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The art of organizing for a crisis

Britta Nordin Forsberg
Britta Nordin Forsberg has done research on organizations in crisis. Photo: Peter Ardell.
Published Mar 31, 2020

Not many companies and organizations are unaffected by the corona crisis. Most managements today face scenarios that have not been anticipated in any business strategy. INDEK’s Britta Nordin Forsberg, has done research on organizations during crisis, and knows what’s important to think about.

What are the features that makes an organization successful during a societal crisis, affecting everyone, such as a pandemic?
In times of crisis, the two keywords are "inclusion" and ”trust”. Naturally, this applies to communication, but also to how you collaborate and make the employees feel included when working from home. In situations that require problem solving, one must also dare to involve talents and people outside the management team and make use of as many skills and perspectives as possible.

Companies in economic crises have a tendency to let the management groups solve problems behind locked doors, hoping to come up with a "perfect plan” to present. And to push the organization, rhetoric becomes slightly harsh and a little aggressive in the organization, which is about as fast as possible improving the economy and profit. This does not apply in the position we are in now.

In times of many dismissals, it is also important to have an attitude characterized by social sustainability. To treat them in respectful manner, and to think big about how skills can be used. But also to have a societal perspective and really consider the best way to contribute (eg change production). As leaders, we must also plan for the future and lay the foundations for a recovery. Here, the company's competency strategies become really crucial.

How should a company tackle the balance of economic profit versus people’s health?
This is a constant challenge in companies, but in this crisis, incomparable with anyone before, people put health at their forefront. Often, it is an economic efficiency perspective that becomes ”the handrail” in a crisis and the human aspects has to step back. In this crisis we cannot lean on past patterns, people’s health must be prioritized and this requires many different skills: How can economic aspects integrate with human aspects?

Have companies had these kind of discussion before corona? Should they have a plan for such extreme situations?
Many companies work seriously with crisis plans of various kinds, but not of this dignity. The investments in “human issues” can normally be perceived as "luxury", things that are easy to cut down on without anyone protesting during a crisis. Companies that have a trustful culture can more quickly adapt to the change because employees dare to take the initiative and contribute vigorously.

How important is the management’s role in a situation like this, any specific new demands on it?
The leadership role is crucial in this situation: responsible, confident, action-oriented but it is important that you walk the talk: that you’re working together and having constructive and inclusive discussions – and include others outside the inner sphere.
You have studied organizations in crisis, what have you come up with that could be of use now – or until the next time a crisis comes?
To focus on social sustainability and to introduce more developed methods combining discussions on economic efficiency with human aspects in organizations. To have a plan for critical situations – even during good times.
And when all this is over, which is the lesson learnt?
To plan for crisis so it doesn’t take you by surprise. Also that economic strength to a greater extent should be regarded as a security for times of crises. We will also have the experience of a revolutionary change where the human aspect was given a lot of space. That’s a new experience.

Text: Anna Gullers

Belongs to: Industrial Economics and Management
Last changed: Mar 31, 2020