Different businesses face unique impacts and challenges during a crisis. Companies that successfully navigate through a crisis typically have underlying reasons for their success, such as ample cash reserves, a corporate culture that unites everyone in times of adversity, agile and innovative business models, and corresponding organizational capabilities. The COVID-19 pandemic has served as a major test of a company’s competitiveness. Enterprises that can smoothly navigate through the crisis, and even discover new opportunities within it, often have strong organizational capabilities as their foundation.
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How can you upgrade and iterate your organization to support the business in facing crises and overcoming challenges? While this may sound complex, it is actually closely related to your everyday work.
First, let’s introduce a methodology for organizational work: “Focus on the big picture, start small, and use specific instances to drive the whole.” In contrast, what’s the opposite of this methodology? “Act swiftly, be decisive, seek quantity and comprehensiveness.” When it comes to organizational work, especially work related to upgrading and iterating the organization, acting swiftly and decisively is riskier and often less successful.
This is because organizations have a characteristic: there are many stakeholders, and no single party can accomplish tasks on its own. However, many parties can prevent tasks from being accomplished. In other words, when you’re trying to upgrade and iterate your organization, if anyone in the organization opposes you, or even just doesn’t strongly support you, it’s challenging to succeed. Therefore, we often see that some companies engage in “stormy movements” or “management overhaul,” and the typical results are wasted resources, complaints, and counterproductive outcomes.
As a result, the correct “posture” for organizational work is as follows: first, seize the key moment and make a breakthrough at a certain critical point or leverage point. Then, through this breakthrough point, drive the updating of other functions and ultimately achieve the iterative upgrade of the entire organization.
Let’s take “remote online work” as an example to illustrate the ideas and methods related to upgrading and iterating the organization.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many employees had to work from home – online work and remote collaboration became the norm. Just as the SARS epidemic prompted a shift in consumer behavior from “offline shopping” to “online shopping,” the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a significant number of employees transitioning from “on-site office work” to “remote online work.”
Regardless of whether this change was a “forced measure” during the pandemic, we need to realize that many objective changes have become a reality: a large number of online office software and collaborative tools have quickly integrated into the office collaboration processes of many companies; people suddenly found that online communication and video meetings are not only time-saving but also efficient; the use of online collaborative office tools has not only improved productivity but also reduced costs. Changes in people’s behavior can sometimes drive social change, and the potential impact of these changes should not be underestimated.
Of course, not all companies and positions are suitable for “remote online work.” However, there are certainly some companies and positions that will face this change head-on.
Assuming, in conjunction with your company’s business model and development strategy, you determine that “remote online work” will be the future norm for your employees. What can you do in terms of organizational upgrading and iteration to match this change?
Using the example of “remote online work,” organizational upgrading and iteration can encompass at least three dimensions: personnel, organization, and culture.
First, the personnel dimension.
The foremost question is: if employees are engaged in “remote online work,” should the company’s hiring criteria be updated? “Remote online work” demands employees to have stronger self-motivation, communication skills, especially written communication skills, and self-discipline. Do the company’s previous hiring criteria encompass these elements? Can they support the future mode of work? If not, how can these new elements be incorporated into the company’s screening processes, hiring decisions, and even the long-term talent evaluation of the management?
The way work is coordinated will also differ. Previously, employees worked in an office where communication was relatively frequent and timely. Even if there were some tasks left undone, it was easy to cover for each other. However, with employees engaged in “remote online work,” there’s a need for a clearer definition of the work content, permissions, outputs, and delivery points for each team/role. Otherwise, a delay or omission at one point could easily impact the overall work progress.
Next, individual performance management of employees also needs to change. If, in the past, our individual performance assessments encouraged “dedication, overtime, and diligence,” it may no longer be applicable in a “remote online work” model. Performance assessments need to focus more on work output and results, rather than processes and attitudes.
Second, from an organizational perspective.
Regarding the organizational structure, “remote online work” requires reducing the length of the information transmission chain and lowering communication barriers. Compared to traditional hierarchical management with a “predict and control” and “top-down” approach, companies may need to provide more space for a “perceive and respond” and “bottom-up” management style. This could include trying more agile small team-based project collaborations or decentralized organizational models.
In terms of power distribution, if employees are engaged in “remote online work,” there will be a greater need for “self-management” and “self-decision-making.” Organizations will need to adjust power distribution accordingly. If traditional methods are maintained, where every issue requires meticulous reporting and approval at each level, it will consume a lot of remote communication costs, reduce work efficiency, and affect employees’ sense of accomplishment and autonomy.
Lastly, the cultural dimension.
The “remote online work” model also brings entirely different challenges to corporate culture. Imagine a company where transparency and open communication are lacking, superiors and subordinates cannot communicate effectively, and employees need to frequently infer their superiors’ intentions. In such an environment, the effectiveness of “remote online work” is likely to be poor, and there may be misunderstandings and repeated work due to inadequate remote communication.
Another example: in a “remote online work” model, is decision-making still concentrated in the hands of higher-ranking individuals? If most employees attend meetings just to listen and then execute tasks without participating in decision discussions, how can you ensure they understand the meeting’s decisions and achieve effective implementation?
Therefore, under the “remote online work” model, companies need a more open and transparent corporate culture that allows more people to participate in discussions and decision-making. Building a “forum for more people to express opinions” is crucial.
What is a forum? It’s not only a platform and mechanism that allow people to express their opinions but also an organizational atmosphere that encourages free expression. Otherwise, if people want to express their opinions but have no channel, or if there’s a channel but no one dares to speak, it won’t work.
Looking ahead, employees under the “remote online work” model will resemble “complete individuals” rather than just “the organization’s hands and feet.” Traditional management methods may not be effective for these “complete individuals.” If companies continue to focus on “supervision and control” of employees, it will likely become less effective. For “complete individuals” in the new work model, helping them find the meaning and fulfillment in their work, creating a “mission community” through the alignment of the company’s mission and their personal mission, will be a long-term effort that companies need to focus on.
In summary, “remote online work” may seem like a simple adjustment in employee work mode, but for organizations, it entails a series of upgrades and iterations in terms of hiring criteria, work coordination, individual performance management, organizational structure, power distribution, cultural atmosphere, and mission vision.
The above serves as an example of the approach and methods for upgrading and iterating the organization from various aspects such as personnel, organization, and culture. Upgrading and iterating the organization require a methodology; it cannot be done haphazardly. It also requires the art of change, and it’s not always effective to simply “make noise and act swiftly.” Often, a quieter approach of “starting small and gradually nurturing” yields better results.
Every company faces different challenges and issues, and this discussion is intended to provide some insights.
The impact of the pandemic has prompted companies to make adjustments in their business. Business model adjustments involve understanding changes, solving problems, and discovering opportunities. Organizational upgrading and iteration involve proactively building organizational capabilities in a changing business environment. As the pandemic subsides, companies have a choice: return to the old path or seize this adjustment period to achieve organizational upgrading and iteration.