For executives around the world, the primary business imperative right now is survival – maintaining core operations, keeping enough cash coming in to cover fixed costs, obtaining help from governments – seeing the crisis through. But once the peak has passed, attention will shift to the challenge of rebuilding and sustaining the organisation for a world that won’t look quite the same. While the shape of the future is as yet unknown, we do know that companies must learn to draw on their experience of the Covid-19 pandemic – and other disruptions throughout history – to improve and excel in the coming years.
Resiliency – the ability to withstand shocks and uncertainty, and come out better than your competitors – will be integral to not only the survival, but to the long-term prosperity of any organisation. Companies must therefore develop a form of resilience that’s not just about persevering now, but about seeing through crises and preparing to succeed in the future.
While there are operational and financial dimensions to this challenge, the area that is ultimately most important – yet often overlooked – is the human side of resilience. We have said for many years people are our greatest asset but little has been done to truly understand the intricacies of personage within the workplace. Decision makers typically do not have clarity on how people are reacting to, and performing under, the pressure of crises. This human side of resilience includes the various elements of company structure and culture, as well as the skills and attitudes of employees at every level.
In essence, resilience must not only happen at the organisational level through broad statements or policies to have a lasting impact, but it must be fully exhibited at both the individual and the leadership level level too.
The consequences of the current pandemic for individuals are hard to foresee. In the short term people will do what it takes to keep things moving, but if countries remain in lockdown – or at least under severe travel restrictions – for many months, social isolation may become a real problem. What may be considered menial losses given the broader context: Friday night drinks, pre-meeting chatter or the humble handshake, are in reality the vital workplace rituals that foster a sense of community amongst employees. The loss of such routine and human-relation can incite a greater feeling of distance and isolation, and despondency will set in. It is therefore important to work proactively on helping your employees with their individual resilience.
Studies have highlighted some of the key attributes of individual resilience – for example retaining optimism while also accepting the realities of the situation, an ability to find meaning in work and life even when times are tough, and the capacity to improvise and adapt quickly.
Eric J. McNulty and Leonard Marcus,
National Preparedness Leadership Initiative at Harvard
CEO, BSI Group
Organisational agility has increasingly sat at the forefront of the business-world psyche as companies strive to meet the world’s ever-growing culture of instant gratification. As a result, many of today’s business operations have been built on lean agile principles: reducing waste, simplifying the chain of command, providing components and products on a ‘just in time’ basis. This approach puts efficiency ahead of reliability, which works as long as there are no shocks to the system.
However, in an uncertain world agile systems can become fragile. As evidenced by the Covid-19 pandemic borders may close, supply-chains will stutter, customer loyalty becomes essential and suddenly to be agile isn’t enough. Organisations must therefore rethink the principles of how to manage internal operations to make them more resilient. It’s a difficult but essential balance to strike.