Barry Callebaut and Ferrero back in production. What do we learn from the chocolate crisis ?

A crisis is always the ultimate test to expose the true soul of a company.

Salmonella contamination occurs frequently in Belgium but the majority never makes the news.  Very occasionally a message appears in the newspaper to announce a recall. Not so with Ferrero.

The core of crisis communication: VALUES!

The key component of any crisis communication is to show the company’s attitude toward a society value that is compromised by the crisis. In this case, the health of consumers and more specifically of the children who were victims of the Salmonella contamination. In our crisis masterclass and media training, we teach our clients to focus their communications on these values from the very first minute.

Safety and health are general values that apply to all human activities. The protection of families as the cornerstone of society is also at the top as well as ethical conduct and the protection of the environment with attention to the climate. These values are universal, so to speak.  Further values are the right of consumers to get adequate products and services and to be properly informed about them. The protection of the weak and the right to work are also part of the series. This is very topical, for example, within the immigration theme. Quality of life has risen sharply in recent years as a value, including the search for balance between private and professional life. Culture is also a value, and specifically local culture. Local norms and customs that determine how communities interact.

Murphy’s Law

A few weeks after Ferrero, salmonella also struck chocolate manufacturer Barry Callebaut. The company reacted decisively, leaving no doubt about its approach to protecting consumers with a clear communication. A company can emerge positively from a crisis if it cares about these social values and acts accordingly. In the case of Ferrero, all we heard was the deafening noise of silence. The perfect storm that could have been avoided.

Entropy and disorder: the fate of all human enterprises?

She is there, everywhere, at all times. She affects your private and professional life.

She is little known and little contested. Yet she consumes a lot of energy.

Her name? ENTROPY.

Entropy is a natural and irreversible phenomenon. The energy initially present in a system is transformed and ‘goes away’.

Entropy comes to us from physics but it is also perfectly visible in business.

To keep it simple: what is structured becomes de-structured, what is organized becomes disorganized, what is conceived becomes forgotten, continuously and naturally.

No one escapes this.

How do we fight against entropy? A few examples.

➡️ You want to encourage feedback in your team? Systematically put the topic on the agenda of your team meetings.

➡️ You want to reduce the number of accidents at work? After safety trainings, ask your employees to regularly review the situation on the floor in person with colleagues.

➡️ Are you starting a project? Consider “new blood” from the beginning if the project is going to be long and build up the “reserves” in the project team in time.

Fighting against entropy is within everyone’s reach.

1️⃣  Accept that it is universal and inescapable.

2️⃣  Make your colleagues aware of its existence.

3️⃣  You will be attentive to its effects on those around you and on yourself.

The Square Circle team guides people and organizations in growth, development and transformation. Supporting business dynamics is one of our great passions.

Developing the reason for existence, the vision and the values

Antonissen Development Group is a dynamic real estate group that selects urban locations with exceptional potential and has a preference for transforming existing properties into high-quality, modern buildings that are accessible to all.

The company wants to support its growth by standing out in the market with a dynamic vision of its activity. But that is not all. Antonissen wants to involve all its employees in this exercise, namely the development of a motivating reason for existence (the ‘mission’), an inspiring vision and strong corporate values.

A challenge?

At first glance, involving all staff members in such a project seems utopian. Yet the company managed to achieve this with excellent results. After two days of working in small groups, all the objectives had been achieved.

What lessons can be learned from this process?

Does it make sense to involve the staff in creating a vision? Isn’t that the job of management?

Involvement of all staff members is an undeniable asset, as experience has shown time and again. In this case, we were able to get the entire team of 30 staff to work together in one workshop. For larger organisations, we recommend going beyond the strict framework of management by organising mixed working groups that reflect the different layers of the company. Here too, the results are surprisingly rich and insightful. In the end, of course, it is always management that validates the work done.

What do you have to do to get results?

Careful preparation and continuous coaching during the workshop are essential. Each group has a pilot who is well prepared to lead the entire exercise. Square Circle takes care of the focused approach and facilitation during the sessions.

What if staff proposals are not accepted? This can demotivate the staff!

Practice has shown that the results of the group work are highly relevant and rich in strategic insights and proposals. The management was always impressed and pleased with the quality of the work.

What happens when everything is validated? The expectations are high!

Now that Mission, Vision and Values are on paper, we want to take action to really bring them to life and integrate them into our daily operations. Here, the Results Roadmap™ was used to carry out concrete actions in a decentralised but synchronised way.

All this is framed by dynamic and mobilising communication. Since there was broad participation in the creation of the vision, we see great commitment in the teams afterwards to realise the vision.

My department is changing, can such an exercise be done to refocus all employees on our goals?

We strongly recommend this. The raison d’être of a service may remain unchanged, but the vision of its activity may evolve significantly. Knowing that a vision is a set of ambitious but concrete goals to be achieved in a certain period of time, building it together is the best way to motivate employees to achieve it.

How the Corona pandemic reveals your true Company Culture

Over the last 1,5 year our world has been heavily impacted in many ways by the Covid-19 pandemic. Many things that we took for granted and that are just part of the usual way we do things were all of a sudden not so obvious anymore. For Companies, this disruptive event has put enormous challenges on the table. The Covid-19 pandemic has for many been the Black Swan Event*, that nobody expected to occur, causing a huge mind shift and change in how the world works.

When you are driving on a road with a big bus and a Black Swan suddenly and unexpectedly crosses the road, it is very likely that you will not be able to avoid it. When you are driving that same road with a motor cycle or a bike, you’ll probably start to swivel, trying to stay in the saddle. Whilst many CEO’s and Managers have put great effort in adjusting their business approach and revisit their short and mid-term strategy, taking immediate actions to stay in the saddle while facing the new challenges, the impact of the existing Company Culture has more than ever shown it’s significance.

How has your company culture helped or hindered you in these unprecedented times?

The way people act and interact when there are no rules that tell them what to do, that is what Culture is all about.  Company culture can be defined as a set of shared values, beliefs, goals and practices that characterize an organization. Company culture refers to the attitudes and behaviours of a company and its employees. We see it in the way the people in the organization interact with each other, the values they hold, and the decisions they make.

If you’re asking yourself, what is my company culture like, take stock of what you’ve seen during this crisis: how have people reacted on the changes they were facing? Have they put their energy in collectively finding the best way to cope with it or did each department, team or even individual employee worked their own problems, for better or for worse? Have people been creative and open-minded or were they mostly grieving about what could not be done in the usual way anymore?

Did your leaders find ways to keep their teams motivated and engaged when business results were deteriorating and/or even more workload and high pressure was overwhelming the team?

Was there a climate of trust and commitment or did all the mandatory telework make leaders feel they were not in control anymore?

I have seen fantastic examples of company values coming to life even stronger than before:

  • Determined to help their customer, sales engineers were setting up demo equipment in their own garage and running virtual demo meetings with the customers from their home
  • Production operators together with Health & Safety instructors using all their creativity to find safe ways to keep production going and care for the health of the employees
  • IT teams taking ownership and walking the extra mile in equipping the organization and it’s people to work from home every day
  • Leaders empowering their team members and together finding the best way to solve problems, cooperate and stay connected as a team
  • Organizations reinventing their training approach and installing a new learning culture that is accessible to all employees

And sure, I have also seen other examples, where company values such as accountability or trust  remained idle words or instilled practices overtook from the desired cultural values.

In times of crisis the true culture in the company comes to the surface and has a huge impact on how your organization reacts to the situation. It’s worth considering the value of some lessons learned.

Use this experience to do a retrospect with your teams. What can you learn from this? Which company values that you have been writing about on your website and that you have been promoting at every employee event have showed their true face in the past months at all levels in the organization? What behaviors and attitudes have helped you most to face the Black Swan on the road? What practices should you get rid of for the future to stay performant in your business?

Black Swan Events are so rare that they seldom happen. Maybe it is time to revisit this definition. Look ahead and imagine new problems on your road, disruptors like the already occurring shortage in supply, increasing employee absenteeism and turnover, severe weather events or other natural disasters. This is a good time to evolve your business practices and company culture to be adaptive in the face of growing threats. And ask yourself: how comfortable am I being uncomfortable?

* Although the author of “The Black Swan”, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, argues that epidemiologists have been warning of pandemics for many years and therefore the outbreak of Covid-19 is not a Black Swan, he recognizes that what is a Black Swan for some, might not be a Black Swan for others.

An Dewaele joins Square Circle

An Dewaele, former CHRO of Barco, is becoming a partner at Square Circle adding a vast expertise to the team to fulfill a common mission: support companies with business driven people solutions to be successful in an increasingly volatile, mobile and complex world.

An has over 30 years of human resources experience in global companies, where she held several senior HR positions in multiple European and Global Roles in the automotive and high-tech industry, based in Sweden and Belgium.

An Dewaele: “Being successful in executing the strategy is what a company makes or breaks. Making this happen is all about culture, leadership, engagement and talent. Throughout my career, I have supported several transformations working with these key elements, that play a vital role in driving business performance and growth. Within Square Circle, my focus will be on supporting companies in leveraging the existing capabilities and create the platform for long term results.”

During several decades, An has covered the breadth of HR activities on operational and on strategic level with a passion for leadership, talent, culture, team performance and employee engagement. Having worked both on local sites and in headquarters, in multicultural environments, she understands the different dynamics that are at play and that should not be ignored.

An Dewaele : “In today’s fast changing world you have to actively manage culture as it defines how your company behaves and strives for results. With the aim of harnessing its full potential, growing leadership and talent and coaching leaders so that they can build a culture of engagement should be high on the agenda of every management team. Every company is different and should see what works best for them. There is no magic formula that can be applied unilaterally. My priority at Square Circle, therefore, is to share my experience helping organizations as a true “compagnon de route” in developing their human potential effectively and powerfully.

The range of services delivered by An within Square Circle will focus on following topics:

  • Development of leaders and talents through hands on and customized training, mentoring and coaching.
  • Accelerate the development of a productive working relationship between new leaders and their team through Leadership Assimilation workshops.
  • Boost learning with and from others through self-managed learning, a powerful method that starts from concrete and real situations people are facing in their job.
  • Coach leaders to build engagement, giving them tools to listen to their teams, defining a shared view, a way of working where all team members adhere to and feel proud to contribute.
  • Support in transforming organizational culture, going from word to action and bring the new desired culture to live.

Founded in 2002, Square Circle brings hands-on management and communication expertise with a pragmatic approach to drive successful transformational change projects, manage constructive labor relations, build strong company cultures, prevent operational risks, manage crises and engage employees as key drivers of performance.

Why persuasion is so difficult

In a company, persuasion is a daily necessity. Changing operating methods, launching new ideas, successfully completing transformation projects, improving quality, ensuring safety at work, selling new products to customers, successful negotiation… This often requires investing a lot of energy for a result that does not always meet expectations. And there’s a reason for that: We do not use the ‘persuasion machine’ present in the form of the three brains that make up any human being.

The 3 brains that govern us
Did you know that the process of persuading a human being involves engaging the three brains that he possesses? Unfortunately, when we want to persuade, most of the time we deploy arguments that use just a small part of the first brain. So we shouldn’t be surprised that the impact of our communication is often unpredictable!

Our first brain is the one everyone knows. It contains 100 billion neurons. It is composed of two hemispheres. Simply put, the left side is essentially rational. It wants to understand everything, analyse everything and make a detailed assessment of the information provided to it, step by step. You should also realise that the left side does not want to take any risks. This is the origin of the resistance to change that one naturally observes in humans.

We all have a right brain hemisphere which is our spatial, creative, visual, relational side. It anticipates constantly. It is ready to take risks, without much calculation about them.

It works through mental images. Concepts, ideas, projects are all mental images, sometimes complex, that our brain has to decode.

A beneficial interaction
It was long thought that the two sides of the brain functioned with one being dominant over the other. At times either basically rational. Or then again, more emotional. But it has recently become clear that this is not the case at all. The two hemispheres are in constant interaction and continuously influence each other. When you communicate, you create a real ‘battle’ of the hemispheres in the hope that the outcome will be favourable to you.

Your communication will therefore be aimed at reassuring the left side of your target audience about the relevance of the arguments in order to control the analytical phase of reasoning. In doing so, your communication will also need to convey the ‘mental images’ that will lead to buy-in by the right side and then to action.

But never forget this: persuading an audience requires not only rational arguments, which is what 99% of managers do most of the time.

Rationality often fails to convince
Our second brain consists of our heart and our digestive system. It is composed of 540 million neurons. This second brain is the centre of our emotions. The most important decisions we make in our lives are initially processed by the two hemispheres of the first brain. But then, quite often it is based on ‘our gut feeling’ that we ultimately decide to go ahead or not, by ‘sensing’ that it’s the right decision.

In your communication you will therefore also have to integrate emotional arguments (the ‘what’s in it for me’) and action-orientated arguments to ‘move people’. By addressing the second brain and its emotional power of persuasion in this way, you double your persuasive impact.

A brain that remains little known
But there is also a third brain. This is made up of 300 billion glial cells that surround our first brain. These cells, whose name is related to the English word for ‘glue’, are specialised in various tasks: supporting neurons, supplying them with nutrients, accelerating neurotransmission, for example. We are only just now discovering the full potential of this veritable third brain.

One of the first applications we can draw from this is that the energy released by the glial cells decreases over time. A wise manager will therefore hold important meetings at the beginning of the week and at the beginning of the day rather than at the end of the week or at the end of the afternoon, because most brains will have difficulty concentrating, as the available energy has been partly exhausted.

If you want to have the energy and interaction to conduct a fruitful discussion, plan your meetings with the glial cells in mind!

Persuade by communicating
Persuasion through communication is within everyone’s reach. There’s no reason why you can’t make your persuasive power even stronger by from now on targeting the 3 brains of anyone you want to persuade. Want to find out how? Click here.