Finding operational resilience through COVID-19

By Robert Half on 8 June 2020

Mounting risks such as cyber-security have put operational resilience at the top of mind for many business leaders over the past decade.

With COVID-19 unprecedented in the scope and severity of its impact on how businesses operate, from workers to suppliers, technology and even customers, a company’s ability to withstand operational disruptions and continue to deliver its services has become a key priority for businesses today.

In order to bend, not break, under the pressure of disruption, the strongest asset a company can have is their ability to work with change and not against it. Rather than adopting a short-term response to minimise the damage the evolving risks that this crisis presents, business leaders need to rise to the shifting marketplace by absorbing these risks and adapting their business protocols to be resilient, effective, and ultimately, viable in the long-term.

By focusing on decision making that balances short- and long-term needs, acting quickly, future proofing technology and prioritising relationship management, leadership can carve a competitive niche for themselves that could well see them withstand the current business disruptions and emerge as the leaders of the post-pandemic economy.

Here are some suggestions designed to help you bolster your company’s operational resilience.

Enact informed change

At the core of operational resilience in any climate is understanding what makes up the minimum viable business model you will need to continue to meet customer needs and ensure financial performance throughout the crisis. By establishing this roadmap, businesses have a clear understanding of what impact they can withstand to any operation or business priority in order to continue to an acceptable standard and, in turn, make informed, pragmatic decisions around how to respond to changing circumstances.

For instance, government mandates on social distancing has resulted in significant disruptions to regular in-office working arrangements for staff. The challenge is, therefore, to determine the optimum working arrangement that accommodates safe practises while still maintaining the necessary productivity, collaboration, and output to fulfil critical business priorities.

Understanding these levers help to determine appropriate solutions, such as creating a roster of essential staff in the office, providing the necessary hardware, platforms and protocols to support secure remote working for those at home, or developing new methods to engage with clients without travel or face-to-face interactions.

Act with speed and agility

These are unprecedented times and it is important to act fast and be agile. Expediency is in many ways more valuable than elegance of execution when the situation evolves as rapidly as this – spend too long preparing a perfect solution and the crises may have pivoted or expanded beyond the scope of the plan. Rather, business should adopt an informed ‘trial and error’ mentality by rapidly implementing small, incremental changes that mitigate disruption and resume priority operations. Necessity is the mother of invention and embracing novel solutions can breed practical long-term solutions.

Responding to change with speed requires a slightly higher allowance for error but can be benefitted by an informed roadmap of options to guide decision making alongside a heightened focus on assessment and feedback. Prioritise a regular feedback loop of both quantified results and qualitative input from operating teams and stakeholders in order to fine-tune responses and make appropriate adjustments to maximise the impact of changes.

Check your business’ IT infrastructure and tools

Companies are likely headed toward ‘mixed’ team environments, combining at-office work and home-based remote work as social distancing rules have started to relax. While it is improbable all employees will simultaneously be able to work in the same office space in the near future, business continuity is likely to depend on your remote working capabilities.

For this reason, it’s important to carry out a full check of your IT and computer systems to make sure your staff have access to all the tools and functions they need to perform their duties from home – safely and securely.

Seek opportunities for growth through change

As companies continue to implement wide changes in response to evolving health protocols and government mandates, whether creating a distributed or remote workplace or rapidly upgrading company technical-infrastructure to meet remote needs, business leaders must focus on how to not only enact but embrace these changes in order to achieve business continuity and ongoing client service.

One such opportunity is the implementation of remote working technology. COVID-19 has expedited remote working arrangements that many companies were organically working towards, and in turn forced many to upgrade their technology to accommodate the new way of working. Rather than treating this as a one-off reactive expense, there are opportunities to future-proof investment in technology including upgrading computer technology to facilitate flexible working arrangements in the long term, introducing and testing the efficiency of remote collaboration software, transitioning servers to the cloud, and bolstering cyber-security around cloud data-storage to ensure security with increased remote operations.

Prioritise relationship management

The impact of COVID-19 is widespread so businesses that can approach their external stakeholders with clarity and reliability will cultivate a durable and resilient long-term relationship that is beneficial to both. Operational resilience is a two-way street, so be as flexible as possible to accommodate the shifting needs of your consumer without compromising business priorities.

With the global economic outlook set to remain turbulent, at best, for some time, driving loyalty amongst existing clients will be crucial to sustaining business performance in the longer term. Work with customers to ensure that their needs are being met through revised operations, understand what new needs may have evolved in the current climate and how you can best service them. Moreover, be realistic about any alterations to your own service in order to avoid unmet expectations or distrust.

Lead with empathy

With nearly every aspect of business operation exposed to some degree of risk through COVID-19, optimising the existing workforce’s engagement and productivity levels is one variable that you can readily tackle through strong leadership and support. It is not just about having the right technology, but also adjusting the processes and people when you undergo change of this magnitude.

Some steps that can be taken include: Ensuring that senior staff lead by example by embracing new communications protocols; providing workers the resources and training they need to operate remotely with ease; allowing flexibility to let individuals attend to their personal needs; and prioritising clear and open lines of communication to keep workers informed, supported, and engaged.

Organisational resilience is essential to building a viable business model sturdy enough to navigate this period of great uncertainty. Leaders need to adopt an agile approach to change management by responding to unfolding challenges at speed, prioritising empathetic relationship management and future-proofing their decisions with an eye towards growth prospects in a post-pandemic economy.

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