How can a leader build a strong resilient organization able to survive?
If there’s a single subject that’s dominated media conversations over the past while, it’s how individuals are dealing with COVID-19, and specifically the mental health challenges they are facing.
COVID continues to challenge people to be resilient and to successfully navigate through the pandemic; to develop the coping mechanisms that will allow them to survive and thrive the formidable forces they’re facing.
Organizations face the same resilience challenges as individuals do; if they aren’t able to get through the bad times, so many people are affected: investors, employees and customers.
Organizations - large and small - need to be resilient in times of stress. They need good coping skills.
Their leaders must be able to manage through the impossible challenges they never asked for and likely (hopefully) will never see again.
What can leaders do to develop a tough skin for their organizations needed to withstand unexpected body blows?
1. Take a breath and pause.
Rather than reacting in the moment, take a bit — but not too long — of time to reflect on the circumstances you find yourself in.
It’s important that you have all of your faculties on full alert and at their best in order to accurately assess the incoming threat and develop feasible options.
It’s better to take extra time and get your plan almost right than knee-jerk under pressure and bolt forward with one that doesn’t stand much of a chance of success.
2. Make a customer call
It’s always a good idea to call a customer and get their input on what actions they think you should take in response to the unexpected event.
Pick someone who has been loyal and who has always expressed their point of view on critical aspects of your business like customer service and product quality; their perspective just might be the difference between life and death.
3. Rely on your core
Success and survival are directed related to your core strengths; those assets you possess that make you strong and from which you can leverage to build more competencies.
What makes you successful in the face of fickle customers and hungry competitors? What is the single thing that makes you special and separates you from everyone else?
Your core competencies contain the secrets to the coping skills that will keep you alive when disaster strikes, so make sure you know what they are in copious detail.
The intimate understanding of who you are makes possible the pivot you may have to make to stay viable.
4. Get warm blankets
In times of cataclysmic change, organizations are forced to shed cost and this usually means laying employees off.
When this happens, leaders must pay attention to the survivors who need to be comforted. They must ’throw warm blankets’ around the employees remaining to help them through the difficult times because they will be wondering if they are the next casualties of the chaos thy find themselves in.
Survivors can’t be an effective instrument of keeping the organization alive if they are spooked, wondering when they’ll be the next job victims.
5. Train proactively
Leaders must learn from catastrophes because they just might show up again in the same or different form.
A critical element of survival is the ability to use employees for different purposes and if people have been trained to be multifunctional, the pandemonium can be handled better than if a specialized workforce has been the essence of your business plan.
And from an employee perspective, in calm times it is always a good idea as part of your career plan to look for opportunities to get out of the specialist straight jacket and develop skills and experience in many areas of the organization.
6. Start changing your culture
The great lesson COVID should have taught leaders of all types of organizations is that long term survival depends on the ability successfully to react to the unexpected, and that cultures need to be created with this attribute hardwired in their DNA.
It’s one thing to be good at developing a business plan in stable markets, but it’s what you do when the business plan is rendered useless because an unforeseen blow strikes.
Those that can pivot in chaos stand a chance of surviving; those that can’t, die
So in periods of relative calm, leaders must start the long, often arduous process of changing the culture of their organization to be able to react to unexpected change. This starts with vision and ends with hiring the right people who live and are rewarded for showing reactive values day-in and day-out.
7. Blow a bubble
Great leaders know that organizational resilience is built by building a protective layer around it; an impermeable membrane that prevents unwanted forces from entering.
Disastrous circumstances find it more difficult to destroy an organization with a bubble that looks like this:
- regular customers are proactively contacted.
- their loyalty is rewarded with special deals.
- they are asked for help.
- surviving employees are revered; they actively participate in the survival strategy for the business.
- every day is about earning business and transacting with customers efficiently with future business is the goal.
- extended business hours to ensure every customer is served.
- every employee is exploited in terms of hours spent on the job. It robs families of time together but it’s necessary for survival.
- leadership focus is to keep people from leaving.
Great leaders make resilient organizations that earn the right to show up everyday and serve customers regardless of the unexpected hardships thrown their way.