Resilient organisations may be built by great leaders, but they are sustained by empowered employees and corporate cultures, where they are encouraged to be innovative and take measured risks. Such cultures aren’t easily forged. They require a willingness on the part of business leaders to invest in workforce development and to trust employees to make decisions that will benefit the business.
Research shows that companies which create strong corporate cultures and invest in developing their people have lower rates of attrition and higher rates of engagement. They are also more innovative, which arguably makes them more adaptable and resilient in the face of shifting industry trends. And according to research from management consultancy Aon Hewitt, it also makes them more profitable: a 5% increase in employee engagement translates into a 3% increase in revenue growth the following year.
Organisations that want to build resilience—broadly understood as the ability to react to crises, but also the ability to structure and run a company in a way that minimises its exposure to disruptions—through a more engaged workplace culture don’t have to tear down their corporate infrastructure and put every decision in the hands of their employees. But they would be well advised to invest in training, career planning and leadership development if they want to maintain a high-performing organisation.
A recent survey conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) on behalf of BSI shows that having well-trained staff and dynamic leadership are among the top three most important business factors (ahead of information security systems and company-wide governance) for achieving organisational resilience worldwide. This is especially true in larger organisations with more than US$500m in revenue, where 61% of executives rank these attributes as “very important”. Such commitment to people development is strongest in Europe and Asia-Pacific, where executives rank “having a well-trained staff” second only to “understanding customer needs” in achieving organisational resilience, whereas in the US it is ranked third.
Despite acknowledging the importance of workforce development, just over one in three (36%) executives say they are very satisfied with their current staff, suggesting they recognise there is room for improvement. This is probably driven by the global crunch for talent, which is putting increasing pressure on business leaders to assess their workplace culture and talent development programmes and to identify strategies that will keep high-performing employees engaged and focused on building the company of the future.
Make room for big ideas
There are many ways to cultivate engagement. Companies such as Booking.com argue that empowerment is key to driving engagement and innovation across the organisation. The online travel site attributes its ongoing success in large part to its entrepreneurial culture, where small teams are invited to make improvements to the site that are then tested based on whether they drive increased bookings. This entrepreneurial approach to decision-making enables the company to adapt more quickly to shifting trends, which has helped it stay ahead of its competition. Company leaders like to note that Booking.com offers three times as many non-traditional accommodations as sharing-economy giant Airbnb and that their booking process is faster and easier to use.
Other organisations rely on a combination of training, mentoring and challenges to drive innovative thinking across the workforce. Adobe, for example, has its Kickbox award, where any employee with a big idea receives US$1,000 (and a box of treats) to prototype, test and iterate their concept. To date 1,000 employees have submitted ideas, and 23 have received further investment from senior management. Similarly, the Innovista awards of Indian multinational Tata include a Dare to Try prize, which celebrates projects that failed as a way to encourage a culture of risk-taking and disruptive innovation. Such programmes help great ideas bubble to the surface, while driving engagement and excitement among employees who feel that they have an opportunity to be heard.
Other companies invest in elaborate talent development programmes, such as management consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton’s Tech Tank, a year-long learning and development programme for high-potential junior employees to develop the technical skills to move into hard-to-fill analytics roles. The programme includes training, mentoring, and “Shark Tank”-style opportunities [based on the US television reality show] for participants to pitch projects and work with senior staff.
These are just a few examples of how companies are using training and empowerment to create a more resilient organisation. While there is no single roadmap for building a culture where employees feel empowered to drive the business forward, if business leaders invest in talent development and seek out strategies that give their staff the chance to try new ideas and learn new skills, they are likely to be heading down the path to resilience. It takes trust and long-term commitment, but the payoff is clear: when dynamic leaders are supported by engaged and motivated employees, they are likely to be better prepared to weather disruptions that come their way.
About the Author:
Victoria is an editor for The Economist Intelligence Unit's thought leadership division in EMEA. She joined The Economist Group in 2013 and manages research projects across a range of topics including technology and education. She has previously worked within the company at The Economist Corporate Network in EMEA. Her responsibilities included researching, writing and editing business outlook reports and white papers on a range of business themes in emerging markets in Europe, Middle East and Africa.
Prior to joining The Economist Group, Victoria worked in consulting in France. She holds a Master of Science in Political Economy and a BSc in Economic History from the London School of Economics.