By Candace Coleman, CultureWise Content Manager
Now what? If the past year and a half taught us anything—it’s that anything can happen. Or, more accurately, everything can happen. When the pandemic blindsided the planet, extreme climate, political, and social issues simultaneously boiled over, too. Our sense of normalcy was overturned in every conceivable way.
Beyond the staggering humanitarian toll, the recent series of events negatively impacted companies of every size. The business world hadn’t undergone such a massive disruption since 2008 when the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) erupted. That disaster didn’t have the magnitude of the 2020-21 perfect storm, but it still devastated millions.
The GFC should have been a cautionary tale, yet many organizations settled into complacency after the economy recovered. Those who just put 2008 in the rearview mirror and forged ahead weren’t as prepared to weather the latest calamities.
Business leaders can’t afford to simply feel relieved when they begin regaining stability in the coming months. As we carefully monitor some course corrections this fall, everyone should remain keenly aware of how quickly things can change. But more importantly, we must develop ways to weather the next wave of adversity.
Gloom and Doom or Pragmatism?
There’s a different mentality building as we head into Q4 of 2021 than there was following the GFC. More executives have realized that the recent upheaval wasn’t an aberration, and they’re taking the lessons they’ve learned over the past year and a half to heart.
In a Deloitte survey of over 2,000 CXOs across all industries, 60 percent of respondents said they anticipate catastrophic events to continue to happen occasionally or even regularly. It’s not that they’re pessimistic; they’re viewing the future through a practical lens.
In addition to being more pragmatic, more leaders are planning to double-down on getting ready for any turbulence that may happen in the future. They may not be able to predict what the next crisis will be, but they’re putting systems in place to make their businesses as resilient as possible under any circumstances.
These leaders are on the right track. The Deloitte study notes that the organizations that fared the best in the past months planned and invested in anticipation of disruption. Along with fortifying operational infrastructure, such companies displayed common attributes within their corporate culture that equipped them to evolve, rebound, and endure.
3 Survival Traits of Resilient Companies
The leadership and staff of resilient companies share key characteristics: they are prepared, innovative, and highly collaborative.
Readiness is more than attentively responding to a crisis as it unfolds. It involves having the foresight to invest in and install systems and fallback measures to allow operations to continue amid chaos. As noted in the Harvard Business Review, this includes planning new business models, diversifying supply chain operations, and investing in remote-work capabilities.
But there is a critical human element beyond strategic plans and tools that can keep a business operational in a crisis. Being prepared also means helping people develop the skills to work together seamlessly, regardless of the circumstances. This level of cohesiveness occurs when leaders intentionally fortify their organizational culture.
Leaders who want to build resilience into their companies must proactively identify the behaviors that will allow their staff to not merely function in uncertain times but gain ground. Then they need to coach and reinforce those behaviors until they become the standard way of doing things before the next curveball arrives.
Even with emergency systems in place, it’s impossible to anticipate every scenario. Being resilient often includes trying new tactics in the face of a crisis. Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention. Businesses that fared best during COVID had staff at all levels who thought outside the box to solve “new normal” issues.
But employees often won’t take the initiative to think creatively unless leadership encourages that behavior. Many staff members won’t even go along with a new idea for fear of things not working out and getting caught in the fallout.
To foster a sense of innovation in an organization, leaders must build several behavioral models in their culture:
- Creating a blame-free environment where people can navigate problems and focus on solutions
- Helping employees learn how to understand and embrace the potential positive outcomes of change and new directions
- Coaching flexibility to keep people from rigidly clinging to “the way we’ve always done things”
Perhaps in response to the pandemic, 75 percent of executives who took a 2021 Boston Consulting Group survey ranked innovation among their top three business initiatives. Yet surprisingly, the study also concluded that only half of the leaders with this aspiration actively do anything about it.
They’re missing out because infusing innovation into company culture is an investment that will pay off beyond helping to overcome future emergencies. Prioritizing innovation today is also the key to unlocking post-crisis growth.
Teamwork has always relied on fluid communication and trust. But for a workforce to pull together in a crisis, it’s crucial to exchange information effectively and maintain solid staff relationships. Both characteristics are born out of a strong company culture.
When companies rapidly pivoted to a remote work model during the onset of the pandemic, harnessing communication technology became paramount. Now, most organizations have mastered new levels of connectivity and are planning to deepen their investment in collaborative tools.
But technology is only a fraction of what it takes to communicate well. Human interaction relies on soft skills. The manner, tone, depth, and speed of information sharing play an enormous part in how well people connect and work.
To maximize collaboration, it’s up to leaders to establish communication standards within their company’s culture.
They must create an atmosphere where people are encouraged to:
- Speak up, share their concerns and opinions, and ask questions
- Generously listen to understand what others are saying
- Freely share information with a team-first attitude
- Set and ask for expectations
- Respond rapidly
These behaviors not only generate the kind of healthy communication necessary to overcome crises, but also to achieve everyday success. Transparency between leadership and staff is also critical for crisis management. People feel more grounded and empowered to take action when they have a solid understanding of the big picture.
Collaboration hinges on employees feeling like they can count on their coworkers and management to have their back. Without such trust, people simply don’t work well together and certainly won’t unite in the face of a crisis.
The basis of trust-based culture is simple—it develops in organizations where people are treated with respect. Staff members who feel respected have a deeper engagement with their employer and are much more likely to become part of the solution when problems arise.
Just as with communication, the elements of trust spring from intrinsic organizational behaviors. These include:
- Embracing diverse perspectives
- Honoring differences
- Showing meaningful appreciation
- Demonstrating empathy
Beyond reinforcing these standards of conduct, employers build trust by demonstrating genuine care for their staff. For example, leaders who established a more human connection with their team while dealing with the effects of the pandemic elicited a higher level of trust from their people and increased workforce stability.
Maintaining this kind of alliance will help them retain talented employees who have a deep loyalty to the organization. That’s the kind of team leaders need when crises hit.
To Be Resilient, Culture Comes First
Preparedness, innovation, and collaboration don’t happen organically in a workforce. Leaders must prioritize the behaviors that bring these characteristics to life and then do the work to make them fixtures of their company’s culture.
As noted in the Deloitte report, leaders can’t be sure their companies are resilient until they’re tested by adversity. So why not do everything possible to fortify your organization before the next crisis hits?
CultureWise Founder and CEO David Friedman outlines his philosophy and process to forge a resilient culture in Culture by Design. The book’s second edition focuses on how to strengthen culture as the work world is confronted with change, such as the rapid and probably permanent shift to remote and hybrid teams.
A free, two-chapter download offers a sample of Friedman’s practical, effective method to improve and sustain a high-performing culture.
Friedman used the principles in the book to develop CultureWise, an operating system designed for leaders looking for a comprehensive approach for improving culture. This groundbreaking program includes an innovative mobile app that reinforces the behaviors that make a company exceptional. Explore the website to learn more.
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