Resilience in Business: How to Use Change as a Competitive Advantage
October 20 2020 • 3 min read
The COVID-19 crisis has tested our ability to navigate change in new ways. It has also presented a choice: collapse under pressure or embrace the opportunity to evolve. As many companies face mass layoffs and organizational failure during this time, others stand strong through the storm. So what separates the survivors? Resilience through times of change, for one.
Change itself isn’t good or bad. It simply exists. Business leaders and public accounting firms can allow change to devastate their organizations. Or they can harness it to reinvent a stronger and more resilient workforce. The key to finding success in the wake of adversity is to shift from reacting to reimagining.
What is resilience in business?
Resilience is the ability to recover from setbacks, adapt to change, and move forward through trying times. Many organizations have settled into plans based on stable, unchanging, and predictable conditions. This poses a problem, especially during crises, for firms that rely on stability to survive and thrive because resilience deals with the unknown, unpredictable, and improbable. Risk and instability.
How to build a more resilient firm
It’s not always easy to look past immediate circumstances. Our brains are biased toward the present, seeking opportunities for short-term gain and instant gratification. For example, companies that lay off hundreds or thousands of employees as a reaction to the coronavirus crisis may see an increase in short-term financial security. But at what long-term cost? After the near-immediate recession, the economy will inevitably rebound as consumer confidence recovers. And those companies will face colossal re-hiring and re-training costs.
Ultimately, present bias is not conducive to building resilience. It’s imperative to look forward and consider the cold hard facts (including the less favorable ones) to create lasting business resilience. Here are four ways you can begin to build a more resilient firm now—and for the future.
Be ruthlessly adaptable and flexible
In business, the ability to seamlessly adapt to new circumstances is gold. Through trial and error, organizations can adapt to meet changing circumstances with less impact. A willingness to test new processes, ideas, and methods expand an organization’s flexibility and resistance to significant setbacks. In the Harvard Business Review, author Martin Reeves and business strategist Kevin Whitaker explain that “Processes and structures in adaptive organizations are designed for flexibility and learning rather than stability and minimal variance.” The key takeaway: organizations that practice flexibility are better equipped for the inevitable arrival of change.
Take advantage of digital platforms
Firms can increase their resilience by adopting new technologies, such as digital-first platforms like Makosi. By expanding their resource ecosystem, organizations gain access to capabilities and resources that reduce their reliance on a fixed system. Doing so allows for more collaboration and flexibility when the unexpected surfaces.
The use of technology also allows for more response diversity. If one method fails to meet a changing market’s demands, firms can tap into another system. For example, the public accounting industry faces increasing challenges when it comes to hiring and retaining top talent. Instead of relying on traditional recruiting processes, Makosi connects public accounting firms with a global pool of audit professionals. Likewise, instead of re-hiring and re-training their workforce after the pandemic, companies can look to digital platforms to recruit part-time and project-based talent.
But embracing new technologies and systems isn’t enough. In business, resilience depends on different perspectives that can come with a diverse workforce. By leveraging a global workforce, firms gain access to talent with different backgrounds, cognitive abilities, and ways of thinking and doing. Diverse organizations are inherently more resilient because they have more eyes that can produce a broader spectrum of solutions and reactions to challenging situations.
Responding to a crisis like COVID-19 can appear extremely reactive and operational. But over time, new needs and ways of thinking emerge. Competitors who fail to look forward will vanish and make way for new opportunities. Leaders can also leverage times of change to extend their organization’s focus forward and accelerate long-term change.
The bottom line? Resilient businesses don’t strive to return to old ways. Nor do they hole up and wait for “business as usual” to resume. They take action and use change as a catalyst to iterate on outdated processes, create better outcomes, and adapt to new realities.
Change as the default
Resilience is not about pivoting under extreme pressure or reacting to unprecedented circumstances. Resilience is about implementing systems based on one infallible certainty: change. There’s no debate that we are living in unprecedented times. But crisis or not, the future is uncertain. Firms that embrace change and build resilience will stand apart and recover faster.