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Adaptability is the key for print buyers and suppliers

“Resilience” has been a popular topic of business books and articles in recent years. Not surprisingly, given the COVID-19 health and economic crisis, there’s a resurgence of interest in what being resilient means.

Resilience is the capacity of an organization to bounce back or absorb a disruption while retaining its basic structure and function (Resilience Thinking, by Brian Walker, David Salt). In a complex world, disruption is inevitable, so being able to absorb it is crucial.

However, many organizations respond to upheaval in a way that makes things worse, or at least doesn’t help—they focus on tightening control and becoming more efficient. We try to predict the future, based on the most recent crisis, then strengthen our structure and processes. 

But as Gen. Stanley McChrystal writes in Team of Teams, today’s world is complex, interdependent and rapidly changing. 

You can’t predict and plan for an infinite number of contingencies. Moreover, the typical hierarchical (efficiency based) organizational structure is too rigid and slow to react. A single leader or executive group can’t learn enough fast enough to tell everyone what to do in response to the complexity on the ground.

McChrystal urges building resilience, the key to which is adaptability. Instead of trying to build systems for responding to specific threats, accept that you’ll face unpredictable threats and build systems to roll with the punches. Create a network of teams that can instantly organize a response. For this to work, ensure that your teams constantly share information and collaborate across functions. 

Resilient systems not only withstand threats, they learn to benefit from them like immune systems.

Lessons for Print Buyers, Marketers and Suppliers

So what does this mean for print buyers and suppliers?

The professional services firm Deloitte notes there are three phases to a crisis: 

1) Response: Addressing the present and maintaining continuity. 

2) Recovery: Learning and becoming stronger

3) Thriving: Positioning for the “next normal.”

In the COVID-19 crisis, as marketers, buyers and suppliers move toward the recovery phase, think about ways to make your organization more adaptable, so you’re resilient to the inevitable future crises. Resist the urge to focus solely on efficiency—instead, think flexibility. This entails looking at both your organizational structure and your tools, including enterprise systems and software. 

How flexible are your people and tools? Can they organize and respond to any situation—for instance—quickly exploit a new market—without waiting for detailed instructions and approvals from the top? Can your staff work effectively from anywhere at any time? 

Do your culture and systems allow and demand radical collaboration, communication, and information sharing? How quickly do your systems allow you to realign all the pieces of a project or operation to adjust to changing needs and circumstances? 

How do your systems handle complexity? Do they show you the big interrelated picture, and also drill down to every detail? Do your systems constantly track and monitor operations and changes, alert you when you need to act, and show you the best options?

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