Certain words tend to get thrown around a lot during moments of crisis. “Agile.” “Resilient.” “Adapt.” “Pivot.”
Leaders often have an engrained desire to turn challenges into opportunity, and they latch onto these words as a way to articulate a vision for the future, and motivate their teams through a difficult period. During VUCA events these visionary leaders are more important than ever, and their ingenuity will be what gets us through the COVID-19 emergency. But we have to admit that in times like these, words don’t really cut it. The words we use need to be backed up with action – and that can only come from a strong understanding of what we actually mean when we praise the qualities of “resilient leadership” and “agile businesses.”
What does it mean to be a resilient leader? What does that leader do – what qualities do they possess? How do you actually go about making your team or your company agile? Read on for our thoughts on harnessing the power of RESILIENCY and AGILITY during challenge periods, and more importantly – how to turn those words into action.
Resiliency is the ability to absorb and process disruptions, challenges, or new information – and modulate your response to the event so that recovery is quick and seamless. The key to this is having systems in place that won’t get overwhelmed by difficulties, so that all energies can be directed to an effective response. A resilient leader knows that challenges will arise, but they plan and expect to recover – and recover to an even better state than before.
It’s important to remember that resiliency starts with perspective – and you can’t maintain a positive, forward-looking perspective if you or your team is in a bad place mentally. Prioritize well-being, and check in often with your team. Continually question the way you measure performance and efficiency, remembering that in times of crisis old models may no longer make sense. Your team will be best placed to tackle the challenges at hand with a leader who understand the importance of self-care and flexibility at all levels.
- The first step to building a resilient organization is conducting a SWOT. This will present a clear picture of your resources and systems, where those systems are vulnerable, and where you have opportunities to improve (or even expand) in times of stress. Crises have a way of bringing to the forefront issues and risks that are easy to ignore during good times. A VUCA-event focused SWOT and environmental scan can substantially cut down on your react and recover time by ensuring that you’re not flying blind while your vulnerabilities are most exposed.
- Alongside a SWOT, create a plan for strategic readiness informed by known and anticipated environmental factors – focusing on financial, operational, and talent readiness. Explore best- and worst-case scenarios, asking yourself the vital question – what about your business would you change, and what would you keep the same, in any of these anticipated scenarios? Winston Churchill said to “never waste a good crisis.” With that in mind, it’s vital that organizations use crises as an opportunity to recover well. A company that never addresses its vulnerabilities will remain just as fragile during the next crisis.
If resiliency is all about a strong recovery, agility is about being able to quickly and easily take the type of actions that will facilitate that recovery – whether redirecting resources, making personnel changes, or introducing new products to the market. An organization that sits on decisions forever, or is afraid to make a decision based on anxiety about unknown factors, is not an agile organization. Agility is reliant on the ability to quickly seek out information that will inform your choices – but it’s also an awareness that sometimes you need to act even when you don’t know the full picture. When you see large, established firms lose market share to rapid-fire startups – that’s agility in action.
- If you are responsible for making decisions for a team or organization, you will need trusted voices to help guide you through the options and provide support in making fast calls. A “rapid response” team (however this looks in your organization, whether a strategic planning group, board of directors, or mentoring group) should provide the institutional support to help you process the available data and make tough decisions. Agile leaders can’t operate in a vacuum – they need a way to introduce confidence and objectivity to the decision-making process.
- Another word for agility is “nimble” – as in “nimble product development.” This is a process of quickly introducing new products to your market without being tethered to clunky or inefficient internal processes, and making iterative improvements as you receive feedback. It could be pushing out a needed product in a beta stage, or providing new resources during VUCA events. During times of uncertainty, it’s extremely difficult to predict how the markets, your clients or competitors will behave. The goal is to remain engaged and responsive, even when the future is cloudy. Through testing and forging new paths, hopefully even quicker than your competition, you will be in a position to exit the VUCA event with more strength, more versatility, and a larger network.
It’s not too late to harness the power of these buzzwords. Knee-deep in one of the most uncertain business climates of our generation, leaders are rising to the challenge and making daily adjustments that will ensure a more robust future for their organizations. Keep in mind that resiliency and agility aren’t inborn traits – they can be learned, practiced and implemented in good times and bad. Think about how you can utilize some of these actions to build a more resilient and agile team in the midst of these incredibly turbulent times.
Success Labs is a leadership development and management consulting firm in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. For more than 25 years, our expert team of consultants has worked with hundreds of companies to grow leaders, build teams and drive results through great people strategy. Contact us to get proactive about expanding your company’s potential.