Europe’s Rattling Political Power Plays

Experts see missteps amid the sweeping disruptions across the continent. What the private sector can learn.

The upheaval keeps building up across western Europe’s political landscape. Germany’s center-right parties, which the country’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, represents, are increasingly getting squeezed at the polls. In Italy, the coalition government is having trouble developing a budget. And across the English Channel, the UK prime minister’s cabinet is in turmoil while Ireland’s president faces five challengers in an election on Friday.

Pundits have their own views on each country’s issues, but private-sector leaders are likely to see a simple lesson across the board: When the landscape changes, fundamentals become ever more important.

In the political sphere, losing focus happens often. “In politics, being in tune with the voters has never been out of fashion,” says Khoi Tu, a senior client partner at Korn Ferry in London. Those who won recent elections appear to have kept their empathy for their constituents, he explains. On the other hand, those who lost may simply have reverted to worn-out electioneering techniques. “People got stuck into a habit and the old way of doing things—they forgot the real need to connect with voters,” he says.

“The principle has always been the same, but the rules may have changed,” says Tu. In the case of some recent elections, social media helped politicians connect with votes in a new way. However, this approach still conformed with the basic rule of having empathy.

The retail sector draws many parallels, where change in customer preferences to online shopping did cause chaos but provided obvious opportunities for companies that moved quickly. “You can use the disruption to your advantage,” says Dominic Schofield, senior client partner in Korn Ferry’s Board & CEO Services practice.

In simple terms, massive changes in the marketplace usually present great openings for nimble firms, while other firms, of course, just as in the political sphere, will stick with the tried and true. Big names in both then fall. “Big institutions don’t have brand names that cannot be disrupted,” says Schofield.