Mastering turbulences through iterative operations [EN]


As we step into 2024, many embark on the journey of New Year's resolutions. In Germany, popular resolutions include "saving more money" (51%), "exercising more" (48%), and "eating healthier" (46%)1. However, studies reveal that most people abandon their resolutions by mid-February, with "Quitters Day" on January 12 marking the peak2.


The recurrence of falling back into old patterns isn't limited to personal spheres but echoes in organizations, where established processes and agreements often falter, especially in times of crisis. For example, an organization has developed, adopted, and communicated a new leadership and collaboration model as part of a cultural transformation. After the first signs of an unexpected shock to normal operation (e.g. due to a war, a pandemic, or key leadership role change), both leaders and employees fall back into old patterns of behavior. Trust and empowerment quickly disappear, innovative strength declines and looking at the situation is enough to realize how it all stayed the same. There was a lack of depth in terms of anchoring, a lack of training and a lack of sustainability.


The only way to navigate unexpected turbulence professionally is to prepare before a storm is in sight. Depending on the company and field of activity, a wide variety of things need to be considered and guidelines such as ISO 22316 (Security and Resilience) or ISO 31000 (Risk Management) can provide valuable pointers on how organizations can equip themselves. In this article, however, we would like to take a closer look at the fundamental behaviors and agreements that form the interpersonal basis. These not only assist organizations in weathering storms but are also highly relevant managing periods of growth and commercial success. Consequently, this article emphasizes the importance of clear goals, consistent prioritization, and robust agreements as foundational elements for resilience. First, an explanation is given of the behaviors, agreements and processes that generally help dynamic organizations. This is followed by an exploration in what manner training and structural adjustment help to ensure the sustainability of the foundational elements.



The Foundational Elements for Resilience


Since organizations always operate in an ecosystem, their success is the result of an equation of perception of information, processing of information and the subsequent goal definition, prioritization, and finally implementation in interaction with the given ecosystem. While this is a deliberately chosen exaggeration there is a deal of truth in it and it is worth taking a closer look at it.

While the business is running smoothly management has the chance to put effort into finding new ways to expand the organization in some way e.g. markets, target groups, business opportunities etc. This serves the organization in times of uncertainty and external shocks. In addition to the organization's existing, clear goals, additional ones emerge, which must be carefully selected on the basis of available information and made clear and transparent for the organization. Information flows about the environment, processes in the company, etc. must function perfectly for this.

In taking action to achieve the newly emerged goals organizations will have beneficial learning experiences, that help to overcome stagnation in general, and therefore enhance the resilience of the organization even more. There are two main reasons in organizations for stagnation and the learning experiences address both. These two reasons are fear and comfort. That is why learning experiences must be clearly highlighted and celebrated as such. They must not have the stale aftertaste of failure, some things just do not work out, and it is good to know about it. Besides the fear of failure, it is comfort that leads to stagnation. It is the experience that doing nothing has no consequences; this must not be accepted any more than the fear of failure. In practice, it can often be observed that companies try to counteract both with control measures, but ultimately create even more obstacles for themselves, as valuable resources are tied up by a flood of meetings and reporting formats instead of tackling the causes of the problem.

Not only do the activities provide fertile ground to internalize the two points addressed above, but they also offer an excellent opportunity to foster prioritization decisions at various levels of the organization with an imperfect information base. In prosperous times, these decisions can be facilitated and discussed by more experienced colleagues. The focus here is once again on building the competence to make decisions in the best possible alignment with the organization’s goals – asking the key question which option inherits the highest expected value for the organization – and fostering the courage to do so in the face of incomplete information (deciding under uncertainty).

If successful in practicing this during good times, crucial information flows without "fear filtering" become possible. Goals can be identified and translated into prioritization decisions for the respective work areas, all enriched by the innovative power emanating from each individual employee. This becomes particularly relevant at the moment of an external shock, signifying the need for adaptation in an organization. Activities must be quickly changed, terminated, or initiated anew. Swift decision-making and consistent action are crucial for the survival of organizations in a crisis, as exemplified by the widely noted adaptability at the onset of the COVID-19 crisis. At the crucial moment, widespread adoption of remote work was swiftly possible.

So, how to become an organization working in such a way?


Training for the Game – Iterative Development of Good Behaviors


Think of a tennis player, who is trying to improve his game. He has identified his backhand as a field for further improvement, by observing a teammate who is much more successful with his backhand. By gathering information on the execution of the backhand from the teammate, he acquires the knowledge of how to perform it. The corresponding skill is developed in subsequent training sessions. Soon after, the tennis player participates in a match and initially succeeds in using the backhand as desired. As the match goes on, physical exhaustion increases along with the psychological pressure due to the close game. Gradually, the tennis player reverts to his previous backhand or executes an improperly performed one. In moments of high stress, fewer cognitive resources are available for individual corrective action, leading to behaviors with a stronger learning experience. Neural networks tend to use the most pronounced path, the one with the most frequent learning experiences.

Nevertheless, just as the tennis player needs a deeper anchoring of the desired behaviors for his match, the same is necessary for companies. These patterns are initially to be recognized, internalized, and then repeated and trained so often until they are automated. Since a multitude of learning experiences is necessary, a correspondingly long period is required to provide adequate learning opportunities. In the beginning, people will still exhibit previous behaviors more frequently and benefit from individuals who accompany their change, providing corrective and reflective support. Over time, the need for such support will decrease.


In addition to the behavioral level, other conditions must be adjusted or reviewed to ensure that the system does not hinder behavioral change. In short, there are three questions that must always be answered with a “Yes” to ensure that the desired behavioral patterns are exhibited: 1) Is the person allowed to exhibit the desired behavior? 2) Is the person capable of exhibiting the desired behavior? 3) Is the person willing to exhibit the desired behavior? Each question answered with a no will lead to specific actions to be taken by an organization. Thus, the desired patterns must still be practiced over an extended period to be internalized, ensuring they are automatically accessed even when few cognitive resources are available for behavioral correction.

Now, organizations that did not have the comfort of building and practicing these behaviors over an extended period but are equally confronted with external shocks may ask: How can we catch up now? There is a clear answer to that: Not at all.



Steering Through the Storm with Dedicated Roles


If an organization finds itself in a situation where it couldn't train these processes, couldn't prepare for the emergency, but it has now occurred, then three things need to be addressed with the utmost urgency: 1) Sharpening sensory perception 2) Activating crisis management 3) Closing capability gaps.



Sharpening sensory perception


In the event that such an emergency situation has occurred, the most important step is to recognize and accept the situation. Once this is established, it is crucial to quickly gain as much clarity as possible about the situation. It is advisable to assemble a task force whose sole purpose is information gathering. The task force should engage with the market, solicit feedback on what is currently not working well and needs to be optimized or changed, identify customer needs, and observe competitor actions. Clarity about the problem-space must be established and the options for action in the solution-space must be expanded.

Since the selection and interpretation of information are always influenced by individuals, it is recommended to emphasize high diversity in the task force. A well-constructed team incorporates perspectives from various relevant departments, as well as different levels of expertise and seniority. However, it is essential to ensure that experts and hierarchically higher-ranking individuals are not overly dominant in the team, as new and fresh ideas are particularly welcome.



Activating crisis management


Alongside establishing an acceptable information base, the activation of crisis management logic should be initiated. Considering the gathered information, organizational goals need to be reevaluated and adjusted appropriately to the situation. This involves deriving the measures to be immediately addressed as well as along the way to achieve defined goals. Crucially, it also involves stopping other activities that do not contribute to the goals to free up resources for the most critical tasks. In this situation, the most crucial strand for top management is typically communicating with the organization, ensuring that all necessary information reaches everyone. This is vital for activating energy boosts within the organization and helping employees prioritize the tasks in alignment with the goals.

Subsequently, the implementation of the activities must be tracked, progress measured, and successes promptly communicated back to acknowledge efforts and maintain high motivation. To monitor the implementation of activities, specific, preferably simple and quickly implementable measurement tools should be employed, providing decision-makers with the relevant key performance indicators (KPIs).



Closing capability gaps


Lastly, crisis situations typically expose capability gaps within companies. This may be attributed to the available workforce, which either cannot accommodate additional task processing or to newly required skills and competencies that are just not covered by the existing staff. Given the time pressure during the implementation of activities, upskilling existing employees is not an option. Accordingly, the capability gaps should be addressed externally, even if this entails corresponding financial expenditures.

While organizations should limit themselves to the truly necessary capabilities due to financial constraints, hesitating at this point can be fatal. Competitors may be equally affected by the external shock and express corresponding needs. External providers of specific capabilities are also limited in availability, and the market responds quickly with price adjustments.


For organizations, an honest examination of whether the aforementioned challenges, such as unfulfilled agreements, inadequate prioritization, or lack of goal clarity, exist in their own operations is worthwhile. An objective external perspective can significantly enhance the quality of this step.

It is advisable to address identified deviations as quickly as possible so that the next shock does not have to be responded to in the described crisis mode. Instead, it can be absorbed by proven and deeply embedded behaviors within the company. This will free up significant resources regardless of external shocks. The alternative path through the crisis is an option but ultimately more expensive.


Former articles


The Dynamic Organization:

Crafting Vision and Purpose:

Nurturing Psychological Safety in the Innovation Era:


1Statista Consumer Insights (2023), Consumer Insights Weihnachten & Silvester 2023.

2Rockmann, R. & Maier, C. (2019). On the Fit in Fitness Apps: Studying the Interaction of Motivational Affordances and Users’ Goal Orientations in Affecting the Benefits Gained.

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