“Immune Organizations” Can Bear Interruptions: Analysis
There is this immortal verse in JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings to describe the almighty Ring, which has the power to destroy the greatest known evil, Sauron, the Lord of Mordor: “In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows are / One Ring to rule them all / One Ring to find them / One Ring to bring them all, and bind them in the dark. ”
The coronavirus disease pandemic (Covid-19) unfolds around us in all its destructive horror as the world races to find the One Ring that can destroy it: a vaccine. The correct vaccine is expected to provide immunity by triggering the creation of the correct antibodies against a future outbreak.
But what if Covid-19 was a vaccine, and today’s organizations and societies could learn from it to build the antibodies they need to gain immunity against future disruptive calamities? If vaccine technology can help a human body become immune with inoculation of “weak” pathogens, then it is conceivable that we can take the same approach for our companies. Could we use and apply the learnings from this disruption and leverage technology and design to build an “Immune Organization” that is resilient to future shocks? So when the next big disruption arrives (perhaps triggered by global warming, for example), it may not prevent a complete business disruption, but it could help the world stand up much faster if the right antibodies were developed. Like Gandalf, Gray says in The Lord of the Rings: “The burned hand teaches best.”
I have identified seven of those “antibodies” that an organization can develop.
One, the decentralization of work. Decentralization resists interruption much better than centralization. Take work, for example, where working from home, and indeed anywhere, has saved the day for many companies. Decentralized kirana stores perform better than shopping malls, a decentralized concert economy like food delivery and e-commerce has kept many countries going. To survive future disruptions, companies must decentralize their operations.
Two, reimagining business models. Companies with purely digital models have won; those with the purely physical have stopped. Not all companies can be fully digitized, but companies will need to rework business models to digitize everything they can: build e-commerce, healthcare companies to develop telehealth, schools to build online education.
Three, building an ecosystem of association. Companies will need to build a robust and unconventional partner ecosystem. Witness the tying up of ITC Foods-Dominos, or the liquor companies that travel in Zomato and Swiggy.
Four, automation. Everything that can be automated must be. This will ensure business continuity and productivity, even when people cannot be there to do the job. It will also cut costs, unfortunately often at the expense of jobs. But automation is inevitable for companies and a powerful antibody to immunize a company.
Five, lifelong learning, multiple jobs. The future of work has been rapidly advanced by the virus. Working from anywhere is an indication of that. The other is that employees will need to re-develop skills to stay relevant. Also, employees can have multiple jobs, so if one leaves, the other survives. Companies will be much more tolerant of this, and the distinction between permanent and temporary employees will disappear. Lifelong learning, not permanent work, will be the norm.
Six, reimagining customer travel. Covid-19 has changed the customer journey, with social distancing, sanitation, and work from home becoming the norm. This will mean that each company will have to adjust its business for this new customer journey, and a test of the future.
Seven, mentality and cultural transformation. This is the most formidable, the Gandalf Antibody. While cultural and organizational changes sometimes move in glacial and geological time frames, a cataclysmic event like a pandemic can change mindsets and cultures almost instantly. All other antibodies require that this more potent one be developed first. Once created and internalized, it is much easier to build others and develop a high degree of organizational immunity. For example, CEOs have had an instant change of heart in a previous anathema, working from anywhere. The pandemic has also forced delegation, and authority has shifted to customer-facing roles.
One of the great paradoxes of this pandemic is that it has slowed down the world, but at the same time has accelerated change. It is not the easiest time to live. But we must make the most of it; We need to capture this change, learn from it, and immunize ourselves against future shock.
“I wish it hadn’t happened in my time,” said Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings. “Me too,” said Gandalf, the Gray, “and also all those who live to see those times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time it gives us. “
Jaspreet Bindra’s latest book, a short read called The Immune Organization, recently published on Kindle. He is also the author of The Tech Whisperer, and is an expert in technology and digital transformation.
The opinions expressed are personal.