It has been said many times, change is hard. Establishing a solid process requires a lot of growing pains. There is a special feeling we all get when things just work. At the same time, change is necessary. If you get too comfortable, over time a culture of rigidity develops. “This is how we have always done it.” Organizations will typically respond to changes in the external environment, with proactive organizations not letting change force their hand. However, for some organizations, change only comes when there is a crisis. It is best not to wait for a crisis, but sometimes they happen, and often we are surprised when tasks that used to take weeks are done in days. However, instead of waiting for the next disaster to be the catalyst for change, lets engineer changes in a controlled way to build organizational resiliency.
COVID-19 has shown us which organizations had the leadership and cultural capacity to rapidly pivot their business model to remain relevant in one of the most disruptive events of our lifetime. My heart goes out to the organizations within non-essential hospitality and service sectors whose businesses are entirely dependent on close contact with their clients. Many of us in the office dearly miss live sports and music which will not return to normal anytime soon.
Despite the tragedy, there are numerous stories of organizations pivoting nearly overnight by traditional standards. Auto-makers switching production lines to produce ventilators, sign makers producing face-shields, family doctors performing video calls, fitness instructors streaming work-outs on video game platforms, realtors using 3D cameras to provide full VR home showings, entire offices moving to fully remote, retailers shifting to online and curbside pickup, restaurants switching to take out, and emerging solutions to keep us entertained like Jelle’s Marble Runs. 2020 has been an extraordinary year and eventually the worst will be behind us, but that does not mean adaptation or innovation should have a rest.
When we have had time to catch our breath, there is an opportunity to take a more engineered approach to change management and organizational resiliency. Every organization is going to be different but consider the services your organization uses. Consider the suppliers it is dependent on, or critical pieces of infrastructure both internally and externally. Critical service failure, loss of internet access, ransomware attack, cloud provider failure, supply outage, or an infrastructure failure are all possible situations to plan for. Situation discovery, contingency planning, and event preparation are the critical first tasks. At this stage, everything is based on assumptions that need to be tested, and there is no better way to find errors than to run a simulation day and execute on a planned disaster. Lessons learned from a live simulation are invaluable and potentially life saving. Then follow up with a repeat of the simulation or introduce a new mode of failure.
Disasters are disruptive and stressful, so we caution not to overuse such a practice. It is important to be aware that failure should be expected, heroes can be celebrated but solutions should not rely on heroics. The emphasis is on creating failure in controlled situations, allowing people to talk to each other, learn who they need to reach out to, what they need to do, coordinate outside their team, and build relationships throughout the organization. Ultimately the response to disaster will feel routine (but everyday should not feel like a disaster), as true resiliency does not require extraordinary reactions to mitigate a surprise.