It is a wistful look back to the 1990s. At that time, the Confederation's crisis management was up to the task and enjoyed a recognition that extended far beyond the country's borders. It was developed and kept fit thanks to a relationship between the administration and the army that was not yet dressed up. The latter, of course, has a lot to offer in terms of knowledge and experience in the field of crisis management. Laurent Carrel had a significant contribution to the standing at that time. He is the author in the German-speaking world who has something to say on the subject of leadership in crises. It is a pity that the structures, knowledge and skills of the federal government's consistently well-designed crisis management have dissipated over time. We would benefit a lot from it today.
In the search for the reasons for this inglorious evaporation, one inevitably comes across the usual suspect. A 'Swiss society' that has lulled itself into a sense of safety over the years. It was shaped by a long period of carelessness and was able to watch on, well protected, as irregularities such as the financial crisis were survived almost unscathed. Not even the abandonment of the fixed exchange rate to the euro knocked the solidly built tanker Switzerland off course. The extraordinary inertia of our country allowed our authorities and institutions, with their well-oiled machinery, to simply administer away the emerging troubles. One or the other, even those working in administration, may have concluded from this that our government, together with the authorities and institutions of this country, are able to manage crises. Today we know. They can't. Neither with reliance on the many nuts buried in good years, nor with all the other assets that our best-functioning state has to offer, is it possible to stand up to the current crisis in a useful way. It shakes us out of the warm and cozy comfort zone in which the impression had been created that we were living in safety and had events under control. We are shocked to discover that Switzerland has lost the competence to lead in a crisis at the federal level. It is becoming abundantly clear that the modus operandi of the administration is definitely not suited to mastering such an extraordinary situation. It is self-evident that authorities do not have to have this ability. But it is irritating that they do not refuse to be forced into this role and that one gets the impression here and there that certain exponents even like the task that has now fallen to them.
Dealing with loss of control
When leadership is called upon to act in times of uncertainty and not knowing, it must abandon the idea that events can be controlled. There are a few, but all the more important, principles that guide successful crisis management. The first involves a humble inner attitude, coupled with the knowledge that one can only influence events. And to do so humbly in the face of the unexpected. For anyone who is to act in the data and knowledge vacuum of the crisis must extract information from the chaos via 'trial and error' in order to understand it better. Crisis management is about learning. Influence is exerted with creative and unconventional measures. Because in a crisis, you learn by doing. If you don't act, you stand still and let chaos take its course. Flexibility, agility and pragmatism are in demand. It is not dogmatically determined projects that lead to success, but experiments that are set up in such a way that they can also fail. Not enough mistakes can be made, because they are the same as the success of experiments, the source of valuable information. The inner attitude towards risk is oriented towards the bearable loss and not towards a projected gain. An effective crisis management lives best with usable approaches, nobody wants to know about perfection.
Those who act and think like this were certainly not socialized in the administration. Our authorities and institutions are not only not management bodies but have been put through the compliance mill in a long period of fair weather. They do what the law says. Unfortunately, there is nothing in there about how to handle a crisis. They adhere to quality criteria that are reasonable in a normal state, but dangerous in the current situation. They start to act when the problem has arrived on their table, there is no sign of foresight. They follow a pattern of action that assumes that doing nothing will lead to no mistakes. Yet we bear responsibility for our actions as well as our inactions. The role played by the administration, the authorities and our institutions in the current situation is decidedly inappropriate. Today we are witnessing a sobering lack of ideas. The lack of creativity is staggering. A despondent, bureaucratic risk aversion is allowing the crisis to run its course. We citizens feel like passengers on an airplane in distress, whose captain is searching his regulations hoping to find a passage that gives him permission to steer his now powerless plane into the Hudson for an emergency landing.
Risk aversion and what we have to do with it
This sharp criticism is not justified for everyone and anyone who may apply it to themselves. After all, there are structural problems in the federal government's crisis management that, to be fair, should not be attributed to specific individuals. The criticism describes an untenable state of affairs that has developed over a long period of time and to which many actors have contributed. We are currently reaping the fruits of our carelessness and our detachment from reality over the past many years. These have left deep scars on our willingness to take risks.
We have become accustomed to security and stability. The fact that the state and its institutions protect us from risks has become a certainty. Sayings like "What ever it takes" have not missed their mark. The zero-risk mentality has become part of our culture. And so, over the years, we have learned that things turn out for the better when we don't take risks. In a crisis, this belief turns out to be superstition. Today, if we fail to live with the risks that are inextricably linked to its management, we forfeit success. Because now the truth is: If you don't risk anything, you don't gain anything. We are apparently unwilling to see the immense collateral damage that the administration of the crisis is producing. Quite obviously, we lack the imagination of what it might have been like if we had tried to get ahead of the situation with unconventional, pragmatic and creative solutions from the very beginning. The sheer fear of leaving the well-trodden paths of the 'courant normal' has blocked us. The Helvetic crisis malaise is one in which we are actively participating.
The effects of carelessness
In all likelihood, our contribution is one of the reasons why crisis management in the federal government cuts such a deplorable figure today. The paradigm of carelessness has not only spread among the population. Over the years, it has creepily but thoroughly taken root in politics, the authorities and institutions. This can be seen in the fact that the organs designated for crisis management in the federal government were played off by the administration at the beginning of the crisis. The Department of the Interior and the Federal Office of Public Health redesigned crisis management. This is despite the fact that it is well known that crisis management that has not been rehearsed has little chance of success. We can only hope that this obvious overestimation of one's own capabilities will be recognized in reflection and that those involved will succeed in dealing with it constructively. It makes a lot of sense if we align ourselves with the 'best practices' of crisis management in times of crisis and put it in the hands of those people who know something about it. In all likelihood, our contribution is one of the reasons why crisis management in the federal government cuts such a deplorable figure today. The paradigm of carelessness has not only spread among the population. Over the years, it has creepily but thoroughly taken root in politics, the authorities and institutions. This can be seen in the fact that the organs designated for crisis management in the federal government were played off by the administration at the beginning of the crisis. The Department of the Interior and the Federal Office of Public Health redesigned crisis management. This is despite the fact that it is well known that crisis management that has not been rehearsed has little chance of success. We can only hope that this obvious overestimation of one's own capabilities will be recognized in reflection and that those involved will succeed in dealing with it constructively. It makes a lot of sense if we align ourselves with the 'best practices' of crisis management in times of crisis and put it in the hands of those people who know something about it. But all this is of no use if the authorities and institutions do not take their foot off the administrative brake when implementing the measures. They are called upon to play along.