The art of resilience-building during a pandemic

Written by Professor Dr Siri Roland Xavier Tuesday 25 May 2021
To build resilience, we must first understand that disruptive events don't self-conclude – so neither should we
Chess Rook standing among fallen pawns

Essays, discussions and plans usually end in conclusions, a neat summary of what’s been discussed so far. The conclusion marks the end of the debate or of the evaluation of the topic – in a sense, it’s an arrival, as we’ve been brought to the ‘end’ of the debate. But, I wonder if trying to get to a conclusion makes us stop our critical thinking too early. In terms of management in a global pandemic, we must not seek to find a conclusion – every day brings new challenges, and we are not at the end of it yet.

The more astute, pragmatic, and responsible business owners, CEOs and management teams do not easily ‘conclude’. They temper their confidence with uncertainty and risk appreciation. Wisely, they are not quick to take positions on a matter; with no positions, they can consider all options. They make ‘seeking’ their management approach – not concluding.

Concretised answers only serve to ‘report card’ and shore up the confidence of shareholders and directors of corporations in the short term. They mask the immensity and complexity of reality, which ultimately chips away at profits and trust. Always be the seeker and find the truth for your business. Can we survive? Can we sustain? Can we grow? A ‘why or why not?’ should follow all three questions. No firm conclusions should be made. In resisting the allure of a conclusion, we remain open to adaptation and agility, we have room for elasticity of thought and action – and ultimately, that builds resilience.

With that mindset in place, how can  managers embed resilience in their everyday actions? Here are five key approaches to instilling and building organisational resilience during a pandemic.

Be agile

A focus on agility  which, in this case, is to look at ideas, options,  and plans rapidly. This will allow for clarity of thought and action. With agility  you can pivot, leverage, or remove yourself as required. Stock-taking should sometimes replace stock making! For example, supply chain disruptions can be significant, and pandemic can quickly derail your current processes. Organisations may need to create alternative sourcing strategies (keeping in mind tariff and logistical cost implications) or change their materials or designs. They must continuously seek to answer the question, ‘What is my customer’s pain?’

Care for your workforce

Look at  the big picture. The infection spread will reduce production capacities and overall downtimes and organisational effectiveness. Lip service and clichéd memos will not do. Train your employees to prepare, diagnose and to recover. It represents an opportunity to build on employee loyalties when you show you genuinely care. In fact, this is as important as other skills and knowledge training as it will impact organisational productivity.

Do scenario planning and do it often

Expect and appreciate volatility of policies and financial terrains. All possible scenarios should be considered along with appropriate action plans. The yearly general meetings will not suffice;monthly or even bi-monthly reviews with all organisational department heads, including the security and even the housekeeping department heads, weighing in. The virus is no respecter of organisational charts.

Policies by governments will change and prepare to expect that some governments will not get it right. Seek to manage your business around those inconsistencies and shortcomings.

Review cash and working capital strategies

The varying intensity of the pandemic and its lockdowns will require different strategies to cope, the same way the virus continues to permutate itself to effectively spread. One such outcome is how the lockdowns trap cash. Cash collections may be slow or halted altogether –    cash that is needed for third party financial commitments and even for funding organisational operations.

Partial lockdowns are especially sinister as it will affect different business entities differently. Given your situation, which of your buyers/suppliers should you continue working with and on what terms?  Forward-looking stress-testing analyses, coupled with a dynamic working-capital framework, are called for. Recalibrate payment schedules. Collect fast, renegotiate pay backs and review inventory replenishments. Do not conclude that you have it right. Keep Looking  for new and creative ways to manage your cash flow.

Make strategic partnerships, alliances, mergers and even acquisitions

Making smart partnerships presents a strategic opportunity for creatively accessing capital, talent, and cooperation. Your ship is not the only one facing this coronavirus tsunami. Ships are  buffeted to varying degrees, and they are run by captains ready to be guided by lighthouses. New markets creation and changing consumer demands quickened by the coronavirus presents challenges and opportunities, both expected and unexpected. Your true north is your core priorities and outcomes. And collaboration is highly prized. Be that lighthouse. Make your move and offer your advantage as inducement too. You do not have to go it alone.

Today’s business environments suffer a surfeit of information from data, both big and thick. Decision making is hard as the extended consequences are unknowable.  The five  approaches in this article must firstly be propelled by a mindset change; they are enablers for operational, financial, and human resource strategies, both transformational and resilient in a pandemic.

This resilience-building approach will result in organisations taking an iterative and long-term view of their business horizons. And horizons, like business challenges, never quite end.

Professor Dr Siri Roland Xavier works in the Graduate School of Business at UNIRAZAK.

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