Since the beginning of the 21st century, we have experienced five global pandemics: severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2003, H1N1 influenza pandemic in 2009, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in 2012, Ebola virus in 2015 and now COVID-19 in 2020. However, the coronavirus pandemic has been the most crippling by far. As this crisis threatens to devastate business operations, companies must not only improve business continuity plans (BCP) but also drive a resilient learning culture that can weather disaster.

There is a pressing need to reimagine a system of prevention and preparedness rather than recovery. Companies that have discovered learning transcendence – the proven capability to bolster simplification, harness modernized technology and employ workforce cross-skilling during a bull market – will protect their people and corporate performance against unknown events.

A business continuity plan has been the traditional system of prevention and recovery from potential business threats, including supply chain interruption and loss of or damage to critical infrastructure such as machinery, technology network resources, buildings or employees. However, learning is often overlooked. If the BCP is supposed to ensure that assets and personnel are protected and can continue functioning in the event of a disaster, why isn’t it working? Can learning transcendence ensure it will fulfill its intended purpose?

Much like the science-fiction film “Transcendence,” COVID-19 has taught us that it is not enough to create a BCP with the best of intentions. We must verify the application is reasonably stable. In the film, Dr. Will Caster and his team build a living computer in which they upload a digitized form of Caster’s consciousness to outlive the death of his body. In his digital afterlife, Caster builds a virtual utopia focused on advancements in medicine, biology, energy and nanotechnology. As he grows more powerful, Caster’s team grows suspicious of his intentions. To prevent potential harm, the team creates a computer virus to destroy Caster, as well as the utopic digital civilization. Although the film is fictional, it illustrates the necessity to have a fully vetted and sound plan in place.

According to a study conducted by Mercer, 51% of organizations around the world do not have a BCP in the case of emergencies or disasters. Yet, roughly 31% of organizations have a plan that has not yet implemented. So, where do learning professionals start?

To reliably inoculate against company collapse and loss of performance and morale, organizations must create an organizational learning utopia by integrating three advancements into the flow of work.

1. Bolster Simplification

Steve Jobs once said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” He simplified products by getting laser-focused on their essence and eliminating unnecessary features. Hence, there are no instructions in the Apple iPhone box; you simply need to follow the intuitive on-screen instructions.

Simplification means streamlining processes by eliminating unnecessary steps and automating to drive business efficiency. Rewarding efforts to map processes and workflows to simplify unnecessary tasks yields a culture of endless curiosity, prioritizing the efficiency of organizational processes.

During a crisis, your organization operates from a position of lower cost-basis, heightened transparency, increased time, human resource and asset management efficiency, productivity, and minimized risk related to process and workflow complexities.

2. Harness Modernized Technology

The COVID-19 crisis has exposed risks associated with legacy technology systems, especially learning platforms. It has proven that ignoring outdated technology until it is broken does not bode well in a crisis and is harmful to a company’s brand and customer satisfaction. To get and stay ahead with learning, put cloud adoption transformation and investment at the center of your business strategy to continuously adapt and modernize technology.

During a crisis, your organization should operate from a secure, cloud-only position by investing in prudent solutions that are cost-effective, quicker to test and implement, and better suited for learning and business continuity. This prevents disruptions caused by having to patch or replace deteriorating legacy systems, software and platforms while striving to meet ever-increasing employee and customer experience expectations in an uncertain market.

3. Employ Cross-skilling

Conduct a skills risk analysis of business-critical units that drive the highest value proposition. Then, begin cross-skilling select workforce populations for your new business strategy. For example, contact centers are crucial during this crisis, yet many companies have not been able to respond quickly. Create a squad of cross-skilled employees to perform both customer-facing tasks and tasks enabling them to shift amid changing business needs to prevent discontinuity of service. To ensure employees’ skills stay refreshed, implement recurrent job rotation.

During a crisis, your organization operates from a position of developing a sustainable workforce of transferrable business critical knowledge and skills. Furthermore, cross-skilling boosts productivity and fosters the agility companies need to pivot in times of crisis.

Test Prevention Plan Capabilities

To test prevention capabilities, it’s important to mimic real-life scenarios. Extended reality (XR) – a mixed reality environment intended to simulate physical presence in virtual scenarios – can do that. The military has used this type of application for decades, from disaster-preparedness to analyzing military maneuvers. This allows organizations to monitor, track and evaluate performance with the utmost detail. It is a proven approach to fortify learning and assess the strength of your prevention plan before, during and after a crisis. 

Practical Wisdom

The notion of learning transcendence may be new, but the practical wisdom drawn from research and best practices are not. These insights can help create a workplace and workforce where curiosity, knowledge sharing, reflection, digital acuity and simplicity are fostered, forging a resilient company able to quickly adapt to unplanned events.

Learning transcendence has become both a human and an organizational need. It’s time to move beyond an analog BCP of basic recovery needs and strive toward consistent betterment of organizational learning and preparedness.