before – then comes the return stroke.

Then you have what I refer to as the “pitfall.” Similar to the cliff analogy. In other words once over the edge – it’s over. Period. This is so dangerous because the difference between over the edge or not can be just one wrong move or decision.

This usually becomes manifest from within the company itself. It’s where most don’t understand the difference between dealing (or negotiating) with team players, as opposed to committee members.

We saw this play out in the Twinkie® strike debacle. Everyone believed they were on the same team. They weren’t – because there was never a real “team.” Just a coalition of committees each fixated on satisfying its own agenda.

On a team, nothing trumps the goal of the team winning. Players can be moved from position to position, or even benched or cut with little to no animosity if it means reaching the ultimate goal of the team. To win.

Committees on the other hand don’t share that trait. A committee can win – yet winning could be at the expense of the entity (or team) itself.

This takes place within the company when the team (or company) begins to split into factions for self preservation. When this happens you no longer are dealing with a “team.” You’re dealing with committees. The difference between the two is crucial, however very few understand the dynamics of how they can play out. Seemingly at the most inopportune times.

The bakers committee argued, stood its ground, said it wouldn’t back down and didn’t. They won the argument and demonstrated what they said – they meant. Yet the company is now history. Hard to comprehend from a “team” viewpoint. Easily discernible if looked through the “committee” prism.

Which brings us to one of the most publicized ongoing negotiations event to cross the airwaves in quite some time. The looming “Fiscal Cliff.”

When viewing this from my seat I see a few ominous warning signs. First, one side believes it has a mandate based on election results. Second, the other side believes it has a mandate to restrain the other side from its mandate.

All this backed up by the seemingly positive reactive market surges when some form of “deal” statement is released. Whether credible or not. Mix in a media that now is trumpeting going over “isn’t really all that bad.” And you have all the dynamics for possible chaos served on a holiday platter.

Just remember “Team USA” is made up of more committees than one dares to ponder. Based on that alone pendulums and pitfalls just might make this game one where not only the team loses. But so do the players, and fans alike.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr