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Tech is not the only answer in a crisis

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/everything possible)

If you don’t have a resilient culture, your tech investment decisions are compromised from the start.

Now there’s something to consider given the amount of attention that has been paid to the technologies that underpin remote working. Indeed, the pandemic has forced the hand of many organizations when it comes to their digital transformation strategy (or perhaps in some cases digital replacement, but that’s a discussion for another day). But whether these firms are making good decisions about their organizational culture gets far less attention.

Organizational resilience underpins success or failure in a crisis

For most businesses, ‘resilience’ is something you discover in the face of adversity, by coincidence rather than design. But the reality is that organizations with resilient cultures build them. They invest in them. People, processes and policies are designed to support them. And the technology that company uses forms a critical part of this - particularly in a context such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, technology is not the only thing that matters.

Review almost any business continuity plan, and the decent ones will be exceptionally detailed in terms of operating procedures. However all but the best will be worryingly light in terms of culture. They will certainly not look at the human element of organizational resilience - something apparently abstract, but that can in fact be managed and nurtured.

There are four key areas in which organizations can harness this human element in organizational resilience, and combine it with the capabilities and opportunities offered by technology. In so doing, you can build a strong platform to take on whatever comes your way:

[1] Start by analyzing your position

Driving any change in culture demands clear thinking based on the most complete picture possible of your organization. Too many change management programs have been driven by ‘feel’ - and while instinct is something that should be listened to, and very often followed, it’s invaluable to have the insight to inform it. When it comes to resilience within your organization, this means understanding what’s happening at the organizational, leadership and individual levels.

Knowing how processes and people perform during periods of uncertainty is essential in defining the resilience of your company. It will influence how well the technologies you introduce are used, the value you get from them, and whether those are tools you’ll still be effectively using after the crisis has passed.

So start by addressing the metrics you can collect and monitor - such as how well people understand the business, its objectives, management structure and the tools they have at their disposal. You can correlate these to behavioral data from key systems, along with existing business performance metrics. Together these provide benchmarking as your resilience culture evolves.

[2] Create alignment in your organization

Whatever you forecast in your business continuity plan, you can’t predict every twist and turn you face during a period of disruption. And unless you’re attentive to your resilience culture you won’t know how your team will respond to those challenges.

Much of the dialogue during the pandemic has focused on the adoption of collaboration suites and how effectively people are using them. But it becomes academic if there isn’t an effective culture of trust, delegation and responsibility sat behind it. People have to understand what they’re doing and why, before they touch a keyboard, and they need to know that the people around them are on the same page.

Although brilliant culture should never be entirely top down, leadership plays an important role in this alignment. Employees that understand the company’s direction and values, because they see them being lived and breathed by their management, can also understand a change in direction more quickly and effectively. This makes communication a critical part of your resilience strategy.

[3] Never stop analyzing

Crises are defined by their unpredictability; even if you can estimate the type of incident it’s unlikely you’ll predict its exact shape. This is why resilient cultures are not those that are set in stone but the ones that can adapt quickly.

Speed alone is not enough however. It’s essential that speed is matched by insight and judgement. Again, gut instinct is an invaluable tool, but if you’re not keeping track of the impact of change, you drift back into uncertainty. So in addition to core business performance metrics, it’s important to keep measuring the factors used to audit your resilience culture. The insights this provides ensures you can continue to refine your crisis strategy, improve communications with the business, and answer the needs of your team.

The organizations that undertake these reviews, even in the heat of battle, typically find that apparently small but important details can be corrected to improve performance and morale. Of course if there’s a more profound issue to address, it’s better to deal with it sooner than later. It may impact your ability to survive the crisis, or at the very least reduce how fast you can accelerate out the other side.

[4] Measure, communicate and learn

Organizations that are clear about the mindset, behaviors and actions that impact organizational resilience have a great starting point. Those that share this insight with the wider team nurture significant performance improvement. When things go well, you replicate and amplify them. When they don’t you analyze and learn. When everyone within the business understands what success looks like, and how it’s reported, you benefit from a far wider contribution to the positive outcome - a hallmark of a truly resilient business.

Resilience isn’t something you just have or don’t have, and it’s not something that’s attained by taking a hardline with your team. Tough decisions are made in crises, but the culture that optimizes your organization's performance under pressure is far more nuanced. Analyze it, invest in it and remain committed to it. The businesses that do this will see the biggest ROI during the pandemic and be the ones that see through the crisis.

Thomas Davies, CEO and Founder, Temporall

Thomas Davies is the founder and CEO at UK tech startup Temporall. Before starting Temporall, Thomas was the Global Channel Sales Director at Google.