Shobhit Mathur

Shobhit Mathur

Executive Director | VIF

Building Anti-Fragile Organisations

This article was published in Silicon India.

Organizations globally are facing an existential crisis. A little understood virus that originated in China is spreading like wildfire and fatalities are mounting globally. The scientists are confused about its behavior, governments are exhausted in trying to contain the spread, businesses are unable to forecast the future and the people are frozen with the fear of death. Stock markets have crashed, countries have locked down while the death toll keeps mounting. There is no visible end in sight. This is the first pandemic of the digitally interconnected age, there is unlimited information flowing across the world, but little collaboration and a lot of confusion and mistrust. While the virus spreads, time is running out. Everyone is looking for credible leadership at all levels to guide them through this crisis – from global to local. Here are some methods on how to build an anti-fragile organization, which not just survives crises but comes out stronger.

Leadership alignment
When organisations are hit with a disruptive event, elaborate plans go out of the window. Rather than get paralyzed, it is time to be nimble and quickly adapt to changing scenarios. Constitute a small task force to take quick decisions. This team forecasts the scenarios and assesses the business impact. The meetings are short, all viewpoints are considered and quick clear decisions are taken. These decisions are relayed to team leads across the organization. Team leads are given autonomy to take micro-decisions in line with the larger strategy. Team-wise huddles happen on a daily basis until the external situation stabilizes. The culture of quick feedback and action loops makes the organization nimble in volatile situations.

Workforce readiness
Confidence building and technology training during peacetime ensure a ready workforce during wartime. Employees should be proactively trained to use technology and work in flexible work hours outside the office space. In a crisis, when the office space has to shut down due to external reasons, the employees can seamlessly shift to the online mode.

Long remote working hours might still result in boredom and a drop in productivity. It is important to ensure the team bonding sustains through regular virtual all-hands meetings. Times of crisis are disruptive not just for the organization but for the personal lives of the workforce as well. It is important for the top leadership to focus on spiritual wellness and trust-building in the work culture. A mentally secure and inspired team member is an asset during these times of stress. He helps calm others’ nerves and keeps the team morale high.

Stakeholder alignment
Any external shock could overwhelm the leadership and it is natural to lose sight of the external stakeholders. However, it is important to have external alignment with the decisions being taken within. Every organization has many stakeholders who have vested their trust in it. These include investors, customers, contractors, partners, etc. It is important to relay all decisions proactively and transparently to the impacted stakeholders. Building trust in these times helps in having their unflinching support later. The external situation would have impacted their organizations as well and they need to often choose whom to engage with going forward. An organization that has shown pro-active transparency and adaptability would most likely continue to have the support of its stakeholders.

Financial security
Usually, organizations optimize their cash flows and do not have liquidity when they need it. A single shock can ruin the business. Forecasted funding and cash flows may not materialize. Ensuring the financial security of the organization is of paramount importance. A financially stable organization ensures the continuity of the business and job security of the employees. When hit with an unforeseen crisis, it is important to quickly map out scenarios and their financial impact. It is time to adapt, change strategy and quickly put it into action. While learning from this crisis, it is important to ensure a 6-month cash buffer in the bank for managing future crises.

Think bold
So far the advice has been to prepare for and manage the crisis. However, the crisis could also open up opportunities that otherwise were not available. Organizations should keep an eye on the changing trends. For example, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has opened up the world of online education. Parents who had so far hesitated to try e-learning solutions have now begun to get comfortable with it. Businesses that are ready to scale up their offerings at this time might build a crucial edge over others. Overall, the crisis is also an opportunity for every organization to diversify and scale up in new domains. Anti-fragile organizations will manage future disruptions better than others.

We are now in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and uncertain) world. Going forward, with technology rapidly evolving and ecological imbalance in place, we are going to see severe disruptions more often. Each organization should develop anti-fragility in its business model and mentally in its leadership. The ones that have an inbuilt anti-fragility will be ones that get stronger with each crisis and lead the rest. Anti-fragility is part of organizational culture and starts with its leadership. The present crisis is a wake-up call, the time is now.