The pandemic has taught us a lot about change—and our ability to respond to it. Many companies struggled initially due in no small part to the very nature of traditional operations. The supply chain serves as a perfect example of this. To maintain a “safe” environment and promote operational resilience, predictability was baked right into its processes. When the pandemic hit, that predictability was thrown out the window (as was resiliency), and store shelves were suddenly left barren. A single hiccup wasn’t what brought the supply chain to a screeching halt, however. As company leaders, CEOs understand this concept all too well. The culprit was multiple fractures in everything from component suppliers to the last mile of delivery.
The supply chain, of course, wasn’t the only sticking point during this time. Much of the workforce was thrust into the remote-work environment—71% of eligible workers, to be exact, up from just 1 in 5 prior to pandemic lockdowns. Several organizations weren’t even close to being prepared with the logistics to support such an effort. Some grappled with technology and infrastructure issues, while others found their teams feeling isolated, disengaged and emotionally distraught. It was difficult to try to solve problems without a clear solution.
In either scenario, productivity quickly comes into question and outcomes are in a constant state of flux. Naturally, the necessary investments were made in both areas, with many companies going so far as to offer free counseling, child care stipends, and so on. Do you remember those frantic first weeks and the endless string of fires you had to put out while keeping the company afloat? Doing anything less could have left the business in a dire situation.
Enhancing Operational Resilience
During times of uncertainty and drastic change, it isn’t always enough to take a prescribed or orchestrated approach to address concerns. After all, such an approach is founded on the principle of “analyze-strategize-plan,” which requires a company and its leadership to carefully organize the reaction to an event. But what if there’s no time? Beyond that, the relationship between cause and effect can be perceived only in retrospect, with little to no prior planning surrounding the chosen response.
Instead, a more choreographed approach is a much better option, especially when discussing the resiliency of business. Going this route enables organizations to react to what is happening rather planning for what might happen, which puts an organization on firmer ground. Think of embracing change as an organizational norm, where the business environment represents a dynamic system that’s always changing. You’re no longer spending all your time analyzing, strategizing, and then planning; instead, more energy goes toward probing, sensing, and then responding. Teams move from “hoping” that past results will predict future outcomes to enabling a higher level of resilience to 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 enables on-time delivery of necessary information to the teams.
While we’re on the topic of teams, empower them to establish structures among themselves. Communication is important during times of change, so try to facilitate interactions without the need of a central authority figure, attempting to maintain some level of determinism in a system that is inherently nondeterministic. The back-and-forth simply slows everything down—and unnecessarily so.
A More Choreographed Approach
Moving from an orchestrated to a choreographed approach isn’t easy for organizations. It takes time and effort to make such a sweeping change, but a couple of strategies can help prepare operations for the endeavor. The following are often the best places to start to ensure lasting success:
1. Turn to data. From market trends to consumer behavior, most of the answers an organization is looking for can be found in data. Take the necessary steps to leverage data for decision-making. Build data experiments to uncover new perspectives on the business, and establish a framework for measuring, capturing, and validating the results. For an additional data project, experiment with machine learning to provide a view into the data surrounding different financial goals that provide a deeper analysis of the current state. When combined, the objective is to not only determine the best method for using data, but also to unlock new, long-term value from the data.
It makes me think about clients we have in the heavy equipment manufacturing space. They observed large fluctuations in the market and determined they needed another revenue stream. In short, they needed more resilience because revenue was subject to seasonality and market fluctuations. How could they monetize data that was coming from their machines? How do they take that data and effectively sell it back to their partners in the ecosystem? They needed to look at their available data and treat it as an asset. And they have. It has allowed them to become more resilient (and not so subject to the whims of the market). Companies in other industries can do the same by reprioritizing data and building in that resiliency.
2. Distribute decision-making. Hierarchies can serve many purposes within an organization. For one, 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 so on. But hierarchies often bring complicated chains of command, which slows down communication and decision-making. Flattening what can best be described as a pyramid—even just a little—can lend speed to both processes and provide autonomy and transparency as well as encourage creativity and the sharing of big ideas throughout the organization.
We’ve seen this happening in the healthcare space. How do healthcare companies build “patient 360” views by reassessing how patients interact with their providers? From scheduling to getting results, our healthcare clients are finding the root cause, shuffling the deck, and bringing in new ideas from all corners to better understand how users interact and make decisions (which has spurred the development of healthcare-related chatbots, for instance). 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’re relying on data to prophesize what could potentially happen, allowing you to carefully plan ahead. This isn’t to say your teams won’t face the unexpected, but you’re already working within a system that’s ready and equipped for change. Your business will understand how to respond, making you more operationally resilient and financially secure to meet the promise of the future.