Explainers

Why Organizational Slack Is Crucial for Long-Term Resilience

To survive this prolonged period of psychological, physical, and financial stress, organizations must rebuild reserves and reduce complexity.

Back in March, when companies went remote overnight, most thought it would last a month, maybe two. People talked about “the great pause,” and were even excited about the flexibility of working virtually.

Five months later, there’s no clear end in sight. Companies that treated their COVID response like a fire-drill are now facing burnout at alarming rates, and teams are exhausted by the extended pandemic workday. We’re at risk of dialing back decades of progress for women in the workplace, and the sustained impact of the COVID-19 recession is still impossible to predict.

In other words, we’ve created more fragility within our organizations when really we needed to be creating flexibility. If we’re going to survive this prolonged period of psychological, physical, and financial stress—and the unexpected hurdles still to come—we must create slack within our organizations. (And, being that it’s 2020, there will be more to come.) To add slack:

  • Build a reserve of resources. While the best way to build resilience is to store away reserves before a crisis, you can start rebuilding a “resilience bank account” at any time. Prioritize financial reserves if possible, but also consider any merchandise or equipment that you may be able to gather now for use (or sale) later. 
  • Budget extra time for everything you do. Humans are notoriously terrible at predicting how long a task will take to complete. Give yourself buffers before and after meetings. Anticipate projects will take twice as long to complete, and bake in that extra time while you’re planning. If you finish something early, great! Take a few breaths. Give yourself and your team time to recuperate instead of loading on more work.
  • Reduce the complexity of processes and decision making. Decentralizing authority within your organization allows for greater flexibility and helps prevent bottlenecks that arise when one person holds the decision-making power. Trust that you’ve hired the right people, and let them do their best work.
  • Create a culture of openness that values varying perspectives. While it may seem like the time to double down on providing direction as a leader, it’s actually more important to listen openly to the needs of your employees. You need to be willing to question the existing situation within your organization, allowing new solutions to emerge from the people closest to the work.
  • Stay compassionate. Particularly if you’re cool under pressure, you may find yourself judging others who are struggling. But showing contempt will only make the situation worse—instead, practice empathy and find ways to support them.
Published August 24, 2020

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