Improve Organization Preparedness and Resilience
Jay and I have gone back and forth in regards to COVID, and how it’s an aberration of sorts, and how it’s disrupted not only society, but business as we know it. So, I really wanted to get him on in order to have a conversation about how companies could have done a better job preparing for a situation like COVID, which again, we think it may be an aberration, an anomaly, but something else the next 1, 3, 5 years is coming down the pipe that will also disrupt business and perhaps society as we know it.
How to Thrive in Disruptive and Uncertain Times: Improve Organizational Preparedness and Resilience
Podcast Series #5
Host: Beau Billington
Guest: Jay Weiser
Hey, everybody, thanks for joining in on our fifth podcast sponsored by the free agent. So this, of course, is a lightning round. And Jay Wiser was gracious enough to join us today.
Thanks for joining Jay.
Yeah, great to have you. So just to kind of tee up the conversation.
You and I have gone back and forth in regards to COVID, and how it’s an aberration of sorts, and how it’s disrupted not only society, but business as we know it. And so really wanted to get you on the horn today to have a conversation about maybe how companies could have done a better job to be prepared for a situation like COVID, which again, we think it may be an aberration, an anomaly, but something else the next 1 35 years is coming down the pipe that will also disrupt business and perhaps society as we know it.
So wanted to bring you on the show. Appreciate you join in. Prior to jumping into some questions that we’ve got situated here, love to hear a little bit more about who you are and why people should tune in.
I’m Jay Weiser, founder of Jay Weiser Consulting. My passion has been around helping companies survive and thrive through disruptions, companies who aren’t reaching their full potential. How do I help them get them there so they don’t leave any money on the table? Everybody’s happy customers, shareholders and employees as a triple win?
Sure. Is this conversation just around big business? Or is this from small to medium size mom and pop all the way to the big enterprises?
I did. It’s across the board. I even take it a step further. It relates to individual leaders as well. So I mean, runs from the personal to the fortune 500.
I love it. Awesome. Well, great. Hey, thanks so much for joining. I always promised to do a lightning round. So let’s jump into the questions here.
So first and foremost, I mentioned this a few moments ago, but COVID-19 has been referred to as an aberration of sorts. And no one could really have seen that this was coming. And really the extent of the gravity of the situation we’ve all been kind of thrown into over the last,better part of a year.
So what really could people have done to be prepared for something like COVID, that you can’t see, touch, feel, and you really don’t know is happening until all of a sudden you wake up and it’s here?
The thing that’s interesting, you and I talked about this at one point, that over the last 20 years, there have been Black Swine before 911. You think about the com crash, Hurricane Katrina, you think about the recession, all these things.
So disruptions are happening around us. And I think what’s important, could not have been prepared perfectly for the pandemic, you can be more prepared than you were, companies can have better communications, flatter leadership, be thinking about well, I have to go mobile?
Well, that’s happened before in terms of working from home, there have been storms, people have had to work from home, there have been a variety of situations. And the thing is, we’ve seen some of this before, we had an h1 and one in folks had to adapt to that and they had no vaccine, she had to think about where do you want to work, how you want to keep your hands clean, all these different things. So disruptions are not new.
You mentioned that, and we’ve had this conversation before as well that may be COVID is one in a 100 scenario, but it seems like we’re having these one 100 year scenarios stacked up each and every year. And so there is an aberration of sorts that’s happening. It’s just some other form that’s kind of impacting our lives and in the business world.
So that being said if this is in fact an aberration, “How likely is it that something like this is going to happen again, I mean, it’s gonna happen again, it’s a matter of when”.
Well the thing is just, it might be a pandemic the next time, it might be an economic collapse.
You think about just over the last week, there’s a container ship that’s blocking the Suez Canal, one place in the world and it’s going to affect World Trade. I mean 12% was a number I heard was the amount of Worldwide cargo that goes through the Suez Canal. So one pipe gets blocked and the world feels the pain.
So, there are going to be different disruptions. It might not be a pandemic. Next time,it could be a hurricane, it could be an electrical outage someplace that goes around the world or virus. I mean, there are so many different things. And again it comes back to companies being more prepared, more resilient.
What do you do in case of an emergency?
Well hopefully there’s not gonna be another run on toilet paper. That was quite a situation.
We’re gonna get into “How a company can prepare?”
But prior to doing that, “What could a small business do that’s maybe resource constrained that it doesn’t have,the deep pocket books that a larger company does, or the personnel that can really help them take an objective view on what’s happening and how they can prepare for this?”
I think the first thing seriously is looking around. Almost think of a submarine.
If all you’re doing is looking at the submarine, you’re not gonna know a whole lot. You have to put the periscope up, you have to look around what’s going on on the horizon, what’s going on with your competition, your market, employment in your local area.
I think some of this is just paying attention, and asking questions like, “What would I do if my business doubled?” “What would they do if my biggest customer left?” “What would I do if we have a systems outage?”
So it’s just thinking through different scenarios. I mean, you and I live in Atlanta. We know there’s going to be a tornado risk tonight. So what are we going to do? We’re going to watch the weather.
I happen to be hearing impaired, my wife is at a time, I’m not going to hear the sirens. So I would try second, stay upstairs setting up, roll the dice. Or if it gets really dicey, I’ll just sleep in the basement. But the point is, I have a plan and I’m gonna pay attention to the weather.
The worst thing you can do is not paying attention and not look.
So I think that’s a great point and a good segue.
Let’s get a little bit more tactical here for a minute. I guess you’re talking about awareness. And the fact that you are aware of a potential tornado tonight. And so in effect, you’re going to do what you can to kind of prepare yourself for that possibility.
So how could a company big, small, “What have you really taken care of that number one piece of the blocking and tackling around awareness?”
“How could they ensure they’re more aware of their situation in their surroundings?” Is this an area in which they can maybe benefit from outside assistance from a consultant like yourself from a company? Or I guess the large organizations could maybe do this internally?
Well, I really think it’s a combination of things. So you can’t completely outsource this. You have to be your own eyes. But it helps whether it’s reading different publications which are very easy just to see what folks are talking about. It might be talking to a local university professor or attending a webinar, or it might be bringing somebody in like myself, who can ask just different questions you haven’t thought about.
If you think about your business and I was just “Hey Beau, you run with the Free Agent and I would say, Okay, what are the three or four things that could break your business that could cause a problem?”
And then we start to talk about that, and you name off different things. And I say, well, what’s the likelihood of that happening? What would cause that to happen?
So it’s just by having those very conversations with me that you know what signals to look for. You think more about what you need to do. Sometimes it’s having an outside perspective, sometimes it’s having an individual inside your business who can ask those questions. And in order to do that, you have to be open as a leader, you have to be receptive, and provide, provide a safe environment for people to challenge you. And I think that’s really important.
I think, too, especially with smaller businesses being receptive to feedback can be a bit tough for some of the owners, but I think it’s a critical component. And one of the reasons I have actual consulting company myself is because I believe in the power of outside individuals, because you’re stuck in your own business, and the view gets very, very myopic, you miss your gaps, and so bringing in somebody from the outside to help you become aware of the gaps, I think is critical to success and of course increasing your awareness.
So that being said, you have the awareness piece which I guess is the fundamental step in being prepared resilient. So, you have that information. That’s kind of where you start, but then, “What do you do with this?”
I think once you have the information, you have to really internalize it, embedding it into your thinking.
So when you think about planning, whether it be for the next quarter, the next year, “What would I do differently if that was to occur?”
At least by thinking through that, if something happened, it’s not going to be “Oh my God, I’ve never seen this before.” Oh, okay, we’ve had this discussion.
I think it’s when you’re looking at a year out, two years out, “What capabilities does my company need to have, what kind of skills, tools, things that we should have access to in case any of these things happen?
These don’t have to be big investments that their base level things. But if you think back to 911, you were in New York City. Companies at that point in time had to learn, “okay, can’t go to the office”. Nobody’s going into the office. You have to learn to work from home, you have to have the right technology. Fast forward 20 years. So last year with COVID that a lot of the companies, especially financial ones in New York City didn’t have a problem because they already had plans for what they had to work from home.
So it’s having some of that done in advance, it’s some of the basics, because once you can shift in that case to remote, then everything else becomes the same business as usual. Not quite. But you’re up and operating versus a company where a few people had laptops, and most of the people had desktops. They were dead in the water for a while, until that could be addressed.
That’s a great point.
And also the silver lining here. Of course, COVID has been a complete bear to literally every individual, globally. However, I do believe because of the situation, companies have almost developed a baseline of preparedness because most of my customers are still remote. They have figured it out and in the event, they go back to work and something else happens which inevitably it will, they’ll be in a much better position to continue business.
And so again, COVID is terrible, but the silver lining is that it ratcheted up the awareness a little bit, which in itself is not a bad thing. So you’ve got a financial investment.
So quick question about that. A lot of folks are going to be, I’d say disinterested, and putting together a plan for simply a what if scenario. So can we talk a little bit about the cost implications, as well as the implications for not necessarily being prepared? Again, this is a nice to have and I’m sure some people are going to think. You and I believe it’s a necessity though, especially off the heels of this global pandemic.
I think, first of all, folks spend a lot of money on insurance. There’s no payback unless some disaster happens. You don’t build any capabilities by having insurance. When you think about preparedness and resilience, you’re building capabilities not just for when the bumps in the road happen but also when the good things happen, you can jump on opportunities faster.
I think the other point is, if you look at the cost of being unprepared and you think about companies you might know, companies I might know.
What’s the cost of being unprepared?
One, how long does it take to get back online? What’s the last opportunity if you can’t get in touch with your customers, if your employees don’t have the tools?
There’s a lot of dollars at risk there, well being of your employees, maintaining customer relationships, core operations. And that’s really expensive. In relative terms, the cost of spending a couple of days brainstorming through some of this having a couple of pages of “Okay, in case of emergency, we’re going to do this. Do we have a phone tree? Phone trees are very expensive. What are we going to do?” Things happen.
We have to get in touch with all of our customers in three days. Do we have a way of doing that? That’s not expensive. There are a lot of basic things that don’t cost anything. We’re not talking about big systems for most companies, we’re not talking about setting up a complete ready to run off site location. Sure, that can get costly. But for most companies, it’s a lot of the simple things.
You mentioned toilet paper, right? I don’t think any of us will ever have less than 24 rolls of toilet paper in our garage, just in case. Now, the cost of that is minimum.
So, the next question that I had was really around, who has the time to do this, but as you were talking, I kind of feel like I had a light bulb moment. And that it doesn’t have to be this heavy lift. It’s really about assessing your risk.
`You get an understanding of your footprint. And of course, it’s these situations outside that are also your control. But, a lot of companies have quarterly business reviews, annual reviews, they’re doing long term planning. And in that, maybe that could be an opportune time just to continuously stay on top of how prepared you are for the situation. And it could be a couple hour discussion that you maybe just revise and iterate every time you’re together.
Again, I wanted to tee that up and see if maybe that makes sense from your perspective. That can be a good way for people to save time, and money as well as effort and not make this into this huge, huge, huge lift.
To me, it shouldn’t be something different. It should be baked into 100. They’re thinking, what am I going to do tomorrow?
So I, as a consultant, have always had to urge my clients to say, “okay, don’t just focus on today, because you need to focus on tomorrow. At the same time, you need to balance both, you need to realize what you do today is going to affect tomorrow.”
So it’s always having time you talked quarterly, to at least spend some time thinking about strategy, thinking about the outlook, what’s going on, when you’re having that discussion. You should also talk about well, what if this happens? That strategy sounds great. It’s based on certain assumptions, let’s change a few. What would we do? So it becomes part of that usual cadence? It’s not this big being thing.
And I think the more you do that, the more it becomes a habit, the more it becomes second nature. I think the other thing that’s important is it’s not just playing to avoid losing, it’s playing to win in every business that wants to play to win. So if you think about it, in that context, it’s important to do.
That’s a great point.
I think it’s about education. When we first started having these discussions, a couple months ago, I was thinking, wow, this is a huge lift, who has the time who has the financial resources? How do you prioritize this?
But I think as you educate people that it doesn’t have to be this huge lift, and it can be part of your ongoing due diligence, the probability of somebody actually working through a plan. I think it’s ratcheted up a little bit.
So it talks about the upside benefits. We talked about some examples, I’d love to hear how a company could actually assess maybe their risk level, and preparedness for another anomaly, which I’m sure is around the corner.
I think sometimes simply doing a post mortem and saying, if we went through this, again, if you knew a pandemic was coming sometime in the next three years, just as an example, what are the three or four things you do differently now? So you’d be a little less surprised.
And chances are the things that you would do around that would be the same thing she would do. If you were to get hit with a storm, if you were going to get hit with some sort of economic problem. So it’s thinking about that and the same. What do we learn? Have we changed?
So for example, our communications, any different part of the problem before was maybe we weren’t as transparent and as open as we need it to be. Have we made that change?
Before there was very much command and control, we wanted our employees to do what we told them to do, we didn’t want them to be independently thinking. Well, that didn’t work so well.
So how are we doing to help our employees be more autonomous? Are we providing them kind of the guardrails so they know what they can and can’t do?
But as long as they’re within the guardrails, we’re enabling them and equipping them to make decisions to talk with each other. So it’s providing that very basis and saying, Are we there? And in the same way, you would track and initiative in the same way you would measure employee engagement, you can measure employee preparedness, just a different set of questions.
Makes sense and so it all starts with kind of doing a post mortem on what you did, well, what you did wrong, where could you have improved, and, of course, building a plan from there.
Yeah, and the one thing I was gonna say, just like anything else, you have to learn from your experience, and it doesn’t mean that everything’s going to apply again, but a lot of the core things well.
So, the worst thing people can do is wipe their hard drives clean and say, okay, we went through this, this has never happened again, we’re starting with a clean slate. Let’s go back to the way things were. That’s a recipe for disaster.
This seems like being prepared is applicable not just global pandemics, things like 911. But, if you’re in supply chain or you have a supply chain shortage, that’s your calls by a boat, blocking a canal, you having a plan in place could help you kind of be better prepared for those situations as well. So that thing is a good point.
So how does a company that listens to this podcast and they say, “Hey, Jay, that makes a lot of sense.” Where would they begin? How do they start the process?
So if you’re going to do it themselves, I think the first thing is, doing a literature search and just putting in Google asking; “How do I prepare for a disaster?” “How does a company prepare for a disaster?” There’s a lot of resources out there.
Second is talking to people like yourself and in me saying “We have assessments, I offer education. So like a seven seminar webinar checklists, “What are the things you need to think about that there are resources out there to get you started?”
And then if you have questions, reaching out to people who do this type of work. And I think when you do that, part of it is, “Am I aware of the problem? Is it significant enough that I have to do something about it? And if those two things are happening, then you need to act.
Understood. Great point.
And finally, to wrap this up, so you put together the plan, you may hire an expert like yourself, you put it together to plan. How do you ensure that you stay prepared and resilient? Are you looking at this quarterly, annually? How does a company just stay on top of this?
Yeah, I have two quick points.
One, the only dumb question is when you don’t ask. And I think people sort of that pretty broadly because they haven’t thought through certain things.
The second thing is, I don’t know if you’ve ever been a Boy Scout. I went through Cub Scouts and didn’t make it all the way through but I always remember one thing: BE PREPARED. And it was that whole idea of no matter what happened, a Scout was prepared. I mean, you think about that little pocket knife we all had that can do about 100 different things. But by having that, you can get out of a lot of different situations.
So, kind of what’s our pocket like that?
Understood. That makes total sense. And finally, to wrap this up, so you put together the plan. You maybe hire an expert like yourself and you put it together to plan.
How do you ensure that you stay prepared and resilient? Are you looking at this quarterly, again, annually? How does a company just stay on top of this?
So again, in the same way you would your strategy review? Periodically, you’re saying, “Okay, how are we doing?”
You run a drill and say, “Okay, what would we do if this happened?” Let’s just work. It’s kind of like, companies have fire drills. So you run a fire drill. I think the last thing you want to do is get stale. You probably need to do this quarterly, semi annually. It depends on the nature of your business, how quickly things are changing. But if you’re doing it annually, every two or three years, you waited too long, and you’re not going to be prepared. So I think it’s getting into a cadence.
So the old adage of practice makes perfect applies here in the business world as well. And I totally agree. And again, as we’re talking, I’m thinking about software companies and manufacturing companies. And literally those probably that have some sort of supply chain component, I would imagine they’re they’re probably most at risk for a situation such as COVID, and airgo, should be more prepared and resilient in a situation and not to kind of minimalize how important it is for the software companies, but those that have kind of a physical good. I feel this should be top of mind for most.
Again, each business is going to have a different driver, different weak link in the chain that they have to protect. It’s figuring out, “What are your potential weak links, shoring those up or having a plan in case something happens, What do you do?
That’s an excellent point.
Hey, Jay, I really appreciate you taking the time today. Thanks so much. So how can people learn more about you? Please give us your URL to your website.
So it’s https://www.jayweiser.com/.
Awesome. Hey, thanks so much for being on the show. Really appreciate your time. Take care.
I appreciate the opportunity. Thank you.
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FOUNDER, THE FREE AGENT
Beau spent over 14 years in enterprise-level software sales and was exposed to high-level talent by working alongside companies such as Apple, AT&T, Amazon, Coca-Cola, and more.
In this podcast, Beau aims to interview high performing business leaders in the hope that their insights will bring about real change positive change the businesses of his listeners.