9 Lessons the COVID-19 Crisis Taught Leaders about Organizational Immunity
Written by Dr Antoine Eid
The COVID-19 Crisis caused sudden and severe operational and financial complexities to businesses across the world. The inability to cope for millions of businesses has led to their detriment. Understanding the immune systems of the Human and Organizational bodies reinforces our perception of individual and business adaptation mechanisms.
Human and Organizational Immune Systems
The Human and Organizational immune systems are similar in many ways.
The Human immune system has the following characteristics:
- The human body consists of many subsystems (muscular, respiratory, etc.) that must function in harmony.
- The best and healthiest systems are those that are capable of recognizing and responding to change in a prompt manner.
- Designed to protect the body by recognizing and destroying threats that are responsible for disease (viruses, bacteria, and other external threats), and recognizing the body’s own cells growing abnormally (cancer cells and other internal threats).
- A local response to threat can be either local like an inflammation, infection, clot or tumor or it could be more systemic where the body as a whole reacts.
- When the immune system fails or misapprehends a threat the results can be disastrous, including infection, illness, or eventually death.
The Organizational immune system has very similar characteristics:
- Organizations also consist of multiple levels, departments, and functions that create a complex network of people and operations.
- An Organizational healthy immune system also has mechanisms to recognize and respond to change (Leadership plays an important role there).
- Designed to protect from change and instill a culture (so basically, when you are in stability mode, you want people to conform and commit faster which is more convenient for the business, but creates rigidity that is not healthy in times of crisis and uncertainty).
- Threat response in an organization is affected by people’s resistance to change, the rigidity of the existing policies, structures and culture.
- And of course, immune failure can lead to an eventual termination of the business as we have seen millions of businesses close through COVID-19.
Why are People and Organizations so resistant to Change?
The answer might be in their Immunity System
Change threatens comfort and security, and People and Organizations tend to naturally resist the pain it causes. The inability to deal with uncertainty the world has witnessed during the Coronavirus crisis led to a global syndrome of Freezing Behavior, which only adaptable organizations were able to overcome. It is the same immune system which was made for protection and survival, that has stood in the way of quick adaptation.
Through this crisis we observed a lot of different behaviors, some showed more resistance to change than others. Although we found some positively surprising Resilience in some, we also observed signs of Withdrawal and Protective Behavior in others. This can relate to people’s mindset and mental health on one hand and also the effort Leadership had put in getting them ready for change – and this time change happened and it was unexpected. This rapid series of events made Leaders appreciate the importance of finding the Vaccine and raising Organizational immunity.