It may be a surprise to some, but there are numerous parallels that the military – in my case, the Royal Marines – shares with the world of business. With the companies I work with through The Future Strategy Club and my own company Decision Advantage, I continue to see opportunities to share the insights that I gained over my 11 years as a regular of the Royal Marines. The parallels apply to business leaders both established and brand new. As the country and, indeed, the world begins to come to terms with the new normal in a post-Covid economy, so does business.
During my time in the military, I learnt that managing risk is something that happens on a daily basis. There’s always a possibility of facing a life-threatening or dangerous situation, but soldiers have the ability to recognise and train to deal with these hazards rather than just simply contemplating the danger faced. Business leaders, in a similar manner, should focus on mitigating these risks and finding workable solutions around them, rather than obsessing over them. When it comes to real-world examples such as returning to a city-centre office, managers and leaders will need to give their teams the tools and training they require to acknowledge, deal and mitigate the risk of returning to densely populated spaces.
The risks should be clear to workers and, post Covid, it will be important that firms have a culture that is upfront and acknowledges the possibility that things may go wrong, whether financially, health-wise or otherwise. The real lesson is that mitigation and response to change should become part of the planning process to help everyone feel comfortable about transformation. With Covid, unfortunately people also had to deal with the emotional shock of not being prepared for change. Now, we have a chance to prepare for unpredictable events as much as possible while firms are re-calibrating their resources.
However, the key lesson we need to take away from this is not ‘how to deal with pandemics’; it’s how to be prepared for the unknown. Businesses need to understand that shocks, in general, happen and not that one particular type of shock – such as a second wave of Coronavirus – may happen. In normal life, it becomes comfortable for leaders to use data to plan, but in complexity, no one can be omnipotent about what will happen.
I would suggest looking at the scope of possibility and, from there, devising a range of best case to worst case scenarios and plan for these. This, in turn, will create the confidence for teams to talk about what they would do in these hypothetical situations, without having to deal with the baggage and stress that would come from actually being in these situations. If you have some ideas on what you would do, it becomes easier to deal with change and to compartmentalise when change inevitably comes to fruition.
If the coronavirus pandemic has taught firms anything, it should be that no business is too large or too small to withstand the impact of cyclical economic shocks. A lot of people, especially those who have built new businesses, never really felt that resilience planning, risk management or disruption planning was an important aspect of their business model – but Covid has brought the importance of this into the spotlight.
Leaders need to build resilience in their organisations by having an all-encompassing strategy. Contingency planning and feedback loops are essential to building adaptability and mitigating the effect of ‘black swans’. One of the side effects of globalisation is that localised economic shocks now affect the whole of the world – this was also seen in 2008. I hope that the pandemic has demonstrated to people who previously thought they were too small to be affected by global events that they must have a plan in place.
For larger organisations, too, who perhaps thought they were strong enough to be resilient to big shocks, I hope they now realise that size is less important than agility. It is clear that contingency planning and resilience management should be a part of the everyday for firms of all sizes.
Gareth Tennant is the former head of intelligence for the Royal Marines and is now an advisor for the Future Strategy Club