The pandemic has taught us a lot about change and our ability to respond to it. Many businesses struggled initially, largely due to the very nature of traditional operations. The supply chain is a perfect example. To maintain a “safe” environment and promote operational resilience, predictability has been built directly into its processes. When the pandemic hit, that predictability was thrown out the window (as was resilience), and store shelves suddenly remained barren. However, a single setback did not bring the supply chain to a screeching halt. As business leaders, CEOs understand this concept all too well. The culprit was multiple fractures in everything from component suppliers to last mile delivery.
The supply chain, of course, wasn’t the only sticking point during this time. Much of the workforce has been pushed into the remote work environment –71% of eligible workers, to be exact, compared to just 1 in 5 before the pandemic shutdowns. Several organizations were not even close to being ready with the logistics necessary to support such an effort. Some struggled with technology and infrastructure issues, while others found their teams felt isolated, disengaged, and emotionally disempowered. It was difficult trying to solve problems without a clear solution.
In both scenarios, productivity is quickly challenged and results are constantly changing. Naturally, the necessary investments have been made in both areas, with many companies going so far as to offer free advice, child care allowances, etc. Do you remember those first frantic weeks and the endless series of fires you had to put out while keeping the business afloat? Doing anything less could have left the company in dire straits.
Improve operational resilience
During periods of uncertainty and radical change, it is not always enough to adopt a prescribed or orchestrated approach to addressing concerns. After all, such an approach is based on the “analyze-strategy-plan” principle, which requires a company and its management to carefully organize the reaction to an event. But what if there is no time? Beyond that, the cause and effect relationship can only be seen in retrospect, with little or no prior planning surrounding the chosen response.
Instead, a more choreographed approach is a much better option, especially when discussing business resilience. Going this route allows organizations to react to what is happening rather than planning for what might happen, which puts an organization on firmer ground. Think of change as an organizational norm, where the business environment represents a dynamic, ever-changing system. You no longer spend all your time analyzing, strategizing, and then planning; instead, more energy is spent exploring, detecting, and then responding. Teams move from “hoping” that past results predict future outcomes to a higher level of resilience in the face of changing conditions.
To facilitate a choreographed approach, organizations establish a new relationship with their data by treating it as an asset, leveraging analytics to inform both decisions and responses to changing conditions. This makes it possible to provide the necessary information to the teams in time.
While we’re talking about teams, empower them to build structures between them. Communication is important in times of change, so try to facilitate interactions without the need for a central authority figure, trying to maintain some level of determinism in a system that is inherently non-deterministic. The back and forth just slows everything down, and unnecessarily.
A more choreographed approach
Moving from an orchestrated approach to a choreographed approach is not easy for organizations. It takes time and effort to make such a drastic change, but a few strategies can help prepare operations for the business. The following are often the best starting points to ensure lasting success:
1. Switch to data. From market trends to consumer behavior, most of the answers an organization seeks can be found in data. Take the necessary steps to leverage data for decision making. Build data experiments to uncover new insights into the business and establish a framework to measure, capture, and validate results. For an additional data project, experiment with machine learning to provide a view into data surrounding different financial goals that provides deeper analysis of the current state. When combined, the goal is not only to determine the best way to use the data, but also to unlock new long-term value from the data.
It reminds me of the customers we have in the heavy equipment manufacturing business. They observed big swings in the market and determined they needed another source of income. In short, they needed more resilience as revenues were subject to seasonality and market fluctuations. How could they monetize the data coming from their machines? How do they take this data and resell it efficiently to their ecosystem partners? They needed to look at their available data and treat it as an asset. And they did. This allowed them to become more resilient (and less subject to the vagaries of the market). Companies in other industries can do the same by reprioritizing data and building that resilience.
2. Distribute decision making. Hierarchies can serve many purposes within an organization. On the one hand, they help employees understand their roles and where they fit into the overall operation. They also provide a sense of structure, which improves performance, productivity, and more. But hierarchies often bring complicated chains of command, which slows down communication and decision-making. Flattening what can be described as a pyramid, even a little, can speed up both processes and provide autonomy and transparency, as well as encourage creativity and the sharing of big ideas throughout the organization.
We have seen this happen in healthcare. How are healthcare companies creating 360° patient views by re-evaluating how patients interact with their providers? From planning to driving results, our healthcare clients are finding the root cause, shuffling the cards, and bringing new ideas from all corners to better understand how users interact and make decisions (which has spurred the development of health-related chatbots, for example). This leads to a better experience for all parties.
An orchestrated response has its place in the business environment, but taking a choreographed approach puts your organization in a much better position to fulfill your mission. You rely on data to predict what might happen, allowing you to plan carefully ahead. That’s not to say your teams won’t face the unexpected, but you’re already working within a system ready and equipped for change. Your business will know how to respond, making you more operationally resilient and financially secure to deliver on the promise of the future.