Let's do a little yoga

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Let's do a little yoga

Tuesday, 22. August 2017

 “Breathe in, breathe out, then pause for a while”. What sounds like the beginning of a normal yoga session can also be applied to the corporate development.

Those who take the time to constantly question their goals and the path leading to them develop rituals that help them to take the right strategic decisions.


Record sales registered by the digital champions, fast fashion maintaining its policy of ousting others,

the eviction of over-represented brand retailers, discount-type establishments on the increase in inner-city areas, purchasing frequencies and sales-floor results continuing to fall, changed customer expectations:

“Fashion is dead – long live fashion”. The mental and commercial pressures on poorly differentiated business models are huge. The challenges loom large and there are often no simple solutions to them. Some profound reflection is needed and, as Steve Jobs once noted, that is very demanding. Thinking things out from beginning to end costs time and discipline, and calls for a clear head. As in the case of individuals, organizations too are often in a state of insecurity and uncertainty. Intensive external stimuli have a rapid and irregular impact on the organization. Questions remain unanswered and there’s a lack of orientation, which leads to an increase

in people’s fear of making mistakes. The organizational patterns of behaviour that this brings about range

from hyperactivity to selective symptoms of paralysis. Yet, in stress situations, people are glad to ignore the fact that no decision is a decision too. On the other hand, jumping on a different bandwagon every day

is not very helpful either when it comes to lasting success in hectic times.


So how is a company to achieve clarity? Why not with a bit of yoga? What sounds strange at first sight is worth looking at again, because a change in perspective often works wonders. A typical yoga session starts off with a conscious effort to breathe deeply, while giving free rein to one’s thoughts, yet without pursuing them in depth, and the participants remaining attentive in the here and now.


From our own experience we know only too well how difficult it is, given the pressure of all those urgent matters, to create a suitable atmosphere to reflect on what is truly important. If you have already experienced meditation, then you know how difficult it is to attain a calm state of mind. Upon closing your eyes, countless thoughts often stream almost simultaneously through your head – a state that Zen Buddhists call “a monkey mind”.


While the individual experiences an increase in mental and physical strength by repeatedly going through the yoga exercises, companies can enhance their ability to concentrate attention on the essentials and the organization through strategy exercises. When the Sun Salutation draws on the forward bend, the downward-looking dog or the cobra, management yoga is made up, e.g., of the SWOT analysis, the key competence analysis, the business model canvas or the stakeholder analysis.


The essential elements in both of these fields are regular repetition and the ritual. Just as little as a single yoga session strengthens body and spirit, a one-off strategy weekend is equally insufficient to establish clarity and conviction regarding business decisions. In the case of management yoga too, it is only by repeatedly going through the individual exercises that you can identify strengths, weaknesses, risks and opportunities, and what is really needed for the company to successfully assert itself in the marketplace. Don’t we all know how difficult it is to really get to the bottom of things, generate joint convictions and then take action or exercise leadership accordingly? The ritual, the recurring flow of the exercises helps people to ignore background noise and to concentrate their minds on the points that really make a difference.


If you have already tried to skip the yoga class due to lack of time and to do the exercises preferably on your own, then you know just how difficult that is. Most people don’t enjoy it at all and somehow it just doesn’t work. It’s not easy to keep an eye on the sequence of exercises while making sure that you carry out the individual moves properly along with the correct breathing, while at the same time attaining the desired state of relaxation with a well-focused mind. For the same reason as there are yoga teachers, it also makes sense for the management team to enlist the help of experienced external professionals when it comes to doing the strategic exercises or, later on, implementing the established vision and strategy. Not until the managers repeatedly face up to the company’s true strengths and weaknesses in an open discussion and also recognize the needs of the markets and customers can a genuine unique value proposition be formulated. In theory, this sounds easy, but in practice implementation is often no simple matter. Often, it isn’t the tasks themselves that constitute the challenge, but the egos of those concerned or what are presumed to be short-term necessities. Only experienced moderation can enable a management team to shift its focus from what is urgent to what is essential. Harvard Professor Roger Martin is also convinced that a successful corporate strategy can only be developed in an iterative process. A certain length of time and several loops are necessary until the management team can answer five simple questions jointly and unequivocally:

1) What do we wish to achieve and what are our concrete goals?

2) In which possible fields do we wish to be active and in which fields do we not?

3) How do we intend to win on the field and against what obstacles/competitors do we have to assert ourselves?

4) What resources and skills do we have to build up and maintain for this purpose?

5) How are we to ensure the build-up and maintenance of these resources and skills?


Experienced change managers know that there is no shortcut for this process – and that particularly applies if we are on your own in these hectic times.

Very often, it’s possible to find plausible business strategies in PowerPoint format and a management team that is more or less convinced of their value. It is more seldom the case that the strategies are thoroughly understood and accepted by the organization. Successful changes show that a great deal of time, energy and repetition are needed to bring the organization on board and to make the relevance

of the strategy clear to all business units and functions concerned. Just as personal yoga derives its strength from the alternation between tension and relaxation, similarly, successful companies regularly create spaces and time breaks during everyday operations in order to devote themselves to the continuous further development of the individual business unit and the company as a whole, as laid down by the established strategy and vision.

The methods used to take the organization with you on your journey are as diverse and creative as there are exercises in yoga: in the final analysis, it actually all boils down to the need to find the methods that suit the company and enable it to regularly and comprehensively focus its attention and that of the whole organization on the vision and strategy. Only when this has been applied to all corporate business units and functions in flesh and blood, when value creation process buys in, is truly successful corporate development possible. That’s just how simple yoga is.


Marcus Sewtz

Is a corporate development expert in Team Retail Excellence.

His focus is on empowering people and organizations to find their visions and the paths leading to them.