Keep Calm and Carry On: Organizational Stability in an Uncertain World

Posted by Employer Flexible on April 11, 2022
Employer Flexible

Businesses in 2022 could use a good dose of the “Keep Calm and Carry On” spirit and leadership which led the British people through the darkest days of World War II.

While the world is not at war, per se, there are enough global challenges – COVID-19 pandemic, rampant inflation, supply chain woes, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – to test even the steeliest company’s resolve.

“Keep Calm and Carry On” translated to persistence in the face of challenge and for businesses today it requires organizational stability to weather the current storm.

“Companies that are best able to bounce back from jolts and adjust have a stable foundation,” wrote Elaine Pulakos and Robert B. Kaiser in Harvard Business Review. “It provides the confidence, security, and optimism people need to keep calm, act rationally, and swiftly adapt to disruptive change.”

What is Organizational Stability?

The Center for Organizational Design argues that on the path from chaos to high performance, businesses must attain organizational stability.

“The stable organization is characterized by predictability and control,” says Roger K. Allen co-founder of both The Center for Organizational Design and The Human Development Institute.

Allen says that stable organizations exhibit the following characteristics:

  • Clarity of goals and direction
  • Consistency in priorities
  • Well-defined policies and procedures (technical and personnel)
  • Agreement on roles and responsibilities
  • Basic management processes rewarded and practiced (goal-setting, performance reviews, etc.)

Why Organizational Stability Matters

Organizational stability matters because the lack of it can lead your business to a “fire-fighting mentality” of trying to put out one hotspot to the next.

“The chaotic organization operates on the fringes of being out of control. It is problem oriented. People are reactive and manage by attending to the pressure of the moment,” writes Allen. “The problems of the chaotic organization are the lack of routine, lack of clarity, and hence, anxiety about what to expect from moment to moment.”

McKinsey & Company says that companies striving for agility must not forsake stability.

“In our experience, truly agile organizations, paradoxically, learn to be both stable (resilient, reliable, and efficient) and dynamic (fast, nimble, and adaptive). To master this paradox, companies must design structures, governance arrangements, and processes with a relatively unchanging set of core elements—a fixed backbone,” wrote Wouter Aginah, Aaron De Smet and Kirsten Weerda in the McKinsey Quarterly.

7 Strategies for Building a Fixed Backbone for Your Business

Pulakos and Kaiser in their article say there are seven evidence-based strategies that business leaders can practice that will build a fixed backbone as a bulwark against uncertainty and coming challenges.

“We’re often told that to cope with sudden and dramatic change, companies need to be agile and resilient,” Pulakos and Kaiser write. “But new research that we’ve been involved with suggests, paradoxically, that to achieve genuine agility and resilience, companies first have to commit themselves to stability.”

The seven practices include:

  1. Break Down Barriers: The first step in breaking down barriers is to identify those barriers that are hindering performance and creating an unstable business environment. Good businesses anticipate these barriers in advance and have strategies prepared to cope with them. When breaking down these barriers, be sure to offer multiple methods of overcoming them.
  2. Build Optimism: The “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters in World War II were about maintaining hope and moving forward. Your business must acknowledge any setbacks presented due to the current business climate but also must project and instill optimism in your staff moving forward by presenting your plan to overcome all obstacles.
  3. Harmonize Resources: The instinct to tighten belts during a crisis may be counterintuitive as they could make matters even more destabilizing for your staff and business partners. Businesses must get creative to marshal the resources needed for your business to succeed in these uncertain times. Prioritize what is important as a start and be open to feedback, letting your employees tell you what tools they need to be successful.
  4. Optimize Failure: Your favorite successful sports team probably has a lot in common with the best businesses in how they treat failure. The top teams turn defeats into teachable moments but reviewing what went wrong. The goal of review is not to pin blame or point fingers, but to find solutions that will work the next time.
  5. Plan for Recovery: It is important for your employees and business partners to understand your plan for recovery. You need to share this roadmap and update all your shareholders as you reached milestones on this recovery plan. While each recovery will look different, your business should have a standard recovery plan in place that provides a basis when challenges arise.
  6. Reassure People: A people first attitude is important to create organizational stability. Focus on sharing concrete information that projects confidence. While you want to create optimism, you will do damage by overpromising so be realistic. Lack of communication will create a void where employees and business partners will assume the worst, so you must ramp up communication in times of crisis and uncertainty.
  7. Sharpen Focus: If you have ever been in a rowboat or a canoe then you understand how important it is for everyone to be “rowing in the same direction”. It is natural for staff to lose focus in disruptive times. Create organizational stability by identifying for your staff what the top priorities for your company are in the crisis and then communicating that. The more you reinforce these priorities, the sharper your employees' focus will remain.

Let Employer Flexible help with your organizational stability by taking the burden of HR off your businesses’ shoulders. Contact one of our six offices across Texas, Oklahoma and Montana today to learn more.

Topics: Human Resources, HR, Leadership