Building Resilience into Operations

Organizations with a high degree of operational resiliency fare better in troubling times.

As individual employees, our level of resilience refers to our ability to rebound despite adversity, failure, or change. It’s a muscle that must be intentionally built and exercised over time as we recognize challenges and setbacks, and learn and grow from those situations. Research indicates that high levels of resilience can lead to higher performance, job satisfaction, and organizational commitment.

Resilience is similarly an essential marker of a high-performing team. And as with individual employees, resilient, high-performing teams are not an accident. Instead, they are carefully constructed and designed with intent. Resilient teams perform well under pressure. They possess the ability to learn continuously and recover quickly from inevitable failures.

While resilience often describes employees and teams, it also shows up in the operations of the organization. Process resilience is not about pushing through adversity at all costs. Instead, it is about intentionally recognizing and managing through adversity or change. It is about overcoming challenges with disciplined execution that, in turn, enables your employees and teams to strengthen levels of resilience continuously. Organizations with high levels of resilience across individual employees, teams, and processes experience:

  • Excellent financial and operational performance
  • The ability to execute rapid changes due to innovation, technology, or market conditions
  • The ability to adjust team structures as circumstance require
  • An improved sense of calm (not necessarily stability) to weather change
  • The ability to learn, develop, and grow quickly to meet new challenges

Building on a foundation of individual resilience, how can leaders instill greater process resilience in their organizations? Organizations must consider both the structural influencers, the way your organization and teams are designed, and the people influencers, the mindsets, behaviors, and skills of your team members.

To uphold operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations have adopted universal remote work models. It’s a change that has redefined the paradigm for ways of working—seemingly overnight. With the inevitable challenges brought by universal remote work, it also creates opportunities for organizations to strengthen their levels of process resilience. To harness remote work as an opportunity for improved process resilience, organizations need first to evaluate both the structural and people influencers and their associated impacts. Below are the critical areas of impact that business leaders should consider:

  • Inputs: Team members are receiving work through new and different channels. What tools do you have to monitor the new inflows?
  • Processes: As new virtual processes are created or enhanced, how are these processes documented? How are you working with your teams to determine the most effective methods?
  • Training: Even if you have defined virtual processes, elements of your value stream may not be accustomed to working in a virtual environment. What tools do you have in place to train your team, and how is your team supporting other members of the value stream as they switch to the new ways of working?
  • Material: Do your team members have access to the materials they need to be successful, particularly those that are digital? Are these team members able to access all the databases they need to complete work securely?
  • Equipment: Even if your team already uses laptops, it may have been a while since employees have used them meaningfully outside of the office. Create a checklist outlining the key elements they need to be successful.
  • Safety: Particularly in the context of COVID-19, prioritize employee health, safety, and wellness in a virtual work environment. Does your team know what they need to "shelter in place?"
  • Cybersecurity: The COVID-19 crisis and sudden need for universal remote work have quickly exposed some core issues around digital risk management. Companies need to shore up remote work-from-home processes as it relates to securing company information and consumer data. Have you established the capabilities for a comprehensive and secure remote work action plan?
  • Expectations: Working from home is likely new to many team members. Take time to review expectations on ways of working and how team members should be spending their days.
  • Output: Are there new expectations in terms of quality, customer service levels, or effectiveness? Do your team members know what they are, and are you able to monitor them in a timely way?

Remote work is equally disruptive to leaders’ tools, behaviors, and ways of working. Once you’ve evaluated and addressed the above impacts, you should also consider the steps you can take to drive operational resilience:

  • Standardize workflows: Update your process flows to reflect changes to ways of working in a virtual environment.
  • Implement a Kanban board: Now that you are no longer physically co-located, implement tools so your team can track progress across the value stream.
  • Take part in Gemba Walks: Join customer meetings with your team members to “go see” the value stream in action. Be sure to take advantage of the video capabilities of your enterprise conferencing systems.
  • Implement tiered huddles: Implement tiered daily huddles across levels in the organization. Enforce discipline in the agenda to extract maximum value from a constrained amount of time.
  • Visualize performance levels: Using a visual performance board, share performance with the teams to manage and measure key performance metrics—and ensure the team stays on track.
  • Provide structured coaching: Increase the frequency of formal coaching to help team members adapt to new ways of working. Managers have an opportunity to partner with team members more intentionally to refine their career interests, ideas, and aspirations in the virtual workplace. Consider scheduling more regular “one-on-ones” or staff meetings to explore these topics.

COVID-19 turbulence can help employees strengthen their muscle for resilience, in turn, driving higher team performance. These same opportunities apply to an organization’s operations. As leaders address the new realities of remote work and seek to improve process resilience, they should critically evaluate both the people and structural-related influencers in their organizations today. More resilient processes will equip organizations to not only weather the current COVID-19 headwinds, but also emerge more durable post-pandemic.