Diversity and Resilience: Returning to the Office
In these unprecedented times, resilience is a word that we’ve all been using a lot more recently. And quite right too. The ability of an organisation to anticipate, cope and adapt to events is an existential issue. The business world is littered with casualties who failed to foresee, understand and adjust their strategy and processes in light of changing circumstances – Blockbuster is the classic example, sticking with DVDs despite on-demand streaming on the horizon. However, I would argue that the challenges we are facing today (and, in fact, tomorrow) as a result of the global pandemic are far more fundamental to the way we operate and run our businesses. Raising our resilience and embedding it in our companies is not easy, so we must utilise everything in our armoury to have a fighting chance to be successful in the economic recession and new world order.
Every organisation will no doubt have a “lessons learnt” exercise once we return to some semblance of normality (if you don’t have one planned yet, do so now!). Most will focus on assessing how the company operated during the lockdown (“coping”), and I expect many will consider how they changed their processes (“adapt”). Few will think about how they foresee events (“anticipate”) – remember the next unforeseen event will not be the same as COVID19. To state the bleeding obvious – unforeseen events are, by definition…unforeseen!
To ultimately increase your organisation’s resilience, a comprehensive and cohesive assessment of all these three aspects is necessary, and here’s the key – you must include as many of your people as possible to ensure a diverse range of views and perspectives. If you limit your review, for example, to your Executive team, your assessment will be narrower and so weaker. So here’s how diversity can help.
The better we anticipate, the better we can prepare. Diverse perspectives will observe and identify greater number of scenarios i.e. better horizon scanning, and cognitive diversity will deliver different interpretations of the signals. This will facilitate the development of the appropriate mitigating actions to counter potential risks. Whilst it is impossible to spot all threats, a broader set of prepared action plans will be an invaluable resource in a crisis, albeit they are likely to be modified to fit the specific circumstances. In the current climate businesses should be anticipating their actions for a ‘second-wave’ of Covid-19, and the further impact this will have not only on their own activities but the wider economy.
Whether we anticipate the event or not, organisations need to cope when the crisis hits. There have been many studies which have clearly demonstrated diversity increases innovation, and that is absolutely what’s needed when new problems present themselves. Furthermore, an important stage before solving a problem is understanding it. Again, including more people with more diverse backgrounds (cultural, experiential & cognitive) increases the likelihood of interpreting the problem correctly. The crux of this is to ensure a collaborative and collective approach to developing the right coping mechanisms.
This is where reflecting from past experiences is critical – and the more experiences shared, the greater the learning. Diverse viewpoints aid the reflection process, introducing perspectives that perhaps most people have not considered (or ever will consider if not for the external stimuli). That “pause for thought” is fertile ground for creativity and learning. It also provides a platform for positive challenge that disrupts group-think. Both these factors significantly increase the chances of the adaptation proposals being more comprehensive and flexible to a greater number of differing events and/or crisis, because, quite simply, it has considered a wider range of circumstances.
This is not just my view. There has been academic research considering the role of diversity in organisational resilience. In fact, I have drawn heavily on the excellent paper by Stephanie Duchek, Sebastian Ratze and Ianina Scheuch (2020) which highlights the influence of diversity to enhance the three aspects of resilience as set out above.
As has been said so many times, the current pace of change is breadth-taking. But, more importantly, it is the scale, reach and impact of that change which is the real challenge. Organisations who want to survive and be successful in this dynamic environment must be resilient, and they can only do so ensuring that they consider their threats from many different perspectives. Now is also the time for organisations to demonstrate their commitment to Diversity and Inclusion when going ‘back to the office’ – in whatever form this may take. They should assess how they are approaching flexible working, and how they accommodate differing employee needs that arise at this time. These will be ongoing and changing so will need to be anticipated and adapted. Accordingly, the companies that thrive will be those that include all their people and understand the value of diversity. Harnessing the value it brings could the difference between surviving the recession or not.
Duchek, S., Raetze, S. & Scheuch, I. The role of diversity in organizational resilience: a theoretical framework. Bus Res 13, 387–423 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40685-019-0084-8
David Thorne is the Chair of The Equal Group – a company established to give organisations the tools and support to reap the advantages that comes from embracing diversity and inclusion. If you want to increase the engagement of your people, and understand how diversity & inclusion can help you become more resilient as well as more successful, please get in touch via https://theequalgroup.com/free-consultation/ . For more information, visit https://theequalgroup.com