The disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic has, unfortunately, left many organizations paralyzed, unable to weather the storm. For those of us that have been able to adapt, it continues to be a challenging period filled with uncertainty and difficult decisions. The resilience that is required of us at this time is perhaps as unprecedented as the crisis. But what exactly does that kind of resilience look like?
Earlier this year, Deloitte released its 2021 Global Resilience Report, which surveyed over 2,000 chief executive officers (CxOs) across 21 countries to better understand what enabled them to more or less withstand disruption. Based on their responses, the researchers identified five attributes of resilient organizations — traits that leaders can cultivate so that their businesses can more readily bounce back, even from something as serious and as prolonged as this pandemic.
PREPARED — Most successful CxOs plan for all eventualities but many frequently struggle to move beyond short-term thinking. In the Deloitte survey, more than 85% of CxOs whose organizations successfully balance addressing short- and long-term priorities felt they had adapted effectively to the events of 2020, whereas fewer than half of organizations that hadn’t struck that balance felt they had adapted well.
Key ingredients of that preparation are scenario planning and designing playbooks that anticipate potential events. Scenario planning helps leaders prepare for disruption and brings to the forefront what organizations will need to survive and thrive in the future, while playbooks lay down the strategic actions that organizations need to take in response to these different scenarios. While few (if any) organizations may have planned for a pandemic, the exercise of designing a playbook already helps leaders plan for other kinds of disruptions, such as broken supply chains.
It is also important to subject these plans to regular stress tests and for key decision-makers to participate in regular crisis simulations. A plan is only as good as an organization’s ability to execute it.
ADAPTABLE — Last year, several businesses quickly pivoted to respond to the immediate needs brought about by the pandemic. Apparel manufacturers started producing PPEs, distilleries focused on producing hand sanitizers rather than their regular products. While admirable, these pivots are not necessarily adaptive. Longer-term adaptability is about addressing what is necessary in a current crisis and what may be necessary to manage future disruptions.
The CxOs Deloitte surveyed recognized the importance of “flexibility and adaptability” in their workforce as they build a culture of resilience: 54% said this is one of the top-three most critical workforce traits to their organizations’ futures, ahead of “expertise and proficiency in the roles for which employees are hired.”
The ways organizations develop their people will have a huge impact on their ability to adapt quickly. Talent leaders should also consider hiring for specific mindsets as much as they hire for skillsets, rethinking traditional job descriptions so that they can widen the pool of applicants and increase diversity. And these shifts need to happen now, not when another crisis hits.
COLLABORATIVE — Two-thirds of surveyed CxOs who said their companies removed silos in their organizations even before the pandemic reported weathering the events of 2020 better than their peers. Collaboration promotes resilience for at least two reasons: when people work together, more perspectives come to the fore, which is especially important in the decision-making process and in addressing complex challenges. Collaboration also helps organizations marshal resources from different areas and more readily respond to disruptive events.
During this period of lockdowns and social distancing, technology has played a critical role in replicating the collaborative work processes that came naturally with working on-site. With vaccinations rolling out around the world, some may think that we will soon return to our pre-pandemic normal, but consider this: Deloitte’s research shows that 32% of the workforce is expected to continue working remotely once pandemic lockdowns end. Compare that with just 18% of the workforce that worked remotely pre-pandemic.
Leaders who acknowledge that this “new normal” is here to stay will have to invest not only in a digital-first infrastructure that will empower remote work, but also in a digital-first workplace culture and capabilities. Organizations should also consider teaming up with external organizations — maybe even outside their own industries — that can help mitigate the impact of risk events and address challenges that are too big to solve alone.
TRUSTWORTHY — At a time when workers are scattered and even isolated, it becomes even more important to build and nurture trust. In Deloitte’s survey, more than a third of CxOs admitted they are not confident that their organizations maintained trust between leaders and employees during the height of the pandemic last year. For those who are succeeding, they are focusing on improving communication and transparency with key stakeholders, and they are choosing to lead with empathy.
Leaders can cultivate trust across three dimensions: physical, emotional, and digital. Building trust in the physical space includes prioritizing worker and customer safety. In the emotional space, surveyed CxOs said they are providing employees with stress and mental health resources, which has yielded dividends: 82% of CxOs whose organizations had done well in providing adequate mental health resources also felt that they could adapt quickly and pivot in response to disruptive events.
In the digital space, leaders may want to focus on keeping ethical principles in mind when adopting advanced technology. Implementing ethical tech includes safeguarding employee and customer privacy or working to eliminate bias in algorithms.
RESPONSIBLE — Most leaders acknowledge that businesses have a responsibility beyond the bottom line, that they need to be accountable to all their stakeholders. Considering today’s challenges, this kind of accountability can come in many forms such as championing environmental sustainability initiatives, prioritizing mental health and wellness, and promoting diversity and inclusion.
The most responsible and resilient organizations focus on many of these areas at once, cultivating a reputation as a force for good in the world. For leaders who are unsure where to start, consider asking millennial or Gen Z employees, two generational cohorts that have shown deep concern for societal impact and business responsibility. They may be able to provide a roadmap that will help organizations focus their efforts and resources.
These five attributes of resilience are relevant to business leaders not just because of the ongoing health crisis, but because this may just be the tip of the iceberg. In the same Deloitte study, 62% of CxOs believe the world could see occasional or regular disruptions of this scale going forward. It is a daunting scenario to consider, which gives us even more reason to make the most of the challenges we face today. The resilience we build now within our organizations will not only help Deloitte Philippines overcome the pandemic, but it will also fortify us for an even more uncertain future.
This article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or MAP.
Attorney Fredieric “Eric” B. Landicho is a Member of the MAP and the Managing Partner and CEO of Deloitte Philippines.