Fight Energy vs. Change Energy | Dr Pippa Grange

Being recession-ready in business isn’t just about the numbers


At Nepean, we take a human behavioural approach to corporate challenges. We do this because people are still making the decisions that matter to you and to your business.

Dr Pippa Grange is a psychologist and culture coach, and was the Head of People and Team Development at The Football Association. She is also the author of “Fear Less: How to Win at Life Without Losing Yourself.”

Expert partners like Pippa help us bring that behavioural expertise into the corporate world. Here’s her take as we enter challenging recessionary times.


Things are different again in 2023.

The singular worry of the last couple of years in the face Covid is being displaced by a more diffuse sense of looming, eroding change – in the economy, the environment, and the local impacts of geo-political conflicts.

The climate for business and, importantly, the people in them is changing in parallel. People are tired, more inclined to isolate and quicker to scepticism. More employees report feeling the weight of the grind.

The old playbooks for businesses are starting to feel inadequate, even for the gritty survivors who have been round the recessionary wheel before. The relentless drive employed to get through a crisis or tough it out could be described as the energy of ‘fight’. Perhaps the energy needed for 2023 is not fight, it is change energy.

Alongside thinking about your top and bottom lines, here’s some food for thought on tone and engagement through tougher times.

Competitive tone

In the midst of division and uncertainty, perhaps 2023 is a moment to reflect on your competitive tone. Competition is natural, inherent and valuable in the human species, but how we use it as a tool for success is culturally-based. Does the competitive tone of your business reflect an agenda of individual corporate gain, rivalry-against and power-over? Or does it reflect a deep, competitive will to contribute to collective solutions for the future? Would the latter elicit a better response from your critical stakeholders?

Much of the difference is in language. The push-solve-drive-more-bigger language of relentless gain has fight-energy. Right now, the line is being redrawn. Fight language has the energy of crisis and urgency, and it is fantastic for singular events but not so much for adapting to long-term change.

A more constructive and engaging option could be to use the language of creative momentum, language that describes deep competitive efforts that are about finding better options that lift the game. Progress becomes industry-wide and social in nature. Reputationally, winners are those who make the best changes. Showing that you are employing your inherent competitive talents to profit the future could be a key adaptation for 2023.

Hierarchies and heroes

‘Us versus them’ psychology is alive and well within the belly of organisations. The way that we have structured businesses over centuries reflects an intention to separate people into hierarchies based on skill and experience that also has ‘power’ implications. The idea of ‘us’ has often been framed in terms of being welcomed to a ‘corporate family’ and sharing in corporate values and identity, but fundamentally the exchange between employer and employee is an individual, term-based transaction. This leaves a lot of room for people to check-out in terms of engagement and commitment, especially if they are tired or fearful.

As more and more people question the validity of hierarchy-based authority (especially those people who are under 40), are they inclined to lose some motivation for the ‘system’ that has worked for generations of employees before them? Does this well-worn but ageing approach miss the talent and insight of people further down the hierarchy, people who don’t speak up or push their ideas readily in a way that the organisation can hear?

Your business in 2023 may benefit from those diverse perspectives. Perhaps it is time to rethink the hierarchies and the heroes and consider how you could actively and wisely give away authority to the intelligence of the system?

Internal ‘green-lighting’

One way of encouraging shared authority and trust with employees is to engage in an internal process of getting a ‘green light’ on a variety of ideas and actions, especially reputationally complex problems or those challenges that push up against your sense of integrity now and then.

Internal green-lighting involves gathering an intimate collective of diverse people from all strata of the business for a couple of hours, perhaps once a quarter, and framing an issue for discussion and debate that would normally stay at the top table or in the domain of specific experts. While leaders and experts can be present, the question you are asking is not ‘what should we do’, it is ‘how does this feel’ in terms of your stated vision and values. You are not expecting deep subject matter expertise from the collective, you are asking them to check the temperature and integrity of business choices and act as kind of trust-filter for the organisation.

It is critical that the collective feel heard, even if some perspectives and opinions cannot be supported. The upside of speaking openly about the challenges, lifting the veil so to speak, can be enormous if done well.