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NSF International: Coping With Brutal Disruption – Six Simple Rules

The trouble with the old sayings, “proper planning prevents poor performance” and “fail to plan, plan to fail,” is that planning only works when you have an idea of what’s coming. If proper planning no longer guarantees good performance, how can you prepare for an era of brutal disruption?

What Is a Brutal Disruption?

Brutal disruptions are events that:

  • Are potentially massive
  • Will have profound impact on everything we do
  • Are truly life changing
  • Can’t be predicted with certainty; you don’t see them coming and you have no plans in place

Brutal disruptions will probably happen annually, we need to get used to them so we can protect ourselves and the legacy and reputation of our businesses. When the next brutal disruption occurs, our “six to fix” rules can help.

“Six to Fix” Rules to Bounce Back Stronger From Brutal Disruptions

Rule One: Create a Bounce-Back Culture

When the unexpected happens, you need full engagement of the entire workforce – everyone working as one and not fearful of the future. A bounce-back culture is:

  • Open and transparent with excellent communications
  • Blame-free from top to bottom
  • Free of silos and unnecessary bureaucracies

Leadership is visible, accessible and authentic, and employees are highly motivated and care about what they do.

Call to Action

  • To see if you have a bounce-back culture, check out NSF’s “health check” for a diagnosis and answers.
  • If you want simple guidance on how to achieve a blame-free culture, watch NSF’s five-minute video.
  • Keep a positive attitude about errors and mistakes – in turbulent times you’re going to make lots.

Rule Two

To bounce back fast you must have simple processes, systems and documentation. Complexity confuses, slows everything down and increases the risk of errors and mistakes. Survival is about speed, adaptability and agility. You must brutally simplify everything.

Call to Action

  • Watch this short webinar, listen to this white paper podcast or read this LinkedIn post on simplification.
  • Complexity is the sign of lazy thinking. Good thinkers are good simplifiers. The more you simplify, the faster you will react when the unexpected happens.

Rule Three: Establish an Excellent Network Built on Trust and Respect

When you’re experiencing brutal disruptions, surround yourself with people you trust, who have the knowledge and skills you need.

Call to Action

  • Make building strong networks, internal and external, a priority and an active process.
  • Transactional networks – based on the assumption that if you give something, you expect something back – rarely work. Build networks of giving without expecting something in return.

Rule Four: Have Fast Feedback Loops

In the fast and furious world of brutal disruptions, you need fast feedback loops – alarms and alerts that tell you how you’re doing and when to change direction. When the unexpected happens, decisions must be made quickly, whether they succeed or fail.

Call to Action

Make sure you have:

  • Processes to allow fast decision making by those on the “frontlines”
  • High levels of accountability for people to make decisions without senior management approval
  • A decentralized organization with small corporate functions and a minute HQ
  • A change control system that can review and approve changes in 30 minutes
  • An exceptionally well-educated workforce that understands not just the “hows” but also the “whys.” Watch this short video for more information
  • No silos and minimal bureaucracies
  • Excellent knowledge management systems to share good and bad news within minutes
  • Performance measures that encourage collaboration, not competition
  • Key performance indicators that measure only what matters

Rule Five: Do the Basics Exceptionally Well

Great sports people are masters of the basics. Under high pressure, they are “in the zone” and can act without thinking. We have to do the same to make the right decisions quickly. Brutal disruptions are usually accompanied by high levels of stress, distraction and overload. In the pharmaceutical industry, you must have true mastery of:

  • Products and processes. You must have a deep understanding of how your products and processes work.
  • Problem solving. World-class companies use problems as learning opportunities and focus on simple solutions that will last, not quick fixes. Fast decisions don’t always end up being right. You will make mistakes. Just make sure you learn from them.
  • Risk management and risk-based decision making. With uncertainty comes risk, and you must be comfortable with uncertainty and excel at managing the consequence.
  • Change management. If you can’t review and approve a planned change in 30 minutes, your future is at risk.
  • Education. Unless people understand the “why,” they can’t practice the “how.”

Call to Action

Ask yourself and your colleagues these questions to assess how good you are at the basics:

  • Does everyone understand how your products work and know their key quality attributes? Do you all have in-depth knowledge of your process’ critical control points?
  • Do you have a culture of risk aversion? If so, you are exposing yourself to even greater risk. There is no such thing as zero risk.
  • When you are trying to fix problems, do you look for a single root cause? If you do, think again. It simply doesn’t exist; problems always have multiple contributing factors.

Rule Six: Look After Yourself

Brutal disruptions are tough, requiring long hours and high levels of anxiety. Burnout is a real possibility. Make sure you keep body and soul together.

And finally… enjoy the ride.

Necessity is the mother of invention. Brutal disruptions will force us to be more creative than ever before. Maintaining the status quo is no longer good enough. We will discover new ways of thinking and new ways of doing things.

For more information about NSF International’s pharma biotech services, please call us on + 44 (0) 1751 432 999, email or visit our website

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