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Changing Culture to Manage Future Disruptions


If the COVID-19 pandemic taught businesses anything, it is that resilience and agility matter. Companies that never thought about operating remotely were forced to change to virtual companies in the blink of an eye. 

Families needed to quickly pivot too. They had to find ways to stay productive while sharing devices and finding space to participate in Zoom calls. Everyone pitched in to make it work, meeting the crisis with resiliency and agility. 

And businesses got through the first phase of the pandemic, even if some got through it in better shape than others. Some of the changes, engendered by the pandemic, such as remote work and greater online presence, are likely to become permanent at some level. Other changes, such as the pause in business travel, will ease somewhat once a vaccine becomes available. Meanwhile, some companies may find some travel wasn't as necessary as they thought.

One thing is clear: Forward-thinking companies realize the need to be prepared for another disruption. Arguably, the biggest contributor to being able to pivot as necessary is an agile firm culture. Many companies operate under a traditional, reactive chain of command. Changing that means changing the way people work and interact. 

First, companies need to figure out what employees need. Then, they have to find ways to meet the needs they've discovered. It doesn't happen quickly. There is a process:

  1. Values. Traditional company cultures have operated through top-down systems where company leaders set the tone and make the decisions. Agile companies make decisions differently: Everyone has a voice that can be heard, so the end result is collaborative and innovative. The ultimate goal is having each employee think and act as though he or she is working for their own company, and all company messaging must reflect that.
  2. Multi-level input. Teams need to be assembled at every level. Each team is then tasked with looking at their experiences (workflow, reporting hierarchy and methods, etc.) and coming up with a workable, achievable process for completing their jobs in a way that makes sense for them. The marketing team might determine, for example, that they would do their jobs better if they had access to daily sales reports rather than weekly ones. That might mean adding to their dashboard or giving them access to a different system. 
  3. Company-specific. Each team's assessment needs to be company-specific. It doesn't necessarily matter what the company's competitors are doing. For example, a law firm that wants to expand to a new niche needs to evaluate whether it has "the bench" to support the new endeavor. It isn't smart for a firm to add a service simply because  a competitor is doing so, if the firm can't properly service clients who want it.
  4. Embrace failure. Agile companies celebrate successes and learn from failures. The key element here is not being afraid to fail. Instead, failure should be viewed as a learning experience. This perspective encourages the innovation that is essential to succeeding in a disruptive environment.

The level of disruption caused by the pandemic is unprecedented in modern times. It is causing businesses at all levels to reassess how they are going to remain sustainable. For many, that will mean changing their corporate hierarchy so they can better respond to future disruptions. Consider what changes you want.


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