As we know the world economy is navigating the deeply challenging trends of higher inflation and continued supply chain disruption. All businesses are now assessing how they can navigate these difficulties with their profitability and commercial futures intact.

For many organisations, key issue is their workforce. What can be done to ensure a workforce is able to carry on during crisis? The answer for many is the much-discussed concept of resilience. But what does this mean? And how can it be built?

For BearingPoint, the essence of a resilient workforce is an organisation of people who are equipped to adapt to change. ‘Equipped’ is the key word here, because support needs to come from the top. The reward for fostering a resilient workforce is strong and measurable competitive advantage. The risk of not doing so is commercial failure.

We have identified five pillars that are critical to growing a resilient workforce.

Pillar 1: Empower your people for change

Technical and functional skills are essential for all organisations. To build them requires programmes of comprehensive training allied with intelligent, agile recruitment. But the ability to manage and respond to change is a soft skill that can be developed. Communication, empathy and planning are all key here. Successful organisations prioritise building these, along with relationships and networks, both within the organisation and externally. 

The right corporate culture is another major success factor. It means showing your employees unmistakeably that they are valued, that they can speak to management, and be heard by them. By investing in providing a concrete ‘employee value proposition’, businesses show a commitment to employees, and help them feel proud of where they work and what they do.

Resilient organisations demonstrate authentic concern for the wellbeing of their workforce. This might be through schemes such as wellness and employee assistance programmes. Creating a psychologically safe environment is integral to peak performance, benefitting both employees and their organisations.
Change can come from outside, but very often it’s driven from inside the organisation too. It’s crucial to remember that this kind of change is not done to people, but with people. Successful organisations invest heavily in involving and consulting with people from top to bottom when major changes to processes or ways of working are needed.

Finally, there is the need to support innovation in a changing world. We have found that organisations that empower their workforces to experiment reap strong rewards. This mandate to experiment means that people are more likely to take risks. Novel ideas are tried and assessed readily, and inevitable failures are short-lived. Having a resilient workforce means encouraging everyone to be an innovator. 

Pillar 2: Understand your customer ecosystem

Businesses with resilient workforces help their employees to understand both their customers and their supply chains. Understanding customer needs is critical in supporting the development of your services. You must recognise that different customers have different journeys, and your workforce needs to be able to adapt to their changing needs.

The explosion of digitisation means that exception management is a key part of your employees’ direct engagement with your customers. To optimise these engagements, you must equip your people with skills such as empathy, listening and communication to give them the flexibility to adapt to different needs.
We have found from our research into customer experience practices that pain points in the customer journey directly correlate with pain points in the employee journey. For this reason, businesses need to address the employee experience at the same time as the customer journey, and create positive synergies between the two.

When it comes to supply chains, your workforce requires many of the same soft skills that are required when dealing with customers, such as effective negotiation and collaboration skills.

Insights from stakeholders – both customers and the supply chain – are worth their weight in gold. Your business must ensure that it captures as many of these insights as possible from interactions with stakeholders, and feed these into future business processes. Translating observation and anecdote into corporate decision-making requires a strong grasp of behavioural economics, but can be priceless in defining future strategy, innovation and procurement.

Pillar 3: Align data centricity with business outcomes

Resilient workforces are those that are heavily interconnected through data. But crucially, that data is owned by the employees themselves. Data literacy is absolutely critical throughout your organisation, and fostering the skills to understand and analyse data must be a top priority in your corporate training programmes. 

Although most businesses are awash with data, a collective understanding of how to use it is a different thing altogether. Your teams must be able to analyse historical trends, feed data into AI and other predictive tools, and differentiate between coincidence and persistent trend.

Your whole workforce must see itself as responsible for both gathering and using data. It’s important to communicate relatable use cases and user stories to your people, that explain both how data will be used and what decisions it will inform.

Successful businesses are now data-driven. But in the truly excelling organisation, that data-driven transformation is combined with a human transformation, ensuring that data strategy and a widespread data culture work hand in hand.

Data implementation starts with people, but it’s driven from the top. That’s why data governance is such a pivotal function. Good data governance ensures that there is a recognised single source of truth, with centralised data sources freely available, and also breaks down data siloes and fosters a culture of sharing to build new insights and tools. 

And in state-of-the-art data systems, the ethical use of AI is becoming an increasing imperative. Trust is non-negotiable in resilient workforces, both for employees and customers, and for this reason, an ethics and risk management framework must form part of your data governance architecture. Employees should be incentivised to call out the potential ethical risks of using AI. 

Pillar 4: Use technology to improve agility    

In resilient workforces, technology and people are aligned. Such organisations use technology to enable their people to be both agile and productive.

To achieve this, your technology must be designed with the end user in mind. All end users must be involved with the development of your new systems. That means giving them a voice in the design processes and review cycles, from prototyping to end user acceptance.

In addition to this close involvement, workforces must also be given the tools they need to develop their knowledge and resolve problems themselves. This means being able to avail themselves of both internal and external sources, from collaboration workspaces and learning management systems to YouTube teaching videos and more formal online learning platforms.

Technology can enable employers and employees to adopt more flexible working models, both in their location and in their work patterns. The metaverse also provides considerable opportunities for teams to come together virtually in a way that mirrors co-located workspaces, and improving both collaboration and information sharing. 

Cdiscount is a French online retailer who had experienced rapid growth in its early years. The advent of the pandemic meant a sudden shift to large-scale remote working. Cdiscount’s senior management used this enforced change to become a more agile and resilient organisation, thereby improving employee retention and attractiveness to new employees. With BearingPoint’s help,  the business focussed on three initiatives: implementing new technology for better collaboration, rethinking the leadership position on remote working and redesigning real estate and workspaces. The result was an improvement in the business’ ability to respond to market shocks, and increased sales growth at pace. 

Pillar 5: Build proper and effective governance

A workforce needs to buy into and live an organisation’s values. This feeds into their behaviours both within the workplace and externally.

Our research has shown that best practice organisations introduce people governance to enhance decision-making. They ensure that strategy is cascaded throughout the business, in such a way that every employee has a clear understanding of how their role supports the wider strategic vision.

People governance has a vital role to play in ESG policy, too. An organisation’s image now extends far beyond merely products and services. Customers look for evidence of deeper purpose, sustainable practices, environmental responsibility and contribution to wider society. Only a well-designed people governance structure can ensure these principles are embedded sufficiently across a workforce.

Another feature of good people governance is agile capacity planning. Having the
right people in the right place at the right time, doing the right thing in the right way, doesn’t happen by accident. Capacity planning not only helps you cope with future demand, but also builds structures and ways of working that support organisational skills development. Furthermore, it’s essential to maintain high levels of both customer satisfaction and, critically, staff wellbeing. A note of caution though: capacity planning can’t replace the ability of your workforce to adapt when demand varies from what is forecast. For this kind of adaptability, soft skills are indispensable.

On a collective level, adaptability is also strongly enhanced by a multi-disciplinary approach to team structure. Cross-skilling within teams is essential to support increasing demand. It improves workforce resilience by reducing the incidence of single points of potential failure. Managers must be empowered to nurture this cross-skilling, while also being supported to develop their planning, coaching and communication skills.

Finally, resilient workforces are those who enjoy a culture of trust and transparency. How is this achieved? By building an open and honest communication style, sharing bad news as well as good, and always keeping employees well informed about organisational outlook and change.


Why empowerment is key to the resilient workforce

Our market analysis campaign in 2021 highlighted that people strategy is essential to the resilient organisation. A strong people strategy is one that fosters the development of a resilient workforce – a workforce that can rapidly adapt and change to meet market demands.

Resilient organisations are those that empower their people to make decisions. They do this by providing ready access to the tools and data that can be used to make those decisions intelligently. They recognise that both hard and soft skills are necessary to excel collectively.

A resilient workforce embodies the maxim that if you look after your people, they’ll look after your business. And in the long term, that will only mean one thing: demonstrable competitive advantage.  

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