This second edition of our “Chats with Hannah” mini-blogs shares a recent discussion about disruption and resilience. The conversation was in context of what companies are experiencing because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many articles in past months have described how businesses are pivoting in response to COVID-19. (Stay tuned for future discussions on what it means to “pivot”.) Many changes companies are making are a reaction, not planned work occasioned by strategy, anticipation and preparedness undergirded with data and analytics. My thoughts were about how to build resilience into business models, so disruption is less debilitating.
As often happens, Hannah responded by sending me back to my dictionary, offering a different point of view starting with what the word “resilience” really means and what occasions the need for it. Indeed, there is not agreement on the definition with some experts offering the word has become a catch-all to capture many ideas over time. I have since re-read the articles provided at the end of this blog from a different perspective. Rather than applauding the focus on resilience, I find myself asking – what can be done during less stressful times to build stronger organizations? What trends or signs in our organizations did we ignore that makes our current challenges more difficult? I will be curious if you, the Reader, has the same reaction. We welcome you to post your comments and join our Chats with Hannah.
Definition of Resilience
Merriam-Webster defines resilience as 1) the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress; 2) the ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.
I don’t like the word resilience because it implies there are stressors to the business. I want to build a business that is immune to the stressors.
It is like an algebraic equation such that a stressor begats resilience. I prefer to build a business that has only extrinsic stressors – that the business itself has intrinsic strength such that as staff are maneuvering, as they are navigating through their daily interactions whether face-to-face or virtual, and they face challenges, that they have intrinsic tools necessary whether that refers to the technical tools or the soft skills tools that comes from building the right-fit team, which is the responsibility of the leader.
I want to ensure that the business itself is built in a way so that as those challenges arise, people can operate in an environment that is maximally operationalized.
When it comes to stressors, the goal is to make sure they are extrinsic to the organization, that they come from interactions with vendors, clients you are working with, pandemics, technology (or the lack thereof because you anticipate a large purchase).
Your nuclear core organization, whether 5 or 50,000 people - you are mindful of how you build your operating model, your finances, your Human Resources - so all of it is interconnected and supported.
Resilience implies there has to be a breaking point, something deleterious to the organization whereby people have to recover. I don’t believe in this chronic positive or negative environment in which people are struggling, then are being supported. Once you get into that chronicity of having to feel resilient, then you are focusing more on how you feel and less about being rewarded by your professional relationships and less about the work you are doing.
Then we say “resilience and disruption” together - that is like saying the same thing. Our house burns down, so are we like a Phoenix rising from the ashes? That implies something tragic has to happen for people to be resilient.
Why do we have to assume an organization has to be in constant dysfunction and in distress? That should not be your goal. That is a pretty poor goal. I am not looking to build Utopia, but I’m certainly not looking to build distress into the model. Rather than a mental high from a crisis, I pursue a mental framework of constant preparation. I prefer not to live in a constant state of crisis.