Dealing with crisis: What organisations could learn from Kerala

These days we hear a lot about the Kerala model and how Kerala is successful in flattening the curve of COVID-19. International news media has praised Kerala and Kerala leaders, the chief minister and the health minister who are leading a lot of initiatives to fight the COVID-19. At the same time, I feel we are forgetting a very important aspect that helped Kerala fight the virus, and that is not communism either. 

While communist ideology might have an influence in the social fabric of Kerala, it is clearly not communism as an ideology that should get the credit. If that is the case, the credit should go to China and Russia also. 

If it is just about a model or a strategy, any other state or country could easily copy or adopt that strategy. If it is about actions of specific leaders, any other leader could adopt those actions. We might have to look bit more deeply into the social fabric of Kerala to understand the success they had in fighting the virus. While the threat of COVID-19 is not yet over fully, Kerala also had fought another epidemic successfully in the past, the NEPA virus. 

It is the active and strong social networks in Kerala that helped them fight the epidemic. A socio political study of Kerala will reveal that grass root level organisations, networks, support groups and social connections are more in Kerala than other states. If that is so what could be the applications of this in Organisations?  

In the beginning there was a network and from networks all organisation life derives and the network becomes the embryonic beginning of a culture and the initial stage of a structure. 

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” says the Bible. If you are a leader, you might want to hold the next sentence with equal respect. In the beginning there was a network and from networks all organisation life derives and the network becomes the embryonic beginning of a culture and the initial stage of a structure. 

Formal structures and leaders remain an integral part of organisations. However, we must also develop the ability to look beyond the organisational chart to see, understand, and engage the informal, invisible structure supporting the organisation. When we do that, we can see multiple networks in action. 

One could be a network that gets the day-to-day work done, another would be the social network within an organisation comprising people who interact and meet socially. There could be another trusted network where one would go to get advice on career advancements and solutions for career issues. 

Leaders who could build social networks in organisations, understand and see the social networks and use these networks effectively to deal with a crisis, drive change, build  culture and engagement would be more effective than leaders who only use the formal structures in organisations. 

Now all of us are working from home. Some organisations were habituated with some level of virtual teams and virtual working but for many organisations this suddenly posed a new challenge. The challenge of engaging the workforce when everyone is working from home, managing performance, managing anxiety and uncertainty. Our usual and auto pilot way of dealing with these new challenges would be to use the formal organisation hierarchy and structure. 

How could you use the informal trusted networks more effectively during this time?

Know your super connectors

In every network there are people who have more connections, people who others trust and people who hold the network together. While Many good managers have an intuitive understanding of their company’s social network and know the web of connections nearest to them. But when it comes to understanding things on a companywide level intuition is not enough. We need hard data.  This is where a social network analysis could help. 

Involve the super connectors

Involve these people in your communication and engagement activities. These people might not be hierarchal seniors. So you need to empower them and involve them and make sure that they are at the centre of your communication and engagement activities.  

Map your informal trust network

While we reach out to all our colleagues to get work done, we do not necessarily trust everyone when it comes to sharing personal information. Within every organisation, there is a trust network where people share their fears, anxieties and hopes. This network is highly useful in crisis and stressful situations and managers need to know how to effectively use this network to build confidence and belongingness. Again when it is a large organisation, just intuition will not help. You would need hard data to identify and effectively use this network. 

We all are in an unfamiliar territory now and in a real VUCA world. Leaders who are willing to experiment will novel ideas, tools and methodologies will have an advantage over leaders who only knows traditional ways of knowing, being and doing. 

If you are interested in understanding the social networks in your organisation and wanting to know how to do an Organisation Network Analysis, please get in touch with us.

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