The Power of Integrated Operational Resilience

Disruptors are the real test of an organization’s resilience, with COVID-19 being the latest example. Supply chain and operational turbulence, increased employee health and safety risks, and new remote ways of working have required companies to embrace rapid decision-making, tremendous flexibility, and innovative thinking as a matter of survival. Further, utilities companies are simultaneously managing disruptions to cashflow, demand volatility, and an increasing volume of cyber-attacks—all while on the brink of wildfire season.

According to Forrester’s February 2020 report, “Prepare Your Organization For a Pandemic,” 75 percent of surveyed business leaders have activated a business continuity plan in the last five years. Yet, over the past several months, companies in the utilities industry have learned that traditional methods of business continuity and contingency planning are insufficient for managing the far-reaching impacts of a crisis. Instead of implementing an adequately vetted pandemic response strategy, many industry players reactively implemented new policies and procedures, and scrambled to offer their employees crucial support and care quickly. This sort of reactive response disrupts an organization’s operations and productivity while increasing vulnerability to malicious actors.

As you restore operational stability and move into the second and third horizons of crisis response, it's essential to reflect on how your organization can transform forward and strengthen resilience for future crises by amplifying a focus on preparedness and investment in the right capabilities. Leaders need faster decision-making with precise alignment to a cohesive strategy, paired with a workforce that is responsive and innovative in times of turbulence. These interconnected aims require organizations to evaluate all potential threats and vulnerabilities, apply Lean and Agile principles to strategic planning, and intentionally cultivate cultures of resilience.

New remote work policies and on-site safety measures, government coordination, etc. require IT, HR, legal, customer service, security, and others to work seamlessly across silos to plan, equip, and train. Indeed, the Business Continuity Institute affirms these imperatives: “…disruptions are coming at us in rapid speed, with greater magnitude and impact, and with less predictability in their characteristics. We no longer have the luxury of time to address disruptions in resilience discipline silos...”

Confronting today’s operational realities, leaders can no longer focus on maturing resilience capabilities in a function-by-function way. Instead, they should consider resilience in the context of one delicate and robust ecosystem. What are the steps that organizations can take to manage resilience in a more comprehensive, integrated way?

Build an operational resilience capability maturity framework that comprehensively measures and monitors the entire operational resilience ecosystem. This framework encompasses a system view, recognizing that falling short in one area may cause others to suffer. The capability framework can be split into three categories:

  1. Core Capabilities. Front-line muscles that collectively enable organizations to activate, absorb, and respond to events, such as cybersecurity threats, crisis communications, disaster recovery, employee preparedness, etc.
  2. Operational Elements. Associated activities and the critical components that resilience programs manage to mature core capabilities, which include planning, organizing, equipping, training, and exercising.
  3. Supporting Capabilities. Enterprise capabilities that assist programs to manage key operational elements, such as governance, self-service and standardization, continuous improvement, information sharing, and portfolio management practices. Tip: Investing in an Operational Resilience Center of Excellence can help streamline and align efforts, promote consistency in procedures and practices, and offer vital planning resources and tools. In our research, 72 percent of business leaders cite employee “knowledge/skills” as the most influential factor in enabling them to address strategic priorities. By having a centralized resilience function, you can invest in developing experts to innovate and provide ongoing support and training throughout the organization.

Invest in governance that establishes an enterprise resilience vision, capability targets, priorities, and roadmaps—inclusive of representation across the appropriate leadership. Having a proper governance structure will also accelerate decision-making, enhance transparency and alignment, and build confidence that the organization is focusing on the right initiatives.

Once the structure is solidified, it is essential to acknowledge that goals and priorities will consistently shift. To pivot quickly to meet emerging threats, organizations should embed agility and responsiveness in planning efforts through several Lean and Agile portfolio management techniques:

  1. Continuously monitor and evaluate to identify and assess any emerging threats. Your portfolio should always have additional capacity to study the landscape and understand how any shifts may put your resilience at risk.
  2. Continuously plan and reprioritize. Plan and produce in smaller increments to bring value to the market more rapidly, and to ensure you’re positioned to shift quickly to support new priorities. Tip: When reprioritizing, always consider the efforts that will deliver the optimal value now and avoid costs of delay.

Finally, a critical component of operational resilience is building a resilient workforce. Organizations need to equip employees to thrive through turmoil by supporting a shift in mindsets and behaviors, or else risk slow employee adoption—the most commonly reported adverse side effect of an organization’s transformation efforts. When launching initiatives and introducing new policies, leaders need to understand the reason and urgency for the change clearly. After all, mindset shifts start with leadership and the resilient culture that those leaders intentionally cultivate.

To strengthen resilience in the workforce, organizations can also inspire innovation and collaboration by sharing completed work, exchanging lessons learned, and challenging the status quo to pioneer efforts in new ways. Agile Scrum events or ceremonies are a great way to incorporate these norms into your portfolio activities.

Moving past COVID-19, successful organizations will continue to transform forward by proactively self-examining and investing in the capabilities that promote adaptability, innovation, and competitive differentiation. In this spirit, utilities leaders must evolve the way they prepare for future crises and embrace integrated approaches to resilience that align to broader business objectives. In doing so, resilience can become a tool that propels the organization towards its strategic aspirations.