Risky Business – Business Resilience in the Age of Uncertainty

2020 was the wake-up call needed to trigger a sense of urgency to motivate real transformational change. It shook us from our complacency about the way the world is and opened us to the way it could be. To thrive in the coming decade, organisations need to reimagine both workforce and work design to be resilient and able to sense and respond to disruption, repeatedly, at scale. As business strategies continue to evolve, future-fit organisations must take deliberate action to prioritise resilience – not just focus on efficiency – if they want to succeed in the future of business.

In highly volatile and uncertain times, organisations need to develop a resilience capacity that enables them to cope effectively with unexpected events, bounce back from crises, and foster future success. Future-fit organisations will be far stronger than you or your current competitors. In order to survive into the future, organisations must become the future before the future does. This means the leadership team will need to become more consciously aware. In this way, they can identify and invest in meaningful change, which requires the ability to first differentiate between valuable change and trivial industry trends that lead nowhere.

While the pandemic may be a ‘once in a generation’ type of event, each organisation has their own ‘perfect storm’ – a combination of events or circumstances that has the potential to bring that organisation to its knees. For a financial system, the worst nightmare might be sudden loss of customer confidence creating a snowballing ‘run on the bank’ (PIIGS crisis circa 2010). For other organisations it may be the failure of a key supplier, contamination on the production line, or even something as simple as a disgruntled employee wreaking havoc. If you are serious about creating a future-ready resilient organisation, knowing your organisation’s current strengths and weaknesses can help prioritise your efforts.

“What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls the butterfly.”

— Richard Bach

6 Dimensions of an Unshakable Business

While the pandemic upended business and life, it also shed light on what enterprises can do better. It catalysed new business models. Grocery stores began to offer curbside pickups, imaging specialists began making point-of-care ultrasound scanners and restaurants offered meal delivery that allowed customers to have meals at home that were similar to the meals they had while dining in. In this way, the world turned a new leaf. However, it became evident that the difference between organisations that survive and the ones that thrive was going to be the ability to adopt six important pillars of business transformation.

1. Financial Resilience

Without money, there is no mission. Future-fit organisations must balance short and longer-term financial goals. A solid capital base and sufficient liquidity at the ready enables organisations to weather rapid drops in revenue or sudden rising costs. Most organisations need a plan to protect themselves against the deterioration of markets and reduced access to credit.

2. Operational Resilience

You are only as good as your weakest process. In the quest to take charge of change, you don’t want to inadvertently add more stress or alienate the very people whom you are depending upon to see you through. Resilient organisations must have the ability to maintain their production capacity to meet changes in demand. The pandemic has shown that customers expect organisations to remain stable in the face of operational disruption without sacrificing quality. In the same token, a shift towards lightening workloads, eliminating time-sucking manual tasks, and simplifying workflows builds operational resiliency.

3. Technological Resilience

Organisations that operated from physical servers were instantly at a disadvantage during stay-at-home orders. However, those with cloud-based business operations displayed tremendous resilience. Resilient organisations invest in strong, secure, and flexible infrastructure. They maintain and make use of high-quality data in a way that respects privacy and avoids bias, as well as being compliant with all regulatory requirements. Gartner Predicts 2021: Organisational Resilience reports that by 2025, 50% of asset-intensive organisations will expand their operational resilience initiative to include the growing security and safety risks of cyber-physical systems. Over the last several months, bad actors have increasingly expanded their tactics to target ransomware attacks on operational systems. 2020 examples include:

  • A ransomware attack that blocked a natural gas pipeline delivery in the U.S.
  • Cyber attack on BlueScope Steel halted global operations.
  • Australian logistics Toll Group saw their operations shut down.
  • Honda suffered a Snake attack.
  • Countless local agencies and school systems have been targeted, affecting operations.

4. Organisational Resilience

A diverse workforce is naturally resilient. When disruption happens, it’s your people who see you through. Organisational resilience includes deliberately recruiting top talent, developing that talent, and upskilling or reskilling existing talent. There is a general shift away from narrowly controlling the siloes of business functions into a widening of our perceptual horizon to perceive the relationships across the entire business ecosystem of stakeholders. When each of us takes personal responsibility for understanding the dynamics of relationships in our sphere of influence, we have the ability to enhance the synergistic value-creation potential of these relationships. 

A shift in mindset is needed from a ‘trade-off’, win-win or win-lose way, to a deeper more human, more heartfelt, and authentic – way of creating and delivering value. While being focused on our area of responsibility, we will also continually scan the emerging landscape, sensing and responding to new information, opportunities and challenges that arise. In this way, we will work in self-organising, locally-attuning teams, continually prototyping and learning as we go. This is a far cry from the top-down machine mentality of many of today’s corporations.

5. Reputational Resilience

You are what you do. And in today’s climate, you are what people think you do.  Resilient organisations align their values with their actions and words. Organisations are accountable in a range of ways, spanning from their brand promise to employee satisfaction to their stance on environmental and social issues. Resilience demands a strong sense of mission, values, and purpose (which guides actions). It also requires flexibility and openness in listening to and communicating with stakeholders.

6. Innovation Resilience

We are at a moment in history that demands a rethinking and redesign of business as we know it. Fortunately, the technologies to deliver the enterprise of the future exist. Innovation strategies must create markets and opportunities rather than simply compete. Staff are encouraged and rewarded for using their knowledge in novel ways to solve new and existing problems, and for utilising innovative and creative approaches to developing solutions. Today’s enterprises don’t need large budgets to invest in technology. What they need are partners who have tools, platforms and investments in industry-specific innovation studios, startups and crowdsourcing capabilities. These can be used for quick, low-cost and risk-free product and service innovation. The future has never been more accessible. All it takes is ingenuity and imagination — and technology, which is the building block for the future-fit enterprise of tomorrow.

“Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had before. You can fight it, you can do nothing but scream about what you’ve lost, or you can accept that and try to put together something that’s good.”
― Elizabeth Edwards

3 Leadership Lessons in Resilience

The systems thinker knows that the resilience of an organisation is directly related to the resilience of the other organisations on which it depends (customers, suppliers, regulators, and even competitors). An organisation is also dependent on and contributes to the individual resilience of its staff and the resilience of the communities that they live in. Similarly, an organisation’s resilience is directly related to the resilience of its sector, and the sector’s resilience is intertwined with the resilience of the nation. Applying the lessons learned during the historic event that was COVID-19 can help you find your post-pandemic footing.

1. Get your priorities straight

Focus on outcomes and impact, not on output. Put in your best effort and communicate it clearly. It’s not only about how many items you cross off a to-do list but also how they relate to the bigger picture. Focusing on impact will help you prioritise your time in the best way possible. Set clear goals or a schedule for yourself if that helps you stay organised. There will always be more work, but organising your time will give you the time you need to dedicate to activities and goals outside of work. In this way you will maintain the energy to get it done.

2. Collaboration and a healthy workspace.

When creative minds meet, there is a brilliant and almost tangible spark in the air. There is a rush when experienced problem solvers come together to brainstorm new ideas. It’s time to bring back these wonderful collaborative moments! People who have been working from home have likely benefitted from having mental health and self-care breaks when they need them. So, whether it’s a walk outside or a snack in a quiet place, encouraging these kinds of moments in the future will help to create a calmer, more creative, and happier workforce.

3. Work-life balance

Flexible work is essential because it allows workers to have greater control over their lives and achieve a more substantial work-life balance. Without spending time commuting, employees can dedicate themselves to their careers while also investing in themselves. The payoff of flexible work is clear and enables improved productivity and happier employees. Organisations that offered the four-day week also saw an increase in employee satisfaction and reduced employee sickness levels – not least because the research highlighted positive impacts of flexible work on family life, as well as worker mental and physical health. Leaders don’t always see the benefits of flexible working, which means a new culture of work needs to be created, with a reduced emphasis on presenteeism and more on engagement.

“It’s your reaction to adversity, not adversity itself that determines how your life’s story will develop.”

― Dieter Friedrich Uchtdorf

Change Does Not Always Equal Transformation

One of the best lessons that we can all learn from the pandemic is a renewed commitment to resilience. When a business and its employees are tested by a worldwide crisis, they collectively learn their strengths and the areas in which they can improve. The digital revolution has increased the availability of data, the degree of connectivity, and the speed at which decisions are made. This offers transformational promise but also comes with the potential for large-scale failure, together with rapidly cascading consequences. It also increases the speed at which a company’s reputation can change in the eyes of consumers and employees. As leaders begin to emerge from the pandemic, it is time to evaluate and determine how to best ensure your digital transformation is on the right track.

The pandemic accelerated change, with 97% of the more than 2500 enterprise decision-makers surveyed by Twilio confirming they have sped up their digital transformations. 95% of all companies are seeking new ways of engaging customers as a result of COVID-19. 92% say transforming digital communications is extremely or very critical to address current business challenges. However, with the speed of change required, some initial or reactionary technology deployments have been far from optimal. The changes may not have delivered the solutions needed to drive your long-term business goals. 

“Resilience is overcoming adversity, whilst also potentially changing, or even dramatically transforming, (aspects of) that adversity.”

— Angie Hart

Technological Band Aid

In particular, critical legacy systems have presented significant challenges during this time. With documentation often outdated, understanding the overall system architecture and the application interdependencies has slowed down servicing capability for affected businesses. In some instances, customers are still receiving year-old reminders that ‘due to the pandemic they may experience delays.’ Even though new modules have been created to deal with critical legacy interfaces, prioritising the transformation of these systems is imperative for operational efficiency.

It’s time to step out of the reactive ‘survival mode’ and focus on accelerating digital transformation efforts that provide the highest levels of business resiliency, agility and employee engagement. As you continue to establish a ‘new organisational normal,’ recognise that tactical crisis solutions may not be sufficient for the long term. Now is the time to review your strategy and ensure the transformation efforts are both in line with that vision and provide the appropriate performance, scale, and agility to drive your business forward.

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”

— Robert F. Kennedy

Digital Transformation Is Not About Technology

Digital technologies provide the possibility of efficiency gains and customer intimacy. However, when people lack the right mindset, and the current organisational practices are flawed, digital transformation will only magnify those flaws. Even in the best of times, a successful digital transformation requires more than just a strategy – it requires the support of everyone in the organisation. The pandemic gave leaders an opportunity to tell a compelling story that promised the survival and continued success of the organisation into an uncertain future. This created a groundswell of support that will drive future change and uncover opportunities that weren’t initially within scope. Leaders need to create the space for those opportunities to be explored.

Employees must develop new skills and different ways of working together. Analytics offers new horizons, but remember not to get carried away by all the bells and whistles – it can also embed bias in decision-making. Organisations that truly understand the resilience they need for the future of work can implement sensible change in an overall startegy. Building resilience into any transformation is key, regardless of the primary goal. This approach results in more robust change and helps to bake in resilience from the outset. When times are tough during something as unprecedented as a global pandemic, it brings us home to our humanity. It reminds us of the empathy, love, and grace with which we must treat ourselves, our coworkers, and our customers each and every day. A little extra kindness goes a long way.

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

— Viktor Frankl

For An Epic Win!

In a world where the future is uncertain and change comes fast and furious, organisations need to look beyond short-term performance and basic organisational health. We must be able not only to withstand unpredictable change but to emerge from it stronger. As we collectively face real, and significant challenges, we must adopt a state that does not seek incremental change within the existing paradigm. We must seek an epic win! It is about recognising the opportunities for value creation and having the courage and the conviction to blend new and old tools, processes and language together to evolve, fresh, novel, and meaningful strategies and operational approaches.

We, humanity, are striving for sustainable economic success, better government, education, and healthcare. The future demands innovation and the transformation of all the existing organisations, legal systems, economic or otherwise, that currently frame and define our world to better serve us as people. This is about encouraging business activity that creates conditions conducive to life and no longer tolerates activity or behaviour that is toxic to life. Unified visions, strong culture, corporate transparency, and stakeholder dialogues ensure values-based sustainable business becomes everyday business. Business as a force for good. This requires a transformation in business mentality, business models and organisational culture. Our new systems must be resilient, adaptive, optimising, values-led and life-supporting. This is the future of business and it is inspired by nature. 

“The question is: When these things happen, what do we do next?”

— Sheryl Sandberg

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