Building a Business That’s Ready for Anything

By: Sumeet Goel

March 1, 2015

Snowstorms pummeled the East Coast all the way into March, pushing Boston near a new record of more than nine feet of snow in one season. The storms have brought cities to a standstill, led to hundreds of flight cancellations and generally wreaked havoc on businesses. That’s following a February marked by terror threats on malls, port shutdowns and cybersecurity attacks costing businesses millions in lost revenue and additional expenses.

Crises, be they natural or man-made, are an ever-present threat to business. So what are companies doing to prepare for disruptions, not just those that can be addressed through disaster planning and business continuity strategies, but those truly unknown scenarios that it seems only the most resilient organizations survive?

The real question for businesses is not, then, how to scenario plan for disaster, but how to build organizations that are resilient enough to withstand the unexpected and bounce back from disruptions.

Researchers in the U.K. determined that barely 10 percent of managers credit their ability to be resilient to support from their organization – in the vast majority of cases, it’s left up to the individual. But organizations have a strong role to play. A few key steps can help build capacity for resilience and create a more supportive environment:

  1. Become self-aware – The first part of creating resilience comes from a clear understanding of the operations of the organization itself; its strengths, weaknesses and interconnectedness. This awareness, as Rockefeller Foundation president Judith Rodin has termed it, is the foundation for spotting trouble before it starts and for thinking about what steps the organization might take to recover if/when its weak points are disrupted.
  2. Create a culture tolerant of failure – Resilient organizations tend to see failure as an opportunity for learning, not punishment. This encourages intelligent risk-taking and allows for greater creativity.
  3. Be wary of too much efficiency – In the age of “lean” processes, efficiency can actually be the enemy of resilience. Lean operations often create operations that lack redundancy and are characterized instead by single points of failure.
  4. Empower middle managers –After all, resilience in the face of great challenges depends on getting back to work and getting the job done, something that middle managers excel at and where their ability to find and implement creative solutions quickly is paramount. Of course, not all organizations have the bench of talent to respond rapidly to every situation – which is where outside support in the form of interim executives or consulting resources may prove invaluable.
  5. War gaming – Test your preparation in advance of any real potential crisis to get the key team engaged in the issues and thinking about potential reactions for a series of events that could develop. This helps to flex the crisis readiness muscles and increases the team’s resilience.

With proper awareness of the organization, a dedication to building a supportive, resilient organizational culture and a focus on ensuring the right staff is in place to bridge the organization past the current business challenge, companies can become better prepared for success, no matter what the future brings.

How is your organization preparing for an uncertain future? Will you be prepared for the worst and ready to bounce back even stronger?