Facing Existential Threats

Having recognised that we are pretty much all in uncharted territory, how do we respond?  First let’s be clear that we are talking about factors, internal and external, that can threaten the continued existence of an organisation.  Specifically we are not covering “conventional” threats from poor operational / financial strategy or execution e.g. poor sales performance or cost control.  Rather we are considering those factors that might otherwise seem outside of our immediate control such as environmental changes, a government mandated lock-down of citizens and a growing issue of employee disengagement with their employment and employers.

Why plan for things you can’t control?  Well, while we may not have a solution which fully mitigates the issues, our response may well ultimately determine our survival as an organisation, both directly through the response itself and, equally importantly, indirectly through the message that it sends to stakeholders (staff, customers, suppliers, shareholders and investors).

These factors will be considered in more detail in a joint webinar with 6 Degrees (https://www.6dg.co.uk/event/tackling-existential-business-threats/) and a set of action points will be covered in a subsequent post, but for now let’s consider the headline issues and responses.

Threat Origins

Probably the simplest way for any organisation to profile its potential threats is to use the PEST (Political, Economic/Environmental, Social, Technological) analysis process.  With a little creative thinking we can quickly identify not only a high-level matrix of specific threats, but also two key factors; priority and interconnections.  

What quickly emerges from such an exercise is a complex mix of internal and external issues, many of which directly affect each other; staff engagement affects productivity which affects economic performance and investment.  Sustainability is covered by compliance legislation, has a direct effect on staff attraction and retention, as well as investment.

Prioritising & Planning Responses

Our first response should be to rate the threat priority.  This is a trickier exercise than simply identifying the threats as it involves not just the importance to the organisation (in its widest sense), but also the degree to which the organisation is able to take action in a specific area. 

As an example a government instruction for all non-critical workers to “stay at home” may be the biggest impact and threat, but it can’t (and shouldn’t) be challenged.  In fact the priority response areas for this are Social (creating / maintaining a supportive culture) and Technological (creating maintaining a flexible working environment).

The creation of a weighted scorecard for priority response along the lines of criticality(the degree of threat), scope for action (the ability to mitigate the threat) and immediacy (the timeline for action / impact) allows us to list these in order and also to create a visibly comprehensive action plan.

Of course this does presuppose that the organisation has a clear view on its operational priorities and critical roles.  Hindsight is a wonderful thing but having this analysis and planning in place BEFORE existential threats materialise is always much more effective than trying to create the data sets and analysis DURING the crisis. 

Let’s be clear, we’ve all been there, making the best of difficult situations with limited resources.  The trick is to learn from our experience and that of others – to build our knowledge and capability based on reality and what actually was effective.

What Next?

In part II we’ll look at the specific issues and threats from Planet (Ecological), People (Workforce) and Productivity (Economic) perspectives.

While you’re here….

Please take a minute to participate in our research into the impact on emissions of the current travel restrictions.  The survey (https://www.research.net/r/cvd_response) is anonymous, takes roughly 1 minute and contributes to our PhD sustainability research with the University of Warwick.

About the Author: Ewen Anderson BSc, MMS (Dip), CIO @ Px3

With a background in psychology, management services, consultancy and enterprise IT, Ewen is a passionate believer that the right technology used in the right way can significantly reduce environmental impacts, engage users and improve productivity. He is CIO of Px3, a company on a self-assigned mission to help organisations balance people, planet and productivity by promoting sustainable IT strategies.  Px3 has set itself the goal of removing the CO2 emissions equivalent of 100,000 cars from our atmosphere by 2050.

Ewen can be contacted at ewen@px3.org.uk

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