Two ways to boost organizational resilience

Flatten hierarchies and hire specialists to make your company flexible

Learn the top ways to get started boosting your organizational resilience.

Business leaders recognize the need to make their organizations more resilient. But converting organizational resilience from a buzzword to an actionable plan is more complex than it may seem.

First, you need to hire the right people possessing the necessary skills. According to a recent ESI ThoughtLab and ServiceNow survey of more than 1,000 business leaders in 13 countries, a third of respondents said they are hiring specialized candidates or creating entirely new roles and teams to increase organizational resilience.

What are resilience roles?

Some organizations are looking to fill specific business continuity positions, such as disaster recovery and crisis management, as well as hire a chief risk officer, while others, looking beyond traditional risk management job titles, are hiring auxiliary or remote teams that can respond immediately to an unforeseen negative event, such as a pandemic, fire, or natural disaster.

Companies seeking to bolster their resilience should hire specialists in business continuity, information security, IT disaster recovery, crisis management, physical security, and operational risk management, according to the Mackenzie Institute, a Toronto-based, public-policy think tank.

Leaders are also creating greater resilience by flattening their traditionally vertical hierarchies, to empower employees to move quickly to deal with crises.

One of the realities of the pandemic is that people are getting sick for an extended period of time.

For Dean Robison, senior vice president of global technical support at ServiceNow, one of the pandemic’s major business challenges was the length of time people were unable to work due to illness.

“One of the realities of the pandemic is that people are getting sick for an extended period of time,” says Robison. “Not just a day, but sometimes several weeks or longer. There was a period of time in the spring when I lost a tremendous amount of capacity.”

The solution, he says, was creating rapid-response teams of experts that can step in if employees start getting sick or in case of a natural disaster.

“We’ve got 15 of these folks ramping and onboarding at any given time,” Robison says, “to deal with unexpected reductions.”

Going forward, he says filling these roles, which he describes as “must-have,” will be paramount to an organization’s success.

Flattening the org chart

Juan Montes, an associate professor of business at Boston College who specializes in organizational theory, says executives need to think beyond hiring plans when strategizing for the future. He says that in a time when emergencies come one after the other, it’s important to build an organization that sets its people up for success.

Most businesses function according to simple rules and heuristics until something goes wrong. “The benefit of routines is that they are very efficient when things are normal,” he says. “But the question is: Is that enough for our current time? When you arrive at unexpected ground, the natural response is paralysis.”

To avoid that, Montes says, allow employees the autonomy to make critical decisions on their own.

“When you think about an organization that is very good at command and control—that is very vertical—they’re assuming everything is fixed: roles are fixed, the future is fixed, the culture is fixed,” he says. “But cultures that are built on the success of past routines are very weak when they confront a new environment in which these routines no longer apply.”

Montes compares vertical and horizontal organizations to traditional armies versus guerrilla fighters. “Guerrillas make split-second decisions on the front lines,” he says. “They are more nimble than traditional armies, so they have an advantage.”

During the chaotic early months of the pandemic, he says, healthcare providers that were saddled with rigid structures that stifled individual decision-making were less able to pivot quickly to new treatments or new modalities of care.

“Those that succeeded in terms of their strategic responses [to the pandemic] allowed people to make decisions at a very local level. They could adapt and thrive.