The best way to stay ahead in uncertain times may be to throw the books out

In 1993, management theorists Steve Haeckel and Richard Nolan introduced to the business world a concept borrowed from cell biology, “feel-response-adapt. “The idea behind their framework is simple: the advent of information technology has allowed companies to be more flexible and more responsive to changing customer needs and market conditions, leads to a new means of strategic development. Nearly 30 years later, as COVID-19 sends shock waves through global economies, companies have revived the book of adaptations felt as they tried to outgrow the virus.

Working with researchers from International Institute for Disaster Recovery (DRI), my group at National Readiness Leadership Initiative at Harvard University (NPLI) interviewed leaders from nine institutions in sectors including aviation, energy, healthcare, higher education, manufacturing, retail, and technology. As we launch research in 2021, we want to better understand the nature of COVID-19 crisis management across the global economy to help others navigate the ongoing challenges of the global pandemic and prepare for future disruptions.

What we found were disclosures and instructions. Every organization we interviewed feel, answeredand adapt somehow. At the beginning of the pandemic, countless organizations operated in China feel brewing incidents in Wuhan through communication channels with employees and suppliers. When it became clear that supply chains and other operations would be disrupted, organizations began to plan scenarios to shift production, staff, and secure key supplies.

As the virus spread to Europe, many senior executives answered by prioritizing the health and safety of their employees. As one study participant noted, “The CEO has unequivocally stated that the company will do everything necessary to protect our employees, even though it would hurt the situation.” our finances.” Indeed, throughout our research, we have heard several variations of the mantra “Do the right thing.”

Put everyone on the first request suitability. Executives need to change their thinking and operational strategies to provide their employees with the necessary social and financial support and the ability to work remotely. This involves more than just understanding aspects of workforce strategy. It means coming up with a new book. In a number of cases, we have seen evidence of what is known as “repeat learning, ” Through which members of the organization question the underlying assumptions of their strategy and tactics rather than making only minor modifications to them. One interviewee noted that the pandemic has forced the organization’s senior management team to re-examine how every decision is made. Another person told us that their organization decided to hold its first town conference with their CEO. City halls have given executive teams a chance to be more transparent about employee engagement and morale, and help them understand specific concerns about the virus. In another, the pandemic inspired an organization to allocate more money to mental health programs.

In every business failure case, the factors that led to the downfall were visible if executives were open to seeing.

Organizations have also used a sensor-react-adaptive model to combat misinformation and confusion about masks and vaccines. With conflicting guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US and the World Health Organization (WHO), an organization we studied chose to be “completely transparent” with “fully digital” solutions. The company has built an app that includes data from sources it considers reliable, and it updates policies, offers precautions, and offers ways to report vaccination status. . The app enhanced the company’s sensory adaptability by getting quality information in everyone’s hands and opening up a new channel for conventional two-way communication. There’s no need to wait for a “stakeholder” meeting to get meaningful questions and feedback.

Reflecting on the results of the study, one clear takeaway is this: leaders of any group need to learn lessons about sensation-reaction-adaption, even when there are no cases. any emergency. Here are three ways to use each step of the pattern.

Sensors: Treat remote parts of your business as listening stations. For some organizations, these will be geographically dispersed providers. For others, they will be the customer service center. The question leaders must ask is, “What do we learn from our interactions beyond the usual information about costs and sales?” Train your people to listen potentially significant abnormalitiesand ensure that critical information is not trapped in the organization’s vaults. In our research, we found that during a pandemic, C-level executives are directly involved in business continuity and other related functions that they might not otherwise encounter. must daily. By going beyond the “usual suspects,” they can hear new voices and ask probing questions to reveal faint signs of change on the horizon.

Feedback: Improve communication across internal and organizational boundaries. Leaders should view business continuity as an essential function that serves as the connective tissue for the business. Our interviews show that in highly connected companies, business continuity is working alongside business intelligence, supply chain management, human resources, health and safety full, and other functions. Managers have seen the logic of working together and have the means and inclination to do so. The result is faster identification of major problems and a more efficient system for coming up with solutions.

Adaptation: Challenging assumptions and questioning orthodoxy. There is always the temptation to mitigate threats simply by making existing methods harder and faster. The result may be efforts to align the problem with the response rather than the other way around. It is a path that inevitably leads to missteps and potential disaster. One way to tackle problems more deeply and encourage iterative learning is to ask, “What needs to be right for this to be the right approach?” It helps to separate evidence-based fact from speculation and conjecture that may underlie assumptions.

In every business failure case, the factors that led to the downfall were visible if executives were open to seeing. To be sure, there are many filters and barriers that can distort or hinder one’s view of reality. But actively adopting and promoting sensory adaptive thinking will better equip you and your team to weather these tumultuous times.

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