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Business agility and resilience in the new world

The payoffs include greater productivity and earnings, studies show

A recent virtual roundtable with a group of senior technology executives from ServiceNow customers in several industry sectors explored competitive challenges and priorities the executives face as they strategically scale digital services. The discussion, moderated by Patricia Grant, ServiceNow’s vice president for IT strategy, planning and business operations, focused on resilience and agility, and Grant described a step-by-step approach to building those qualities in any organization.

The importance of organizational resilience in the COVID era

Companies that are agile and resilient — that is, those that respond quickly to market changes — are 40% to 50% faster to market and have 20% to 30% higher workforce productivity, one recent study showed. In crises, of course, is where agile and resilient companies can stand out even further to the upside.

During the global financial crisis of 2007–2008, resilient companies saw earnings grow, Grant told the group, by around 10%, while non-resilient industry peers suffered a 15% decline.

To successfully navigate the COVID-19 era, Grant told the group, leaders need to make difficult decisions and set a course that may not be the most popular,” she said. “But we need to act quickly and we need our teams to follow.”

The IT director of a global beverage company agreed. “We are seeing a level of use cases and experimental projects that is astounding compared to pre-COVID days,” the executive said, “and that is a hallmark of the new normal.”

[Read also: Operational resilience is the new C-suite KPI]

Three phases to agility and resilience

Grant presented research that suggests three phases — respond, transform, and reinvent — to achieving organizational resilience and agility.

1. Respond

This is all about focusing on employees and customers — the most important assets that you have.

Leveraging analytics and machine learning to understand your customer is critical, Grant said. “How do we take all those systems of record and start putting that data together and mine it?” she asked.

Prioritizing business continuity means fortifying your organization’s infrastructure, which means HR as well as IT, to build not only a more secure wall against attacks but also increase workforce resiliency and tend to employees’ needs. What are they saying on LinkedIn, Yelp, and Glassdoor about your company? Grant asked the executives. How are you responding to those?

“Business continuity is your company brand,” Grant said.

The vice president of IT analytics at a large digital supply-chain platform company related how the pandemic led the company to focus on employee satisfaction and “doing pulse surveys that ask if associates feel they have the tools to do their jobs properly.”

A senior IT leader from a global health services company told the group that, at the front end of the pandemic, as work-from-home and incident backlogs mounted, “we were very much in reaction mode. As the weeks went on, we began to pay a price,” in degradation of service and longer cycle times.

In response, the executive said, “we started solving the discrete problems, breaking down the sources of dissatisfaction, and we created a digital experience index among our coworkers.” The company also created drive-up, no-touch/low-touch services to get equipment in employees’ hands swiftly.

2. Transform

This is the digital transformation phase, Grant said. If you don’t quickly identify new opportunities to transform, or take advantage of a new product, opportunity, or channel that the pandemic presents, she said, the competition will. But making sound decisions requires ensuring that they’re informed and supported by data. Analytics also plays a vital role here.

In addition, don’t lose track of your organization’s communications and marketing functions, Grant advised the group of executives.

The vice president of IT strategy for a large waste and recycling services company told of how the company focused on the customer-facing parts of the transformation process, such as call resolution times and the speed of digital processes. “We’re also looking at our operations, and how to better use data toward digital transformation of, say, our waste and recycling routes,” the executive said.

3. Reinvent

This is about reinventing the future of work. Continuous investment is essential, but make sure that you have a strategy before you cut costs, Grant advised the executives. Likewise, understand the organization’s goals before setting a strategy in motion.

Grant asked the group to describe the biggest change their companies need to consider now.

An IT manager of a North American energy company spoke of a new focus, born of the remote-working revolution, on career planning and ensuring all employees have equal visibility for promotions and career opportunities. The candidate who is seen around the office every day, the manager noted, is going to have an advantage over the employee who is working from home.

The senior vice president of a pharmaceutical company said: “We’re focusing on what our workforce will look like post-COVID. We feel D&I will be set back by about a decade. We’re looking at knowledge academies, training, and our C-suite is asking, ‘How do we deliver an employee experience?’ because it’s a competitive differentiator.”

The senior vice president of a financial services company described creating a hybrid model for a workforce that has been trained on digital experiences but that also can benefit, at some point in the future, with face-to-face interactions — what the executive called “a best of both worlds” scenario.

Other considerations that Grant advised executives to keep in mind to build organizational resilience and agility include:

Rescaling employee resources. For internal ServiceNow CIO staff meetings, she said, in the future nearly everyone will have a virtual assistant or agent on our machines that helps them get work done.

Reinvigorating your human talent pipeline. “Where are those fresh ideas coming from, for chatbots, for ML, AI, analytics, predictive analytics?” Grant asked the group.

Experience is everything. Do the services you’re creating for employees and customers have the agility necessary to make each of their experiences great?

Great experiences lead to happier employees, Grant noted, and that leads to happier customers.