Renowned Jamaican singer, Bob Marley, once famously said that ‘you never know how strong you are, until being strong is your only choice’. Who would have thought that this simple quote will so aptly describe what most organizations deeply felt as they valiantly navigated the turbulent economic conditions unleashed due to the unforgiving and rapidly mutating COVID pandemic. However, as airline pilots will concur, navigating turbulent weather is very challenging and risky and often requires dynamically invoking and skillfully integrating multiple disparate capabilities.
Many organizations found out that effectively responding to a crisis-of-the-generation situation requires bringing together the best-of-breed capabilities of human (for example, empathy, altruism, persistence) and machines (for example, search, inform, connect). At Deloitte India, we achieved this ‘human + machine convergence’ in an initiative we stitched together (called ‘[email protected]’) wherein a ‘technology-enabled-human-centric-command-center’ helped us to take quick, informed and holistic decisions as the 2nd wave of pandemic rolled menacingly over us. Many of our clients also ran very similar initiatives to handle the tough situations they found themselves in. So, are there some lessons we learnt here that can help us to better handle future crises?
See Better: Without good baseline information, it becomes very difficult to see clearly in murky conditions. Information such as home location of employees and their current health status suddenly became very essential as organizations scrambled to understand the number of employees impacted by COVID, assess its impact on business continuity and extend timely and focused help. Going forward, organizations can do better ‘scenario planning’ to identify potential crises scenarios and proactively collate associated information and store it in a secure, access-controlled cloud environment in a simple and structured ‘command center’.
Communicate Clearer: Pandemic brought in significant disruption in every facet of business (including supply chains, employee and risk management policies). Many organizations used the opportunity to communicate clearly with all their key stakeholders (including customers, employees, vendors, regulators) about the changes they are making and associated impact.
Respond Faster: The pandemic also taught us that the key to respond faster in an unfolding crisis situation is to have a much more flexible operating model. Many of our clients (including a shared service center of a large European bank) increased the ‘flexibility quotient’ of their operating model by doing 2 key things – (a) leveraging combined capabilities of ‘formal’ business applications (for example, web portal) and ‘informal’ social applications (such as WhatsApp, Telegram, Facebook) (b) creating and leveraging highly motivated small volunteer groups who came together from all levels, regions and functions to achieve one single purpose – do everything possible to save every life. These diverse volunteer groups were comfortable working without a very prescribed structure / hierarchy and were nimble and adaptable enough to integrate multiple disparate capabilities on-the-go to respond to complex emergency situations. This learning (of fusing together the ‘formal/structured’ and the ‘informal/volunteer’) has huge implications as we design the ‘highly flexible’ organization of the future to deal with increased complexity, ambiguity and unpredictability.
Bond Together: Neuroscience taught us that the neurons that fire together, wire together and that is the key to developing any new habit and achieving a different and better outcome. As organizations look to create the next-generation crisis response capabilities, it is vitally important to find ways to improve team bonding, increase trust and collaboration, and focus on enhanced well-being of all stakeholders (customers, employees, vendors, alliance partners). Some companies (including a shared service center of a large retailer) used innovative means (for example, creating smart videos to highlight the contribution of volunteers and sharing it widely inside and outside the organization, providing avenues for people to express gratitude for the help received) to improve team bonding and collaboration and hence, in turn, significantly enhance the resiliency and immunity of the organization.
It is said that a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. While a crisis typically creates feelings of anxiety and despair in the short run, it can also shake an organization out of its existing inertia and help it to rediscover, regenerate and reposition itself. The learnings from last 15 months clearly demonstrate that successful organizations of the future will need to develop new capabilities and new ways of working to better sense their environment and respond more decisively and empathetically to potential crises situations.
Consistently bringing together the best human and technology capabilities in the form of ‘next generation command center’ can help organizations to successfully create the optimal strategies required to survive and thrive in the exciting world we will live in.
The author is Partner, Deloitte India.