4 Key Steps to Developing Organizational Resilience

While many resources exist about thinking, leadership, and adapting to change, developing a resilient business really comes down to four letters. It’s CAKE, but it’s easier said than done.

Running a business with longevity and resilience isn’t so different from preparing an infantry soldier for battle. While many resources exist about thinking, leadership, and adapting to change, developing a resilient business really comes down to four letters. It’s CAKE, but it’s easier said than done. 

I’ve been pressing businesses for some time now to consider the same four principles. Let’s prepare for battle. 

Concurrent activity

The first aspect to evaluate is concurrent activity. Is everybody doing something and are they all moving in the right direction? No one should be sitting on their hands. Everyone should be busy, but not simply with busywork. In a military context, all work should feed into the commander’s goals and objectives. 

Just the other week I was working with an insurance provider, and I asked managers how many of their staff were being fully utilized, and if they were confident they were contributing to the intent that had been set. Ideally, they should all be feeding the manager’s intent, and being productive rather than just presentative. 

As a manager your role exists to facilitate staff, but first, your staff must have a defined role. That’s the first principle of concurrent activity. 

Anticipation of all levels

The second battle procedure is anticipation of all levels. Continuing with the soldier analogy, what this means is you need to understand what your boss is doing and what your boss’ boss is doing. In battle, if they get taken out, you need to jump into their shoes and assume their responsibilities. Thus, my next question to the insurance provider was how many of its staff right now could jump into the manager’s shoes if they were taken out of the equation? Say, as a leader, you got offered a new job or something came up and you had to leave. Could someone fill that role? 

Less than half of them replied in the affirmative. Some said they didn’t have time to train, and others said their position had become more niche, etc. “It'd be impossible for them to have my level of knowledge.” 

Sure, roles become more and more niche and more and more defined, and as a leader you’re pouring your soul into the company. But we need to get beyond that stage of personalization. For an organization to be resilient, we must immediately dissolve the knowledge and spread it out across the business. No manager should be without someone to fill his or her shoes. Some just don’t want to put in the work to train others. 

Knowledge of the grouping system

The third step in evaluation is a novel procedure. It’s knowledge of the grouping system. In other words, in addition to knowledge of your own team, do you understand the function of other teams and do you understand their goals? My next question to the insurance company was regarding its personnel. Do they understand what’s happening down the corridor? Odds are probably not. “We’re very bad at sharing information” was a common response. 

If you’re moving up in a business, but you don’t understand what other parts do, how are you going to be able to capture opportunities? How are you going to be able to take initiative? And how will you help the people in your business? If you don’t know what they’re doing, you simply can’t. 

Efficient drills

Finally, the fourth element of a resilient platoon is efficient drills. Are you doing things as efficiently as possible? Or are you following established deep rooted routines?

Efficient drills should be the framework of your operation. Managers should work to ensure all of the routes to goals are streamlined in order for employees to provide the most value possible. In making routes easy to follow and easy to adopt, staff will not only become more productive, they also will be happier.

If team members do not understand the boss’ role, if they do not understand the business, and if they are not conducting themselves in an efficient manner, they become brittle and stagnant. Complacency replaces competition, and with that, the status quo sets in 

I ask managers about these four criteria time and time again, and they continue to say, “No. We’re just… we’re very busy. We’re becoming more niche. We’re tired.” 

How confident are you of your operating environment? 

Businesses I’ve worked with seem to be plagued by nearsighted number crunching. All they care about is meeting their numbers. So they meet the numbers, but they don’t think about next quarter or the quarter after that. They’re losing the strategic view. Everyone’s cashing in at the end of the year, but they’re not thinking about the following six months or the next year. 

But organizational resilience is strategic. We’re interested in the long term, and for as much as we invest in the individual’s health and wellbeing, we should be doing the same for our companies as a whole. People are doing yoga at the office, people are happier and healthier, and that’s great. That has value. Companies are willing to invest vast amounts of money into individuals. But for some reason, asking the bigger questions regarding an organization’s resilience makes us nervous. 

My point is this: You can have resilient individuals, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to a resilient organization. 

When was the last time a senior leader walked around and spot-checked people? “What’s our strategy? What’s our mission? What do we do? What does that person do over there?”

That’s what a commanding officer would do in an infantry battalion. Why wouldn’t you do that in a business? People would find that challenging, and they wouldn’t like it. But that’s what you need if you want to be resilient. You have to ask those questions. At the end of the day, you’re preparing for something. It’s a black swan event. And it’s something you hope won’t happen.

Unfortunately, for an organization to get excited about this stuff, it needs to feel the pain. People will stop smoking, eat healthier, and begin exercising not because of what the government tells them, but because they had a heart attack and survived. Business can’t afford to take this risk. It’s time for some awkward questions and a big slice of CAKE.

Simon Taylor is a senior leadership consultant at Kaplan Leadership and Professional Development. For more information, visit: www.kaplan.co.uk/lpdor contact businesstraining@kaplan.co.uk



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