One of the lessons already emerging from this crisis is that organisations – even some very big ones – would benefit from greater resilience to cushion them against shocks. The fact that government intervention and support has been needed on such a massive scale is testament to that.
Resilience might mean higher reserves on balance sheets, just as it did for the banks post financial crisis. Resilience might equally mean more robust supply chains. It may mean more concern for the national security of supplies of energy, food and other products. There are real questions about whether just-in-time delivery is sustainable, in the sense that it has proven insufficiently shock-resistant to withstand the kind of impacts we are seeing.
But what about the people who are the lifeblood of organisations? We know that the ’run faster, jump higher, work longer’ approach to managing people has its limits. It is conceivable that we had reached, and in some cases already surpassed, these before this began. It may therefore be a good time to move from talking about work life balance, to talk instead about life work balance.
To avoid speaking about resilience only in the abstract we need to think properly about - and understand - what resilience means.
A sponge is resilient. Fill it with water, squeeze it hard, and it springs back into shape quickly, ready to be filled with water again. It is possible to do this often, and the sponge remains resilient. But no matter how often the sponge is filled with water, no matter how often it is squeezed out and refilled, its capacity does not increase. In order to hold more water, we need a bigger sponge.
So, a hard question arises. If organisational resilience means more reserves, higher stock holdings, more robust supply chains, is it a given that the way to fund this is to cut the workforce? There is a place for increased efficiency, better systems and processes, faster adoption of digital transformation, of course. But those measures will work best alongside a business model and method thatensures a workforce is genuinely resilient, happy in its work, supported by good technology, and populated by people who know they are valued and respected.
The evidence of that value will not only be found in financial rewards or the small print of employees’ terms and conditions. It is my assessment that employers who demonstrate that they care, who plan to have enough people to do the work that needs to be done, coupled with an approach to staff resourcing that builds in the ability to flex in times of additional pressure, are the ones most likely to flourish in the emergent world.
That should go some way towards ensuring greater resilience not only for businesses and other organisations, but the people who are their lifeblood.
Written by Paul Gray, Consulting Partner
16 April 2020