Much of the organizational thinking about disease outbreaks, and about crisis management in general, has focused on preparation. With the sudden emergence of a deadly new coronavirus, organizational preparedness is key. In recent years, many companies, for example, have created risk management teams to develop detailed contingency plans for responding to a pandemic. This is necessary but not sufficient. In the complex and uncertain environment of a sustained, evolving crisis, the most robust organizations will not be those that simply have plans in place but those that have continuous sensing and response capabilities. As Darwin noted, the most adaptive species are the fittest.
Consider the organizations described below. Which one would fare better in a sustained crisis such as a pandemic?
Policy and procedure driven Guided by simple yet flexible rules
Organization 2 is clearly better positioned to respond to evolving, unpredictable threats. We know from complexity theory that following a few basic crisis-response principles is more effective than having a detailed a priori plan in place. In fires, for instance, it’s been shown that a single rule—walk slowly toward the exit—saves more lives than complicated escape plans do.
I’m not saying that companies should not have comprehensive risk mitigation plans. They should be asking questions about their supply chains and internal organization like, “What’s our response if one component goes down? What’s our response if two components go down? Do we have redundant computer systems?” But just as important, companies need to ask, “What real-time sensing and coordinating mechanism will we use to respond to events we can never fully anticipate?”
Companies shouldn’t rely solely on a specialized risk management team to see them through a sustained crisis. What if the team gets taken out? Instead, they need to develop the ability to rapidly evaluate ongoing changes in the environment and develop responses based on simple principles. This means that companies need a global network of people drawn from throughout the organization that can coordinate and adapt as events unfold, reacting immediately and appropriately to disruptions such as lapses in communication inside and outside the organization and losses of physical and human resources. (If a main office overseas suddenly drops out of a company’s network, who is going to jump in?) This network needs to quickly cycle through a process of sensing threats, coordinating, responding, and then sensing again. It needs to engage in creative and collaborative yet disciplined problem solving on the fly, even as members of the crisis network move around or drop out.
This is exactly what marine expeditionary forces do, to great effect. One reason the marines are so nimble is that they practice. Companies should do likewise. A firm could establish a globally dispersed group with shifting membership that would devote, say, half a day every other month to engaging in crisis simulations. What would the group do, for instance, if 30% of the company’s factory workforce in Asia dropped out? What if the United States closed its borders? How would the team respond to an “unthinkable” scenario? The goal is not to create specific rules for responding to specific threats but to practice new ways of problem solving in an unpredictable and fast-changing environment.
As for the two organizations described in the table, advantage in a crisis will go to the one that can leverage its capabilities and cooperate with other members of the community—even competitors. Companies should think about applying an open-source model to crisis response. Just as they invite partners and competitors to codevelop innovative products, they should look at whether codeveloped crisis responses would be better than proprietary ones. If they’d lose certain capabilities in a crisis and competitors would lose others, are there mutually beneficial opportunities for trade and collaboration?
Finally, many leaders think crisis management is not their job. That’s why they hired risk mitigation and security experts. But creating organizations that are strong in the face of uncertainty requires a new mind-set—and that must be driven from the top down. By developing a culture and mechanisms that support superior adaptive capability, companies will inoculate themselves against a range of threats, not just pandemics. They’ll become more resilient and competitive in the complex and uncertain business of business.
Source : https://hbr.org/2020/01/what-organizations-need-to-survive-a-pandemic