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The balancing act of true resilience

Businesses have had to change, and change quickly – but what does that mean for them as things get back to normal?

In a previous article, my colleague Stew Hogg gave his views on innovation as being at the forefront of a business’s ability to survive unexpected events. This is true, without doubt – and never has that been more obvious than during the unprecedented situation we find ourselves in. In this article, I wanted to explore the other areas of our ‘Business Resilience Quadrant’ and take a look at how these play their part in real resilience.

Anyone who’s had to renew their insurance, contact their energy supplier, or speak to their bank will be more than familiar with the phrase “our staff are working from home, so you may hear some background noise from family or pets”, or something similar. We’re all used to Zoom, Skype, Teams and other software that have enabled businesses to keep on doing business without face-to-face contact in person. The fact that so many businesses were able to accelerate what would normally have been months or years of transformation work is, frankly, quite staggering – and businesses ‘pivoting’ to ensure survival has also become commonplace.

Brewers have turned their hands to making alcohol sanitisers and retailers have moved to online-only models – two examples of how innovation facilitates success; but is there a darker side to all this change?

Resilience Quadrant

Our Business Resilience Quadrant shows four key behaviour types that resilient businesses demonstrate. Think about it as four forces pulling in different directions; each can at times be at odds with others. Flexibility makes Consistency difficult to achieve, whilst being Progressive makes it hard to be Protective. In this model, a truly resilient business achieves a balance between these forces… all a bit Star Wars, if I’m honest – but perfectly capturing the facts.

What we have seen recently, though, is businesses expending time, money, and energy on the ‘Innovate’ and ‘Adapt’ areas, which will doubtlessly have created imbalance. Whilst home working has allowed them to continue doing business, can they be absolutely certain that work done at home is as secure as that in an office? The insurance agent whose children and family are in the room whilst they’re taking personal details is a risk; likewise the bank’s customer service staff. I am sure all the employers have done risk assessments, but they can’t possibly check every detail of the working environment of every person – it’d be simply impossible and impractical to do so. If one of those businesses suffers a major data breach, could the fines and penalties that result irreparably damage their reputation and revenues?

That might be an extreme example, but it’s a fact that following all of the innovation and change that we have seen, there will need to be time spent on ensuring that it has not embedded too much additional risk in the businesses in question. Resources will need to be expended on the ‘Optimise’ and ‘Protect’ areas of the quadrant, to ensure continuity without added risk, for example.

The opposite is of course also true, which is at the root of Stew’s article; businesses that concentrate all their commitment on the ‘Optimise’ and ‘Protect’ behaviours are slow to innovate and find it hard to adapt to changing situations, and they’re the businesses that fail when times get tough. Once again, imbalance leads to a lack of resilience.

The key here is that no business can, in isolation, concentrate on just one behaviour. Too much innovation could lead to underdeveloped products or services that are superceded as soon as they’re released. Too much effort standardising every facet of your business might mean a great product is beaten to market by a competitor and failing to attract buyers (even if that product is actually better than the competition). Equally, being too adaptable to changing conditions may mean you never actually understand what ‘normal’ conditions are, and can’t deliver services effectively; and trying to always do things differently to everyone else may be pointless if you’re way behind the curve on what your customers actually want from you.

As Stew’s article rightly argued, innovation and the ability to flex and change with markets, customer demands, and socio-economic influences is crucial in being able to survive the unexpected; but for true long-term resilience, a rounded approach and all four behaviours are essential, and the balance between them all must be maintained.

If you’d like to find out more about how you can build resilience and bring balance to your business, just get in touch; our resilience experts would love to speak to you.

Jisc | Data Matters

26 January 2021

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