To Succeed In A Changing World, Your Business Processes (And Company Leadership) Must Be Agile And Adaptive. Here’s Why.

The novel coronavirus outbreak has illuminated the importance of building companies atop processes and systems that are dynamic and adaptive.

The outbreak of COVID-19 has illuminated systemic vulnerabilities inside organizations all over the world. In enterprises, it’s illustrated the danger of designing internal processes that are not adequately adaptive, strategic and flexible, or capable of withstanding abrupt changes in circumstance or routine. 

How, exactly? Well, due to measures like nationwide shelter-in-place orders, for example, many companies have had to meaningfully change their day-to-day behavior, often on the fly. This has pressure-tested the internal infrastructure they previously had in place: The processes and systems that power their operations. The problem is, most of us design our internal operations to function under specific and presumably reliable conditions. Now that those conditions have changed, many of our processes and systems are breaking down—often to disastrous effect.

What can enterprise leaders do to mitigate the risk of this in the present, as well as prevent it more purposefully in the future? 


Invest more meaningfully in sound, adaptive and strategically designed internal processes and systems—and adjust our mindsets to appreciate the importance of adaptivity and agility in general. 

Why are business processes and systems—or, your company’s operations department—so important? The reason is simple. Companies are by and large built on top of them. Operations enable growth, and if they’re well designed, they’re part of what prevents your company from crumbling in the face of catastrophe. The best and most forward-thinking company leaders (in my opinion) design their operations around processes that can withstand unforeseen changes in the economy or in customer behavior. 

In this sense, truly sound operations systems are a bit like the multilayered, matrixed, steel foundations that undergird buildings like the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco. That foundation accommodated a 6.9-magnitude earthquake that shook the tower for more than a minute and caused the pyramid’s top floor to sway nearly a foot side-to-side. Yet because of the meticulousness, purpose and prioritization of flexibility with which the building’s foundation was built—the manner in which it was designed to withstand things like earthquakes—the tower sustained no structural damage. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, it could withstand an even larger seismic event. 

If you approach the design of your company’s internal operations the same way—appreciative of the importance of processes that are adaptive and empowering, as opposed to capable only of completing specific tasks in static ways—you can better ensure your business doesn’t break down in the face of unforeseen changes in circumstance. (That includes moments of disaster or, conversely, periods of hyper-growth, wherein your company doubles its revenue and employee count.)


Trial By Fire

A more timely example is a company that my team here at Tonkean works with. It’s called Hopper, a travel-booking site. Hopper uses Tonkean to streamline its customer support workflows. For example, when a support ticket comes in from a traveler whose flight has been canceled, the Hopper team uses Tonkean to analyze the text of the conversation, tag the ticket appropriately and send it to the person best situated to solve the problem in question. That’s their process. In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, however, the number of support tickets they were receiving—due to cancelled flights, fickle governments, confused customers, etc.—quadrupled. The process they had in place, suddenly overburdened,  was liable to break down. 

But because Hopper had designed not just this specific support process, but all of its internal processes to be adaptive—conducive to amelioration, welcoming of quick fixes—its support team was able to update the workflow. In a matter of hours, they updated the support process with the Adaptive Business Operations platform so it could identify which kinds of incoming support conversations were related to the coronavirus, and respond back automatically to gather more information (a standard process that shouldn’t require human involvement), thus deflecting call volume from support agents. Upon completion, they then automatically routed those tickets to the correct personnel. The result? Customers continued to receive the most appropriate responses to their problems, helping to build brand loyalty; Hopper’s system didn’t buckle and, all told, they were able to continue operating while minimizing disruption to their business.


Adaptive Mindsets Required

Of course, investing in and thinking more seriously about operations will not make your company bulletproof, and that’s where our mindsets come in. It’s crucial that we consider how we ourselves can be more adaptive, imaginative and empathetic in the way we run our businesses—that we not allow ourselves to become rigid or complacent in our thinking; that we not allow ourselves to focus myopically on business outcomes, as opposed to business practices. Systemic change starts at the top. Ultimately, companies run not just on their operational infrastructure, but on the shared mindsets of its people. To ensure our companies are adaptive and agile in practice, we must believe in the importance of adaptivity personally and theoretically. 

The fact is, even in normal times, business needs change. Life is unpredictable. And, to be sure, disasters happen. At all times, companies—like people—must be able to adapt. It’s a competitive differentiator, if not essential to survival. To ensure you’re able to adapt is to ensure you’re able to optimize for ever-greater efficiency.

Sagi Eliyahu - Tonkean CEO for Crunchbase

Sagi Eliyahu is the CEO and co-founder of Tonkean, a human-in-the-loop robotic automation & management platform. Prior to Tonkean, Sagi held executive engineering roles at Jive Software. Sagi served for four years in Unit 8200, the Israeli Defense Force’s elite intelligence agency. His essays have appeared in Marker, Fast Company, Forbesand other places around the internet.

  • Originally published April 29, 2020