Trust engenders courage

Michaela Christian Gartmann has been heading up the Human Capital department of PwC Switzerland for nearly ten years now. As personnel director she considers courage a core factor that plays a major role in strengthening the corporate culture.

Magazine: Trust engenders courage – October 2022

Why is courage important for the company’s culture and success?

Any effort to help people advance and to recognise and promote their potential hinges on development – and that, in turn, calls for a willingness to change and transform. Innovation can’t happen without courage. That’s why courage is a central component of our corporate culture here at PwC Switzerland. Even during the recruitment process, we prioritise finding people who are a good fit with both our culture and our values.

At PwC Switzerland, the leadership role is currently that of coach and enabler. What exactly does that mean?

Our business model focuses on developing people. Anybody who joins our firm is both nurtured and challenged along their career path. In their role as coaches, line managers have two tasks: firstly, they’re responsible for supervising the employees’ development, motivating them and providing them with the support they need. Secondly, the coach has to make sure that the employee’s performance is where it should be. Even though our employees are the ones in the driver’s seat when it comes to their careers, line managers have to intervene where necessary and fine-tune the direction – in consultation with the employees. Regular feedback meetings are held for this purpose. These meetings aren’t always easy: some approaches used for providing this support aren’t always well received and critical feedback can trigger disappointment or tensions. I’m convinced that development and change are only possible if you’re prepared to experience and endure unconventional or even stressful situations with an open mind. That’s why feedback is pivotal and why motivational feedback is just as important as constructive criticism. If the relationship is right, you can actually learn more from the latter.

Michaela Christian Gartmann
Territory Human Capital Leader, PwC Switzerland

Can you train courage?

Definitely. There are lots of different ways to train courage, including small dares that prompt people to leave their comfort zone, having them consciously face their fears, and mental training. Leaders play a central role in encouraging employees. I’m convinced that the trust you place in somebody engenders courage. Trust lays the foundation for employees’ belief in both their abilities and their potential. A culture of learning from mistakes and psychological security are prerequisites for employees to dare to question the status quo and try out new things, even if that involves risks. Ultimately, though, courage is also highly personal. Leaving your comfort zone means something different for everyone. Making one’s views known can also take courage. “Speaking up” is part of our culture, which is why we also provide employees with several platforms and channels where they can express their opinions, provide feedback or even report potential shortcomings. Our goal is to find solutions to important issues, but that hinges on having the courage to break new ground. This is an attitude that’s firmly entrenched in our code of conduct.

Speaking of “breaking new ground”, is there an initiative where you’ve already taken on a pioneering role?

We wanted to find out how our employees were doing during the pandemic, so PwC Switzerland collaborated with Professor Dr Georg von Krogh, Chair of Strategic Management and Innovation at ETH Zurich, to conduct a study on it. At the same time, we opened up a dialogue on whether there should be a new standard for work post-pandemic. Feedback from those surveys formed the basis for the development of a new hybrid work model. That’s where we played a pioneering role, by rapidly implementing the feedback we received from our people in the real world. After all, ensuring the satisfaction and wellbeing of our team is at the heart of every-thing we do. One example of this is the fact that we were taking targeted steps to address the issue of mental health even before the pandemic. Thanks in part to the insights gained from the ETH survey, we were able to gear our existing “Be well, work well” programme even better to our employees’ needs so that we could support and strengthen them during the pandemic by providing them with targeted offers and training courses.