By almost any measure, your organization is facing its most challenging combination of economic, political, and environmental pressures it’s ever seen.
While 2020 was the year of the perfect storm, C-level executives (CXOs) expect to face even more of the unexpected. In a recent survey of 2,260 CXOs across global regions and industries, 60% of respondents said they anticipate occasional or regular disruptions to continue at the scale we’re now experiencing.
Still, facing disruption in real time can strengthen an organization’s readiness and resilience for the future. Before 2020, only 24% of CXOs said they felt ready to lead through disruptions; during the pandemic, that figure jumped to 34%.
Bouncing back from a crisis takes careful planning before it happens: investment, effort, and a culture that embraces foresight and flexibility. To keep running with agility and flexibility in a challenging environment, resilient organizations demonstrate five attributes—and for these attributes to work for you, they need to work together.
Foresight is 20/20. It’s not enough to respond to a crisis in progress. CXOs need to act in advance, planning new business models, diversifying supply-chain operations, and investing in remote-work capabilities to keep their remote staff online.
The organizations best weathering the pandemic have planned ahead, creating processes that help workers redeploy for different roles, increasing their use of advanced technologies to create new market opportunities, developing new products and services, and giving employees flexible work options.
To stay prepared for uncertainty, your organization can build comprehensive crisis-response scenarios and playbooks, regularly assess your cash reserves and supply-chain and revenue streams, and invest in remote working structures.
“To succeed in this environment,” says Hollier Castro, SVP–Talent & ESG at YETI, “organizations need people who are agile, comfortable with ambiguity, and able to move and change on a dime.”
More than half of the surveyed CXOs ranked flexibility/adaptability far ahead of other traits as the most important aspect of preparing for their organizations’ futures. A far higher percentage of CXOs at organizations with resilient cultures launched processes to redeploy or reskill workers and to offer flexible work options before 2020 than those who hadn’t started planning before the pandemic.
Another contributor to resilience is your investment in adopting advanced technologies that help boost adaptability. Cloud, artificial intelligence (AI), quantum computing, blockchain, the Internet of Things (IoT)—these tools and others can help your organization build security and transparency into your supply chains, increase the predictability of supply and demand, increase revenue, and reduce costs.
When your organization can freely and easily share information and perspectives, you can quickly assess situations and make good decisions that incorporate input and communication from throughout your business. In a crisis, an organization that silos its knowledge rather than spreading information is more challenged in addressing disruption.
Two thirds of the CXOs surveyed whose organizations had broken down internal and external barriers to communication found themselves better prepared than their peers for the unexpected. At such companies as Manulife and YETI, introducing daily senior-management meetings during the pandemic to surface and escalate issues improved the flow of communication throughout their organizations.
Collaboration is vital not just within your organization but also with your partners, customers, and even peers outside your sector. Surveyed CXOs anticipate nearly a third of their organizations’ workforces going remote permanently, reinforcing the need for seamless collaboration.
In recent years, international management and holding company Power Corporation of Canada conducted regular stress tests (including pandemic tests) to develop its response playbooks. Having plans in place helped situate the company to quickly implement effective actions and share its knowledge throughout its holdings.
“Trust is built in normal times, but it’s really tested during the hard times,” says Linda Seymour, CEO, HSBC Canada. “When you can stand by your people and your clients in times like these, you really earn that trust and strengthen your relationships more than ever before.”
With the public’s confidence diminished in the ability of government, media, business, and other institutions to behave responsibly and ethically, having the trust of your employees, your partners, your customers, and your peers is a valuable differentiator.
For your organization, building trust means leading with empathy in three key areas:
- Physical trust: ensuring the safety of employees, partners, and customers.
- Emotional trust: accounting for your employees’ wellness and mental health.
- Digital trust: ethically safeguarding employee and customer data from cybercrime and other threats.
Life exists beyond the bottom line, and organizations that serve their communities and the world tend to thrive in adversity. Of the CXOs who feel their organizations successfully balance their stakeholders’ needs, 87% are confident in their organizations’ adaptability in response to disruption—more than 50 percentage points higher than those who don’t feel their organizations support those needs.
Businesses committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and to rooting out people and processes inhibiting that commitment, also lead on resilience—perhaps due to having a broad range of perspectives to support innovative thinking and agile acting.
Authenticity also contributes to resilience. Among survey respondents who said their organizations cultivate resilient cultures, 82% say their organizations have a reputation for valuing employees; 79% say they’ve demonstrated transparency with environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues; and 78% say they have a reputation for helping the community.
Prepared, adaptable, collaborative, trustworthy, responsible: all five traits can enable your organization to be more resilient. The key is that all five traits must work together. If you see opportunities in your organization to boost your resilience by strengthening your performance on any of these attributes, getting the right insights from an external advisor can help you create a culture and a company built for these times.