Resilience vs. Efficiency – Day 3

Transformation and Advent

December 3, 2020

Day 3

In my professional life so far, the last few weeks before Christmas have been a very, very stressful period of the year. Nothing with contemplation. It was particularly bad during my apprenticeship as a bookseller: the bookstore was on a particularly busy luxury shopping street in Düsseldorf. All shopping tourists from the regions around and from the Netherlands flooded the Christmas market in Düsseldorf's old town, but first strolled down the Königsallee to breathe in some of the splendor and the special luxury feeling, which this boulevard made so unique in Germany. I still remember very well our extra shifts on every Saturday during the Christmas business: the shops and streets were crammed with people in loden coats, frantically pulling at the sellers and waited impatiently in the long checkout lines. When I left the shop during my lunch break, I kept my head bowed as much as possible, wrapped in a hat and gloves so I could get through the jostling crowds as unharmed as possible. I will never forget the moment on an Advent Saturday in 1987 on the Königsallee when suddenly a woman - obviously also a saleswoman from one of the luxury shops in the neighborhood - suddenly stopped walking, very close to me, stamped her leg on the ground - and exclaimed hysterically over everyone's heads: "My God, are only Dutch people out here"? This irrational outburst of anger was only the consequence of this electrified, tense swarm of eager Christmas shoppers and their babbling as they rushed through the streets in tour groups and with the whole family and demanded top performance from the sellers. Actually a funny memory, and I always enjoyed selling in the bookstore - and no offense, I have nothing against Dutch people either - but I haven't forgotten that after the three Christmas sales during my apprenticeship I regularly collapsed on Christmas eve with my family with severe flu. Over the years I learned to cope better with the pressure of the Christmas business and to spend Christmas tired but healthy with my loved ones.

I remember another incident full of absurd events from my time as a media manager in a large corporation. It was many years ago, a morning in a hangover mood after an intensive company Christmas party. There were only a few days left to post all invoices and payments before the end of the year. There had been a lot of upheaval at the end of this year, and now everyone just longed to come to the Christmas break. Also my boss, with whom I had my feedback talk that morning about the achievement of my annual goals. The conversation was actually quite tidy, but neither of us had much time. With the time pressure in the neck, I had not followed the conversation as carefully as it would have been necessary and unintentionally put another department in a worse light. The responsible department head was immediately in my boss's office. Then my boss released urgent payment approvals in the system and left the building for an outside business trip.
Later that morning the thunderstorm rolled in: an angry head of department stood in front of me - and rightly so - and talked about how I had screwed up the result for him. In the meantime, the number of calls from the accounting department to finally post all bills and payments was increasing. For that I had a reliable intern in my office who knew how to do it carefully. When I came back to my workplace, still completely dazed and affected by the argument with my colleague, my intern groaned in horror: The day before, someone from accounting had instructed an invoice to be paid and added 3 zeros - 6-7 -Digit amounts were not uncommon in my department, so nobody in the process had shrugged and everyone had waved everything through quickly and efficiently under time pressure. Too high an amount for the outgoing payment could have devastating consequences for the cash flow result shortly before the end of the year. According to the new release rules, only the boss's click could undo this booking - but he couldn't be reached for hours because he was on the plane for an appointment. So while my adrenaline had already reached the critical stress threshold - the series of small events with a major crisis effect continued: I had the customer advisor of our service provider on the phone, an extremely gentle, always confident contemporary with whom I mastered incredible change processes in the past year. And the challenges continued, we still had high pressure on the boiler for further disruptive measures with to accomplish right after Christmas holiday. His voice wasn't just meek during this conversation - it was soft with exhaustion. And then he uttered a sentence that you don't want to hear in such a tense situation: "Christiane, I can't do it anymore - we can't do it". Now I was still excited by my adrenaline rush - I see myself sitting at my desk - my intern is sitting across from me and making one phone call after the next to reverse this stupid incorrect payment entry. I held the phone in my hand and tried to realize what my customer advisor was telling me and I must have looked pretty stupid. Exactly at this moment, an employee from my team comes in, who had recently left for an appointment with the department that I had unintentionally damaged their image as an unexpexted Christmas gift. My colleague stood in front of me with large, tear-filled eyes. I knew immediately what had happened - the head of department had taken his frustration out on my employee. I was still holding the phone and at the other end my customer service representative was waiting for me to answer something. To cut it short: The payment could of course still be stopped. After Christmas, with my agency we managed to do everything we had planned. Much more important, however, were the conversations I had with everyone involved in this crisis situation and what conclusions we drew from them for our future cooperation.

The decisive moment was that I can still see in my mind's eye today when I was still holding the receiver in my hand - the crisis had reached its climax point for this moment, actually for the whole year. I felt immediately and intuitively that now it is no longer important to fix all the problems that had just pent up. At that moment it was no longer about "right" or "wrong", about "quickly", "efficiently" and "productivity". It was about realigning the inner focus in myself and afterwards in conversation with everyone involved. To allow gratitude, empathy and compassion, humility and clarity in communication to arise in order to untie this completely lost knot. For the rest of the day it was no longer important to complete further tasks as quickly and completely as possible. A few days later we could all laugh at this absurd moment, everything had dissolved - not without patient discussions with everyone involved (yes, also with my boss, also with the department head, also with the customer advisor - we all found insight into what each of us had contributed to maneuvering ourselves into this hopeless situation).

Changes and innovations cannot be mastered with efficiency and a sophisticated project plan alone. If we strive to be able to control everything perfectly, productively and under time pressure, we are prone to shocks and crises - and run the risk of being so drained and exhausted by the overheated pace of previously made decisions that we make even more mistakes during the crisis . Mistakes and crisis situations happen - they don't get smaller when drama dominates the scene, nor by denying them or speaking down, and certainly not by letting everything go and doing nothing. An attitude for the common intention, an attitude of openness, with humility and compassion strengthens the focus within and in the team and provides the backbone to endure ambivalence, to convert mistakes into opportunities and to strengthen confidence for new challenges. My most important management goal is not to increase efficiency in my area, but to develop resilience. That makes us crisis-proof - and leads to better results, especially in highly dynamic periods.