The COVID crisis has taught us that resilience is as important a factor as any for brands and businesses in the big picture. New Deloitte research explores how organizations have coped with the tumultuous events of 2020, and identifies 5 key traits that characterize a resilient company—traits business leaders can cultivate in order to build greater resilience into their own companies.
The firm’s newly released 2021 Resilience Report, based on a survey of 2,260 C-suite execs (CXOs) in 21 countries, confirms that organizations that plan and invest in anticipation of disruptions—whether on the scale of an isolated cyberattack or a full-blown health pandemic—are better positioned to respond, recover, and thrive. It validates the notion that acting early and advanced preparation matter, and offers proven lessons for increasing organizations’ viability.
As we move beyond 2020, rebuilding with resilience will become essential to businesses, as evidenced by Deloitte’s survey, which found that over 60 percent of global CXOs believe we could see occasional or regular disruptions of this scale going forward. However, less than a third of leaders feel completely confident that their organizations could quickly adapt and respond to future threats.
“Businesses have always faced disruption, but the challenges of the past twelve months have been uniquely unrelenting. The confluence of a global health pandemic, social and political unrest, and worsening climate events has presented organizations with tough choices, new ways of operating, and fundamental strategic shifts,” said Punit Renjen, Deloitte Global CEO, in a news release. “As we look to recover and rebuild, the road ahead is likely to be even more unpredictable. Organizations that plan and invest in anticipation of future disruptions will be better positioned to thrive.”
The characteristics of resilience
The research identifies five attributes of resilient organizations that serve as a strategic, operational, and cultural guidepost. Resilient organizations did not necessarily predict the events of 2020, but they withstood the immense pressures by enabling and promoting nimble strategies, nurturing adaptive cultures, and implementing and effectively using advanced technologies.
The survey suggests that organizations that deliberately build the following attributes into their operations and cultures are better positioned to overcome disruptions and help usher in a “better normal.” They are:
Successful CXOs plan for all outcomes, both short- and long-term. More than 85 percent of CXOs whose organizations successfully balanced addressing short- and long-term priorities felt they had pivoted very effectively to adapt to the events of 2020; fewer than half of organizations without that balance felt the same.
Leaders recognize the importance of having versatile employees, especially after a year like 2020. To that end, flexibility/adaptability was, by far, the workforce trait CXOs said was most critical to their organizations’ futures. Nearly three out of four respondents from organizations that had implemented actions to make their workforce more adaptable—such as by training or reskilling workers, implementing worker redeployment programs, or offering flexible working options—said their organizations are doing a good job at cultivating resilient cultures compared to just about half of organizations who didn’t have such programs in place.
CXOs indicated the importance of collaboration within their organizations, noting that it sped decision-making, mitigated risk, and led to more innovation. Two-thirds of respondents who said their companies removed silos in their organizations before the pandemic reported managing the events of 2020 better than their peers. Technology was a critical enabler of collaboration throughout the pandemic. Just 22 percent of surveyed CXOs said their organizations had the technologies needed to facilitate remote working before the pandemic. Forty-two percent developed and adopted these technologies out of necessity during the year.
CXOs understand the challenge of building trust with key stakeholders, yet many did not feel they had lived up to the task. More than a third of respondents were not confident their organizations had maintained trust between leaders and employees. In the context of the pandemic, physical, emotional, and digital trust were particularly important. Organizations that prioritized the physical safety of their employees and customers, the mental health and morale of their employees, and the security of their data weathered 2020 better than those who did not.
Most CXOs acknowledge that the business world has a responsibility beyond the bottom line. Eighty-seven percent of CXOs who said they have done very well at balancing all of their stakeholders’ needs felt that their organizations could quickly adapt and pivot in response to disruptive events. That is nearly 50 percentage points more than the proportion of CXOs who said the same at organizations that haven’t done well at balancing their stakeholders’ needs.
Going forward with resilience: climate change seen as top issue for business to tackle
Sometimes leaders don’t know their capabilities until they are put to the test. Case in point, before 2020, only 24 percent of CXOs felt completely ready to lead through potential disruptions, and only 21 percent felt completely confident their organizations could quickly adapt and pivot, if needed. In the midst of the pandemic, however, these numbers jumped to 34 percent and 30 percent, respectively, indicating that the events of 2020 have given some CXOs a confidence boost about their organizations’—and their own—resilience. Yet, that still leaves 66 percent of CXOs who don’t feel completely ready to lead and 70 percent who don’t have complete confidence in their organizations’ ability to pivot and adapt to disruptive events.
That is concerning considering that global CXOs made it clear that disruption is not going away: Three quarters say they believe the climate crisis is of similar or greater magnitude compared to the COVID-19 pandemic. CXOs ranked climate change as the top societal issue for business to tackle over the next decade (47 percent), followed by health care issues and disease prevention (42 percent), and gaps in education and training (39 percent).
“The scope of these threats accentuates the urgent need for leaders to embrace all stakeholders and put the advancement of society at the heart of business strategy,” said Michele Parmelee, Deloitte Global Deputy CEO and Chief People and Purpose Officer, in the release. “While change and disruption will be a way of life going forward, leaders who implement the building blocks of resilience now will be best positioned to thrive going forward.”
The Deloitte 2021 Resilience report is based on a survey of 2,260 C-level executives and senior public sector leaders, including CEOs/presidents, COOs, CFOs, CMOs, CIOs, and CTOs. The survey, conducted by KS&R Inc. in July–September 2020, polled respondents from 21 countries; 45% were from Europe/South Africa, 28% from the Americas and 27% from Asia Pacific. All major industry sectors were also represented in our sample. Additionally, KS&R and Deloitte conducted select one-on-one interviews with global industry leaders and academics.