Business Resilience - Entrepreneurial Magic Formula for Survival in the Crisis

October 23, 2023

How to make your company resilient in 5 steps

Especially in times like these, managers are well advised to work particularly on their (psychological) resilience in order to come through a crisis as unscathed as possible and, above all, capable of acting. However, the fact that leadership resilience alone is not enough for a company to get through a crisis safely is often forgotten. What is needed above all is business resilience, i.e. the resilience of the entire company.

Konrad Holleis, Head of Executive Education at the WU Executive Academy, and Vladimir Preveden, strategic consultant and (interim) manager of growth companies, analyze what distinguishes resilient companies, what role digital technologies play and whether it is still possible to achieve business resilience despite the crisis.

As a rule, crises announce themselves through lighter foreshocks, but all too often they catch their victims unprepared. Whether it's a financial crisis that shakes the markets or a virus that cripples the economy, an unparalleled energy crisis in Europe or galloping inflation that demands political action: "What such disruptions have in common is that they can assume unimaginable proportions with their exponential growth, penetrating power and speed of effectiveness. Companies must be able to cope with such unexpected circumstances and make decisions quickly, often with unclear assumptions, and adapt and sometimes realign," says Vladimir Preveden.

"What the Corona crisis shows above all is that it is not enough to focus on resilient leaders, as we have often done in recent years," says Konrad Holleis. This is an oversight, because: "The entire company must be considered in terms of its resilience: the organization, the structure, the products, the partnerships and cooperations. It is precisely during a crisis that a company's weak points become evident," says Holleis.

The exponential curve of disruption

Most companies were socialized in a world where the premise was linear growth. Disruptions, however, are not linear, but function exponentially.

Portrait Vladimir Preveden

Vladimir Preveden

  • Entrepreneur
  • author and strategic advisor

Following a hardly noticeable development in the initial stage, a disruption’s growth accelerates at a phenomenal pace. As we are used to thinking in linear ways, this can be hard to grasp and even harder to anticipate. By the way: this applies to financial crises as much as to global warming or preparing for a pandemic.

Companies can only weather such disruptions caused by external circumstances if they manage to deal with them swiftly, don’t get tangled up in their crisis response, and make resilience a central component of their strategy. The experts point out that by waiting for a crisis to make the necessary changes to be strong and resilient in the future, companies will have reacted too late. Preparations are necessary while business is still going smoothly: “Making this huge a transformation under intense time and financial pressure is an enormous challenge and all but impossible during a crisis,” Vladimir Preveden says.

Sheer cost-cutting measures – through staff reductions or selling off business segments – are a testament to a lack of vision: “Reducing costs and relying on loans, as many companies did during the global financial crisis of 2009, is not going to work anymore,” Holleis emphasizes.

symbolic pic for cost reduction during a crisis
Sheer cost reduction as a crisis strategy is no longer sufficient.

How to Make Your Company Resilient in 5 Steps

1. Liquidity as a Strong Foundation

Strategy: Resilient companies have capital reserves that help them get through a slump, for instance caused by an unexpected drop in revenues. “Maximum growth is not always the way to go; organic growth and a reduction of debt and costs are more advisable,” Preveden says. He points to three levers that can be pulled in order to build up capital reserves: “Firstly, stop earmarking capital reserves for the operative business and don’t pay out a surplus to shareholders through dividends. Instead, build reserves, for instance by investing on the financial market. Secondly, increase equity capital. Thirdly, work to reduce debt structurally and become a debt-free company which (mostly) finances itself.”

Operations: Optimize all cash-relevant processes. Manage cash inflows centrally and organize them according to time horizons. The same applies to cash spent. Resilient companies continuously optimize their investment plans, focusing on investments that yield maximum returns and avoiding less relevant investments.

2. Flexible Structures and Targeting New Markets

“Consumer habits are quick to change: right now, for instance, there is a preference for regional, digital, and contactless shopping,” Holleis says. Companies have to respond to consumer wishes without delay while simultaneously trying to act autonomously and independent of global markets by

  • slimming down headquarters and centralizing functions that operate in a highly effective way, take on management functions, lead the way in the company’s development, ensure in-house synergies, and act as catalysts for cross-functional platform innovations

  • offering highly efficient and cost-effective shared services

  • decentralizing supply chains that act more autonomously in key target markets in order to safeguard security of supply and the capability to generate revenues even when international borders are closed

  • guaranteeing supply for production

  • achieving real-time, centrally managed data sovereignty

  • planning fixed structures and capacities for maximum continuous usage instead of peak loads and enabling modular organization, through which overhead costs can be increased or decreased as needed

  • managing staff according to fields of work, self-organizing in “communities” (agile organization), and providing flexible work methods

Pic of an online shopper during crisis
Companies must be flexible to respond to changing consumer behavior, which is shifting to regional, digital and contactless. Photo © CC0 Licence

3. Opportunity-Embracing Business Models

  • Customers: design thinking to achieve customer-centric operations in order to be able to detect and address new and upcoming customer segments early (i.e. before the competition does)

  • Sales: strong digital sales structures, contactless in-store retail, focus on profitable customer segments (scrapping less profitable ones) while simultaneously reducing complexity across the entire supply chain

  • Customer support: centralized, digital, customer-centered service platforms for both customers and suppliers

  • Digitization: implementation of the digital enterprise across all divisions to improve efficiency

  • Staff: building know-how regarding new technologies (digital skills) and adapting job descriptions

  • Innovation: ambidexterity, i.e. a systematic approach to developing organic and disruptive innovations (both internally and externally)

4. Established Sense of Purpose

  • Has the company defined its business purpose and, if so, does it follow it in its day-to-day business? “Particularly if they want to appeal to the generations Z and Y, companies must act with integrity today,” says Vladimir Preveden.

  • Are diversity, sustainability, and environmental protection among the company’s core values?

  • Has it successfully positioned itself as an “employer of choice” for millennials?

symbolic pic for sustainable purpose
Nowadays, topics such as diversity, sustainability and environmental protection can no longer be ignored.

5. True Leadership

  • authenticity, empathy, transparency, and unambiguous, direct communication
  • vision, analytic skills, and the ability to think exponentially
  • fast decision-making through decentralized employee empowerment and a high degree of cross-functional collaboration
  • furthering high potentials and developing digital skills across the company

Which Role do Digital Technologies Play in Terms of Resilience?

“The current coronavirus crisis has not only forced companies to employ remote work solutions, which has resulted in a gigantic leap for digitization,” Vladimir Preveden says. “However, if you think that you can check off digitization because you have implemented remote work, think again,” Konrad Holleis adds. Digitization not only enables digital customer interfaces (sales, customer support) but also an increase in efficiency across the whole enterprise (centralizing data, process optimizations, cost reductions) and cross-functional collaboration platforms for staff (both in the office and at remote workplaces). It also gives rise to new business models, particularly ones which have incorporated disruptive innovations offered through start-ups.

Pic of a home office during crisis
Digitization does not end with the implementation of home office, but must encompass the entire company. Photo © CC0 Licence

What’s more, if digital technologies are meaningfully implemented throughout the entire company, long-established and run-of-the-mill ways of thinking and working often automatically disappear: “For this reason, digitization also contributes to a change of culture, allowing the business to move towards more agility, openness, and collaboration,” Preveden says. What’s also important: “New technological skills (data analysis, new technologies) as well as a good grasp of methods (such as design thinking) must be well established in the company through training existing staff and selecting new staff in a targeted way.”

Konrad Holleis

Konrad Holleis

  • Team Lead Continuing Education at the WU Executive Academy

Every crisis is also an opportunity. It can enable further innovation boosts. My working hypothesis on the state of the economy in the current COVID crisis is that we hold on to old business models too tightly. It would be wrong to try to save everything no matter the cost and sacrifice innovation in the process. Now is the time to try out new things and decide which old structures and business models we should part with.

The WU Executive Academy's continuing education programs offer you the opportunity to learn how to prepare yourself for the challenges of the future. For more information, please click here.

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