‘Immune organisations’ can withstand disruptions
Decentralise; re-imagine businesses; build partnerships; automate; and place premium on lifelong learningUpdated: Jun 03, 2020 18:38 IST
There is this immortal verse in JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings to describe the all-powerful Ring, which has the power to destroy the biggest known evil, Sauron, the Lord of Mordor: “In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie/ One Ring to rule them all/ One Ring to find them/ One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.”
The coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic is unfolding around us in all its destructive horror as the world races to find the One Ring which can destroy it — a vaccine. The right vaccine, it is hoped, will grant immunity by triggering the creation of the right antibodies against a future outbreak.
But what if Covid-19 itself was a vaccine, and the organisations and societies of today could learn from it to build the antibodies they need to garner immunity against future disruptive calamities? If vaccine technology can help a human body become immune with an inoculation of “weak” pathogens, then it is conceivable that we can adopt the same approach for our companies. Could we use and apply the learnings of this disruption and leverage technology and design to build an “Immune Organisation”, which is resilient to future shocks? So, when the next big disruption (perhaps triggered by global warming, for instance) comes, it may not prevent a complete business interruption, but could help the world get on its feet much faster if the right antibodies were developed. As Gandalf, the Grey says in the Lord of the Rings, “The burned hand teaches best.”
I have identified seven such “antibodies” which an organisation can develop.
One, the decentralisation of work. Decentralisation resists disruption much better than centralisation. Take work for example, where working from home, and in fact anywhere, has saved the day for many companies. Decentralised kirana stores perform better than malls, a decentralised gig-economy such as food-delivery and e-commerce has kept many countries running. To survive future disruption, companies need to decentralise their operations.
Two, re-imagining business models. Businesses with purely digital models have gained; those with purely physical ones have ground to a halt. Not all businesses can be totally digitised, but companies will need to rework business models to digitise whatever they can — build e-commerce, health companies to develop tele-health, schools to build online education.
Three, building a partnership ecosystem. Companies will need to build a strong, unconventional partner ecosystem. Witness the ITC Foods-Dominos tie-up, or liquor companies riding on Zomato and Swiggy.
Four, automation. Everything that can be automated needs to be. This will ensure business continuity and productivity, even when people cannot be there to do the work. It will also cut costs, unfortunately often at the cost of jobs. But automation is inevitable for companies and a powerful antibody to immunise a company.
Five, lifelong learning, multiple jobs. The future of work has been fast-forwarded by the virus. Work from anywhere is one indication of that. The other is that employees will need to continuously re-skill to stay relevant. Additionally, employees may hold multiple jobs, so that if one goes, the other survives. Companies will be far more tolerant of this, and the permanent-temporary employee distinction will disappear. Lifelong learning, not lifelong jobs, will be the norm.
Six, re-imagining customer journeys. Covid-19 has change the customer journey, with social distancing, sanitisation and work-from-home becoming the norm. This will mean that every company will have to tweak its business for this new customer journey, and future proof itself.
Seven, mindset and cultural transformation. This is the most formidable, the Gandalf of antibodies. While culture and organisation changes move sometimes in glacial, geological time frames, a cataclysmic event such as a pandemic can change mindsets and cultures almost instantly. All the other antibodies require this most potent one to be developed first. Once created and internalised, it is so much easier to build the others, and develop a high degree of organisational immunity. For example, CEOs have had an instant change of heart on a previous anathema, working from anywhere. The pandemic has also forced delegation, and authority has moved down to the customer-facing roles.
One of the great paradoxes of this pandemic is that it has slowed the world down, but simultaneously accelerated change. It is not the easiest of times to live in. But we need to make the most of it; we need to grasp this change, learn from it, and immunise ourselves against future shock.
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo Baggins in the Lord of the Rings. “So do I,” said Gandalf, the Grey, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
Jaspreet Bindra’s latest book, a short read called The Immune Organisation released recently on Kindle. He has also authored The Tech Whisperer, and is a digital transformation and technology expert
The views expressed are personal