In an uncertain time defined by rapid change, the word “resilience” has taken on new meaning. It’s no longer simply fending off the occasional mishap; the ability to quickly adapt, recover, and return reinvigorated is a constant requirement in the business world.
Resilience can’t simply live in the boardroom, though. It needs to be instilled throughout your organization, from its culture and capabilities to its operational decisions and development. These skills can enable your company to take control of the present – and direct its future.
Defining “Whatever It Takes”
Many businesses extend themselves into areas that don’t complement the company mission. Then, they ignore signs that indicate that things aren’t going well – or even deny that a problem exists at all. When the problems can no longer be avoided, it’s often so late that they fail to recover. And this is the point: resilience is about adapting before a potential problem becomes a real problem. At its best, it’s proactive – not reactive.
In order to avoid complacency, emotional decisions, and ill-planned ventures, it’s important to keep an eye on reason and revenue. If you’re prepared to do anything to get your business through a tough spot – including completely restructuring or realigning it – you can turn a company around in almost any situation.
For an example of extensive changes that can mean the difference between failure and survival, look to Finnish telecommunications company Nokia. From its beginnings as a paper mill in the 19th century, it has faced many challenges and market changes. And every time, it diversified, realigned, and offered different products and services, from generating electricity to making car tires.
The company rebuilt itself with a new goal in the 1980s, and it now lives as a major telecommunications company. They’ve recently positioned themselves as one of the first adapters of the 3D printing community, too.
The point: this flexibility and adaptability helped Nokia survive many market upheavals and take advantage of a technology boom. It didn’t worry about what it was producing at the moment; it focused on the company’s success and survival. After all, a company is about making money, first and foremost. Nothing else can be achieved without revenue.
Although it’s possible to rescue a company, it’s better to build resilience before problems occur, to avoid difficulties and to equip you to handle challenges more effectively.
Resilience in Action: HSBC Bank
HSBC bank has always had a keen focus on customers and adapted to changing markets, and it has been driven by a measured, entrepreneurial spirit. This has served them well over the years – and never more so than during the recent financial crisis, when some of the largest names in the industry either fell by the wayside or approached governments for bailout money.
Of course, the reasons for such a disaster in the banking industry were manifold, but the overarching reason was simple: many banks weren’t resilient enough. HSBC weathered the storm by making sure the company was already better insulated against potential shocks – far before any threat appeared on the horizon.
As Stephen Green, former Chairman of HSBC, argues, resilience is diminished when a company loses sight of the customer and forgets the reason it’s in business in the first place. “Some of the good old-fashioned principles by which we have always sought to run this company for the last hundred years – strong capital, strong liquidity, diversified business – have counted for quite a lot,” Green said. In other words, resilience was, and is, an important factor in its strategy, operations, culture, and values, which keeps them alert to changes and makes the company ready to react quickly.
Resilience is a conscious and constant activity. Even though HSBC didn’t suffer as badly as other banks during the financial crisis, its leaders have already reviewed, planned, and initiated an extensive overhaul of systems and procedures to avert the possibility of future problems. This isn’t just in response to the demands from regulators, governments, investors, and customers; it’s also because HSBC’s leaders know that, without resilience, the fate that befell other giants of the banking industry will be waiting, ready to strike.
Building a More Resilient Business
Strong corporate values matter. They provide a sense of shared purpose and keep people working together for the same goals. These values are especially important in uncertain times.
That’s why it’s essential to surround yourself with people who live by the same tenets you do – and who have the same strength, creativity, and drive to succeed. Here are some guidelines that resilient businesses use to grow a stronger, bolder group of employees for a stronger, bolder business.
Look after your people. Minimizing stress is a key issue in today’s frantic, changing world. People under stress aren’t alert to what’s happening around them, and they’re prone to oversights and mistakes. Establish a network of mutual support in your company, so people don’t feel isolated and know how to get help when they need it.
Encourage confidence. People need the strength to remain calm, focused, and confident when handling crises. To do this effectively, they’ll need energy, drive, determination, and conviction. Being positive, having clear goals, and being open to new ideas and possibilities are essential to innovation – and making the right move for your company’s future.
Provide support and challenges. Spend some time reassessing the way things are done in your business. Is there a better way of approaching an issue or completing a certain task? Ensure that your people will be able to respond to changes, including sudden crises, quickly, efficiently, and successfully.
Find strong, resilient leaders. People in senior roles need the experience, skills, and behaviors to steer the company through difficult times while also maintaining morale, commitment, and enthusiasm. Leaders need to be challenging, forward-thinking, open to new ideas, and innovative – and they should encourage these attributes in others.
Value learning and experience. Expose people to experiences that will equip them for dealing with unexpected, difficult situations. Experience is a great teacher; if individuals are used to dealing with difficult situations, they will be more comfortable with, and confident in, their ability to think logically and creatively when they encounter them in the workplace.
Put the right people in the right roles. Resilience needs to be part of all succession decisions – and there’s no substitute for a person’s actual record of achievement: the challenges they’ve faced, and what they’ve learned. Remember, you’re not just hiring for today. You’re hiring to prepare your company for tomorrow.
Foster teamwork. Challenges require teamwork, all the way to the top. Trust, dependability, and openness are essential, as are strong leadership and a realistic attitude. By working closely together, supporting each other, sharing ideas, and spreading the workload, an overwhelming challenge will be less daunting, much easier to tackle, and more successfully resolved.
People Make the Difference
Turbulent markets bring opportunity and risk; companies need to call on all their resources to navigate such uncharted waters successfully. What matters, however, is that each individual believes that these issues – values, purpose, boldness, imagination, and others – are important, and interprets them in his or her own personal way. In fact, the most significant lesson for any business leader is to know that, while structures, procedures, processes, and systems can all be improved, the true source of resilience is people.
People are the reason companies succeed. Get that right, and you’ll weather any storm that comes your way.