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5 Ways Entrepreneurial Companies Can Prep For The Next Crises

5 Ways Entrepreneurial Companies Can Prep For The Next Crises
Author Name: Karen Jaw-Madson- Columbia Business School
Date: Aug 13 2020
Category: Innovation, Strategy

Entrepreneurial companies can prepare and rise to the challenge by following these 5 To Do's.


In the midst of a crisis, a business believes all it can do is triage and manage what’s necessary to survive. Not true. But many entrepreneurial companies are already accustomed to operating this way. The “fly by the seat of your pants” makes for a nimble response. However, this strength is also why they are especially vulnerable. They sometimes lack the foresight to plan ahead and set up strategies and infrastructure—not just for the long-term, but for the “what ifs.” Without some discipline of this persuasion, an entrepreneurial company can be caught unprepared to rise to a challenge, no matter how scrappy they might be. 


Recent events have demonstrated that the timing of such challenges is unpredictable. An economic downturn, socio-political change, and the Covid-19 global pandemic are happening all at the same time. That's on top of all these other threats that happen on regular basis (natural disasters, cyber attacks, war, etc.). Now is the time for companies to strategically address the current crises while preparing for the next, however they might arise. Here’s a list of 5 To Do’s that will do both, some of which may be surprising. 


...culture can be a big differentiator, the asset that elevates an organization and accelerates business results.


Culture the culture. This is the first thing to focus on, or nothing else will ever fully work. A company culture devolving toward toxicity could actually derail a business, either by a thousand tiny cuts or in one big devastating blowup. In contrast, culture can be a big differentiator, the asset that elevates an organization and accelerates business results. Culture is both pervasive and essential—it is in every part of an organization and determines how work is done. It is what bonds or divides employees, the very ones that need to be aligned, coordinated, and managed toward a common cause. 


The external turmoil of late has no doubt impacted company culture. Begin or renew efforts to intentionally manage the company’s culture as a business asset and a source of stability. Design of Work Experience (DOWE) provides the comprehensive step-by-step “how to” for company culture and employee experience as laid out in Culture Your Culture: Innovating Experiences @ Work. 


Illustration of how Capability, Engagement, Design, Change relate to building culture.


Design of Work Experience (DOWE) provides the comprehensive step-by-step “how-to” for company culture and employee experience.


CREDIT: SOURCE: CULTURE YOUR CULTURE: INNOVATING EXPERIENCES @ WORK


Optimize Talent. Crises force the need to acquire, develop and leverage organizational capabilities in unprecedented ways. These are the things a company does well that have genuine business impact. Sadly, in the effort to cut costs, many companies have already laid off top talent—who, as an entire group, might represent the shedding of a business’ core competencies if they haven’t been strategic about it. This doesn’t serve a company’s viability in the long-term. 


At this moment, organizations should be taking stock of their core capabilities and whether/how that differs from what their business needs to be competitive.


At this moment, organizations should be taking stock of their core capabilities and whether/how that differs from what their business needs to be competitive. The next step is two-pronged: a) determine whether to hire, develop, or outsource each specific capability gap, and b) ensure remaining in-house talent remains evergreen with learning and development. Working from home is actually conducive to the latter—replace canceled initiatives and projects with capability building and learning opportunities. These need not be expensive.


Truly prepare on a continuous basis. What if entire groups of employees couldn’t work—even temporarily? Walkouts, natural disasters, cyberattacks, illness, or any number of other tragic scenarios could shut down a business overnight or force undesirable choices. How unprepared are most organizations for the unexpected? Preparedness is not an end result, but an ongoing constant state that must be maintained. What to prepare depends on the specific company, but may include topics such as: 


  • a process for rapid policy changes
  • protocols for emergencies
  • alternative revenue channels to replace losses
  • planned pivots for current offerings
  • communication strategies and plans
  • infrastructure and technology requirements
  • new people-centered designs for employee experience
  • change management plans 



Preparedness is not an end result, but an ongoing constant state that must be maintained


There are examples of preparations that begin with the current crises. Leaders at JLL Corporate Solutions business recently mapped out their Covid-19 Corporate Journey which leads to what they call “the next normal.” 


A company must know what it will take to minimize the negative effects of a recession.


Recession proof the business. The terminology here is intended as a verb. A company must know what it will take to minimize the negative effects of a recession and perhaps even thrive in the midst of one. Doing this requires thinking outside the quarter-to-quarter mentality, and even looking beyond the tenure of individual leaders. Strategies might include shoring up product pipelines, securing cash reserves (and other liquid assets) at the ready, cultivating multiple/alternate revenue streams, nurturing potential partnerships, etc


The bottom line is this: it’s not the time to scale down activities and wait for crises to pass, this is the time to stabilize and prepare.


Innovate. To do this, two things need to happen. Acquire the know-how to innovate (as an organizational capability) and actually deliver innovation with impact. The capability to innovate comes with other cultural benefits: creativity, flexibility in mind and action, resiliency when it comes to change, and learning agility. All are really helpful when it comes to dealing with business threats. 


Being able to innovate out of a pandemic, for example, is a company’s path to remaining both sustainable and relevant. 

Most companies don’t really want to innovate for innovation’s sake and fall into the “before their time” trap. Innovation without adoption doesn’t actually build business or change the world. Being able to innovate out of a pandemic, for example, is a company’s path to remaining both sustainable and relevant. 

The bottom line is this: it’s not the time to scale down activities and wait for crises to pass, this is the time to stabilize and prepare. If a business can manage to survive this one, make sure it doesn’t fall short for the next crises. Or there won’t be a next time. 


CREDIT: KAREN JAW-MADSON

Karen Jaw-Madson is principal of Co.-Design of Work Experience, author of Culture Your Culture, founder of Future of Work platform A New HR, and instructor at Stanford University’s Continuing Studies.


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