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Bruce Holland

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Would Your Organisation Survive In A Crisis?

In my last Strategic Snippet I showed that Earth scientists believe our current business, social, economic and political system is close to reaching a critical limit which has stressed the planet to such an extent that we could suffer catastrophic failure.

Whether we are heading for catastrophic failure or just a bad patch, prudent business people should prepare their organisation to be far more resilient so they can cope with whatever comes.

Ten ways to make your organisation more resilient:

1. Make your people more resilient

In an increasingly volatile, uncertain and risky world having enough diverse thinkers to deal with the changes and the unknown will be critical for success.

In resilient organisation, people are very clear about who they are and what matters to them. They have high levels of confidence and personal power. They operate close to the top of Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

Making people strong and resilient does not mean changing people. It means helping people see their core of greatness and drawing it out. Too often we accept bits of mud that people we trust flick at us, until before long our 'golden buddha' (core of greatness) is totally buried in mud. I wrote a book about this, it's called the Buddha Hunters. It shows managers how to smash open the mud and let golden buddhas shine through.

Optimism and positivity key ingredients of resilience. Positive thinking allows an individual to receive the situation as a challenge rather than a problem. Optimism is reflected in managerial behaviours, stories told, and the environment provided (lighting music, colour, common meeting rooms).

2. Change your stories

An organisation consists of a set of relationships, agreements and stories. Stories are the easiest to change.

Resilient organisations tell stories of abundance and graditude. Others tell stories of scarcity and criticism that tend to trap them into an extractive mindset. Stories are vitally important and are the subject of a previous Strategic Snippet.

3. Connect people and build trust and relationships

Resilient organisations connect people and assume the best in human nature; like: most human behaviour is cooperative, generous and trusting. In these organisations connecting people is not limited to just those within the organisation; they also have strong networks of customers, PALs (Partnerships, Alliances and Linkages), political relationships and opinion nodes that they need to influence but can't control.

Other organisations assume the worst in human nature. It's as though they were back in 1651 when Thomas Hobbes, in Leviathan, said: "Humans are fundamentally and universally selfish, and governments must control them so they don't destroy one another in their shortsighted pursuit of self interest." There is no doubt that individual humans can be selfish, and to save ourselves from the few freeloaders it's tempting to build organisations that assume the worst in everyone and monitor their results closely.

4. Develop long-term systems thinking

Our thinking can be too short-term and analytical. We unnecessarily departmentalize things that are natural wholes and fail to see the connections and interactions. As a result we can be blind to conditions that steer us in the face. Resilience requires more systems thinking to see the connections beyond the divisions and the long-term patterns that form the new conditions so we can position our organisation to reap the benefits that others don't see.

Many questions need to be thought through: How can we operate in a no-growth environment? What can we do and sell that people will still value? How can we operate without harming the environment? How will we attract and develop people strong and resilient enough to operate during severe uncertainty?

5. Rethink the value you add to the world

Until now many organisations have succeeded by adding physical wealth to their customers. The result has been consumption gone mad, even though beyond a certain threshold, increased income and wealth has no value, at least when you have no one to compare yourself with. In the future customers will demand we add real value to the world; especially more meaning, better connections and more beauty.

6. Rethink how we structure our organisations to become more resilient

Resilient organisations are structured something like beanbags with soft porous walls where the 'beans' (ie people) inside can move freely, quickly and effortlessly to be close to the customer and external environment. Their cultures are low structure with indirect controls with strong elements of "infinite games". In these organisations people can proactively move quickly and decisively without waiting for remote instructions from far away. In times of crisis this will be essentual.

Non-resilient organisations are internally focused with high structures, like boxes inside towers that tend to be restrictive, slow and unstable. In crisis there will not be time for these to react.

Virtual Group has spent over 20 years living with such a 'virtual' business structure. In 1992 we launched the company in a pinstriped tent as a symbol of our canvas-thin structure, flexibility and pinstriped quality. It's what we call "wisdom without walls."

7. Empower our people to increase resilience

Resilient organisations give people a sense of belonging and caring for something bigger than themselves. They factor individual needs and interests into work or developmental assignments. They introduce HBDI so people understand each other and their customers. They cross-train people to increase flexibility and make jobs bigger so people have a direct line-of-sight to the customer. They build self-organising organisations based on emergent principles operating both topdown and bottom-up.

They stamp-out disrespect, discouragement, subtle exploitation, alienation, attacking, blaming and fear. They want everyone to experience joy in their work, others to experience joy as a result of their work, and everyone doing work that is sacred to them.

Non-resilient organisations over-control their people with topdown decision making and micro-management. At the best of times people in these organisations give a small fraction of their potential; and during crisis they are left stranded as their bosses are swamped by change.

8. Redefine success

Resilient organisations define success by measuring things that will cause tomorrow's success; things like: health, knowledge, skills, attitudes, hope in the future, relationships, respect, sense of purpose, beauty, freedom, happiness and environmental affects. They see measurement as feedback on the health of the system. They use leading indicators, simple measures that are visible, fast and frequent; useful to decision makers on the front-line. As a result they get significantly more warning when things are going off-beam.

Non-resilient organisations define success by measuring only profit and return on assets. These are the result (not the cause) of yesterday's success. They see measurement as lagging, complex and monthly (at best) reporting to the Board. By the time these measures are produced it's too late.

9. Redesign processes that are simple, fast, customer-friendly and resilient

Resilient organisations design processes that ordinary people can use to achieve extraordinary results. They are designed with some flexibility and redundancy so the customer can seamlessly and quickly access the organisation and the organisation can respond with speed and innovation. In normal times this is important and in times of crisis it is the difference between life and death.

In non-resilient organisations too many processes are the exact opposite of resilient. In the past they could get away with it but no longer. Today, after 20 years of reengineering and 'lean' practices, nearly all redundancy and flexibility has been removed, reducing resilience.

10. Rethink our service delivery strategies

Resilient service delivery strategies are based on what won't change (such as: human nature, trust, and relationships) and try to embrace things that will change by being more proactive, externally focused (lots of eyes and ears) and controlled by those in front of the customer. The aim is to move fast, create expectations and surprise customers. It uses "agile methods" and experiments faster than others.

Non-resilient service delivery is reactive with a more internal focus and controlled by people removed from customers. In times of crisis they are not fast or flexible enough to cope.

Call to action

If you accept the possibility of dramatic change, you need to act on these ten recommendations now. Systems thinking shows there is disproportionate value in acting early but most people will be standing on the beach in denial.

If you are not sure about the possibility of dramatic change, I recommend you invest in these ten recommendations as an insurance policy. If enough managers made these changes the world would be a better place to do business.

If you don't believe the possibility of dramatic change and the system stays on the same path, you will still be more successful through implementing these ten recommendations.

The next Strategic Snippet will show four simple rules to make your organisation more resilient and robust.

Regards Bruce.
Bruce Holland
Virtual Group Business Consultants
Phone +6421620456 or Skype Bruce.Holland
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Key words: Leadership, leadership development, leadership management, leadership training, leadership program, leadership skills.

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