Adaptability is key to survival, whether we’re talking about organisms or organizations. For organisms, the strategy is simply to survive, but organizations, regardless of the industry, size, or location, have an additional objective. That objective may be profitability, service, entertainment, or some other value. But regardless of the mission, all organizations must adapt to continuous change to thrive.
Unlike simple organisms, organizations are composed of individuals who also have their own individual objectives and survival strategies. As a result, organizations develop rules and strategies that govern how employees and stakeholders interact with each other, and with suppliers and customers. These rules and strategies undergo continuous change as the organizations strive to adapt to new challenges quickly while staying true to their objectives.
Adaptability Builds the Present from What Existed in the Past
While it may seem like the present is among the most challenging periods in history, the need to change quickly and successfully has always existed. People and organizations don’t try to reinvent the wheel whenever they face a new challenge because it’s too time consuming to start with a blank slate every day. Rather than help them survive, such a strategy would doom the organization to failure. Instead, companies and organizations look for innovative technologies and methodologies to build on their existing frameworks to help them adapt as necessary. One example is the electric car. Cars are not new, but the switch from combustion engines to hybrid to all electric vehicles shows the industry adapting to changes in fuel cell technology, fossil fuel availability, climate change and customer preferences. The automotive industry has taken an existing concept and adapted it for current times.
What We Can Learn from Soccer
Cesilio de los Santos, a former Uruguayan soccer player, researched this adaptation strategy as it relates to organized sports teams in soccer. He interviewed players, technical directors, coaches, and physicians from different leagues’ teams to understand how they were adapting to changes in society forced on them by the COVID pandemic.
Because the pandemic reached Mexico later than some other regions, the teams had time to study the responses in other countries and learn from their successes as well as their mistakes. Most teams didn’t have integrated, documented, tested, or approved plans to use in this scenario, yet they were able to anticipate the broad societal lockdowns that forced organized sports around the world to suspend play or play in isolation.
Lockdowns also affected training and player fitness. The boards of directors of the soccer teams asked their players to stay at home. They took steps to ensure their players could maintain their fitness levels by providing exercise machines and fitness bands to track their physical condition. Coaches and team physicians can monitor the players’ health, including sleep patterns, exercise, and diet, just as they had in the past using traditional methodologies. Some teams even broadcasted players’ workouts using apps such as Zoom, to keep the team spirit strong. This was clearly a successful adaptation to unexpected challenges. Teams used modern technologies and methods to ensure they continued to meet their core objectives.
Most Organizations Were Unprepared for the Necessary Changes
Most enterprises and industries have not fared as well. Many companies have contingency plans to protect computer systems, data centers and core infrastructure to support business continuity in the event of a disaster. Such disaster recovery (DR) plans are rarely audited or updated on a regular basis, and they are seldom audited by third-party experts. But these DR plans proved grossly inadequate for the wholesale disruption of operations and supply chains. Unlike automotive companies, very few industries require members of their supply chain to have formal, documented back-up plans.
Many organizations adapted to the crisis in ways like those the soccer teams used. They provided computers and data communications infrastructure so that many employees could work from home. They developed new policies for identifying essential services and personnel, and adapted existing guidelines for work hours, shifts, sick leave, travel, and face-to-face meetings with customers, suppliers and employees.
More industries and organizations are taking measures to reduce previously unseen risks and weaknesses exposed by current events. They are rapidly adopting the technologies and methods that enable them to stay in touch with employees and customers. Moving to the cloud because of high data availability, integration and accessibility is an example of a new guideline that companies are adopting to prevent business disruption. Despite the need for some “trial and error,” companies have enacted change at an unprecedented speed to survive, and they are taking the need for contingency plans very seriously.
The Future is Unpredictable
But a key point about change is that it’s impossible to know what the future holds, so it is equally impossible to have a contingency plan that works in every possible scenario. Adaptability and willingness to change are crucial to every organization’s survival.
In the world of soccer, teams are already developing a preparation plan for their activities to restart. They are limiting the number of players on the field during practice and following regulations issued by the Mexican Football Federation to help alleviate players’ fears of infection. The soccer teams foresee some risks in restarting. Risks range from viral infections to player injuries from the unorthodox training regimens and demands of play—especially given the league’s plan to include double game weeks in the upcoming season.
Plan for a Safe Adaptation
As global and local economies reopen, companies face similar situations and must determine how they will adapt. They must decide which employees will continue to work from home and which must go back to the office, how to enforce social distancing in the office to minimize the risk of spreading the virus, how to address the risks of commuting on public transportation, and even whether to reopen company cafeterias and break rooms. Companies need to create a detailed return-to-business plan that supports their employees’ health concerns, which may include such adaptations as restricting elevator usage, providing masks and antibacterial sanitizer liquids, or taking employees’ temperatures when they arrive to work.
It’s imperative for organizations to share the details of their reopening plans with each other, because it’s easy to overlook details when entering unknown territory. Companies have additional resources in local chambers of commerce, consultants and state or local health departments. Using all available resources can help ensure clear and comprehensive guidelines that address everything from changes in customer shopping habits to proper hygiene procedures.
To continue to support customers, it is essential to have a checklist that includes necessary start up concerns, including reviewing inventory status and supplier restocking plans, machine, wiring and electrical inspection system inspections and maintenance, and procedures for delivering urgent orders, and of course, doing whatever it takes to avoid infection.
As companies and nations talk of reopening, it is imperative that they analyze every known factor and have adaptation strategies for unforeseen challenges. If we have learned anything from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is the need for adaptability, collaboration and integration. Surviving the next major disruption will be closely tied to businesses’ ability to adapt.