On balance, this last year goes down as a pretty good one. While we are not as far along in putting the pandemic behind us as we might have hoped, the progress is promising. The economic recovery has been remarkable, despite persistent supply chain woes and (transitory?) inflationary pressures. With consumer demand high, and signs of relief regarding the supply chain, the coming year, and its prospect of a return to “normal” will likely offer substantial opportunities, though we must also be mindful of risks.
There is much talk, as well as hope, of a return to normal, or a “new normal.” I’ve thought out loud and written in this column about our “next normal.” It’s true that a new/next normal, or for some a return to normal, is different for each of us. It’s also true that whichever normal you imagine, it is yours to define. Leaders at all levels are constantly challenged to vigorously pursue opportunity while evaluating risk and potential for disruption. For many of us, the COVID-19 pandemic and its accompanying challenges represented disruptions that we just hadn’t imagined. Now that we have experienced it, and can imagine history repeating itself, what we do to address such risk, in itself, represents an opportunity.
That’s a long way of saying that, essentially, I think the best opportunity of 2022 is in incorporating the lessons of the last two years by focusing on building resiliency within our organizations. Doing so can generate powerful competitive advantage when the next disruption rears its ugly head. I’d also argue that ignoring this opportunity is, in and of itself, a real risk. While there is always pressure to optimize operations and minimize cost, going forward the most robust organizations will balance those pressures with efforts to build resilience in the face of disruption. If we return to a normal of chasing the lowest cost suppliers, just-in-time inventories, extended global supply chains, and the leanest of lean manufacturing, we risk letting a real opportunity pass us by. In competition with enterprises who do invest in resiliency, some risk finding themselves at a distinct disadvantage in the face of future hurdles.
Resiliency starts with using our imaginations to contemplate risks. While we might not have imagined the pandemic and the obstacles it presented, we certainly can now. While it is front of mind as we consider coming risk, there are many others that may present similar challenges. Impacts of a changing climate, labor shortages, and skills gap (presently front of mind for many of us), and shifting geopolitical sands just scratch the surface of potential culprits for major disruptions. I’ve tasked all my teams with putting on their thinking caps and identifying potential disruptions, their associated risk in areas such as supply, labor, and operations. We then look at ways we can, for example, more strategically manage our inventories, adapt cross functional teams in the event of staffing disruptions, and seek opportunities to shorten our supply chain. Of course, it’s a challenge to strike a balance between building resiliency and managing costs, but I’m convinced it is more than worth the effort.
Building resiliency for ourselves isn’t the only opportunity, as there may be real competitive advantages in finding ways that we can improve resiliency for our customers. Those of us who are suppliers will do well to emphasize ways in which we help our customers build resiliency. Perhaps we don’t offer the lowest cost solution, but clients can benefit from our proximity. It may be that clients value more accessible and dependable domestic service and support. In fact, it may be fair to say that your plans for resiliency can also be a benefit to customers who depend on you, and should be promoted as such.
Finally, resiliency isn’t just about a bunch of Xs and Os; it’s fundamentally about creativity. At the risk of self-promotion, I want to share two examples. Among the major disruptions during the pandemic was the absence of trade shows, and the opportunities they offer to connect with new prospects as well as reconnecting with peers. We strapped on our thinking caps to tackle both, and I’d argue that what we came up with addresses the challenges and contributes to our overall resiliency as an organization. First, we converted a Sprinter van to be mobile demo lab and have been traveling the country meeting prospects where they are. In addition, to maintain cherished relationships and create some new ones, we started our series of fireside chats, which have been both fun and educational for us, and we hope for our audience.
Investing in resiliency can be a difficult value proposition, but it represents an important opportunity moving forward. For those who undertake it, imagining, identifying, and mitigating risk will represent a genuine competitive advantage during the next major disruption. Those who long for and seek a return to business as usual may realize some short-term gains but those will likely be forfeit to any substantial speedbumps. I suppose if you believe that the pandemic represents a once in a lifetime event, the later approach may be the wiser. I, like many, believe otherwise.
Dr. Bill Cardoso is CEO of Creative Electron.