By Sandy Bell

We often think of "organizational resilience" in the context of threats and hazards such as floods, fires, cyberattacks, hurricanes etc. However, being organizationally resilient simply includes:

  • Being situationally aware
  • Being in control of your vulnerabilities
  • Having the leadership, culture and support networks to adapt in complex and dynamic environments
  • Being clear about what really defines the organization
  • Having the wherewithal to thrive and capitalize on change and uncertainty

These qualities are helpful in the face of unplanned disruptions – manmade or natural disasters – as they allow the organization to go beyond simply scraping through the organizational instability and adversity that they bring.

An organization with such qualities is also much better equipped to seize opportunity as they have both the adaptive and planning capabilities to swiftly and decisively conduct large-scale changes such as downsizing or mergers and acquisitions.

Shari Redstone, the president of National Amusements, the Redstone family holding company that controls the U.S. media companies CBS and Viacom, will need personal resilience, as well as organizational resilience, in both entities if they are to successfully re-merge.

Let's see how Redstone, CBS and Viacom fit within the Sungard AS 5-step framework for developing organizational resilience.

Step 1: Define and Communicate the Primary Objectives

Despite the fact that the merger negotiations have taken in excess of four years and were complex and frequently acrimonious, the press release was unequivocal. The goal of the merger is to create a "leading global, multiplatform, premium content company, positioned to be one of the most important content producers and providers in the world."

Redstone, in an associated statement, notes that she is "really excited to see these two great companies come together so that they can realize the incredible power of their combined assets." This makes it abundantly clear that the merger has entertainment giants such as Netflix in its sights.

The outward expression of the primary objectives are clear, and the fact that it has already endured four years of challenge would suggest that it's solid.

Step 2: Lay the Right Foundations

To maintain business as usual, it's important to have the right information, in the right hands, at the right time. But it can also be a game changer during change and uncertainty. Agile response requires situational awareness and situational awareness requires information.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, the merged company will have a library of 3,600 film titles and 140,000 TV episodes. It will also start with 22% share of the U.S. television audience, which is currently larger than Comcast, Disney, Fox Corporation, Discovery or WarnerMedia.

Redstone's father, Sumner Redstone, famously once said, "Content is King." But when he coined the phrase in 1974 to reflect the thought that content would become more important than distribution mechanisms, he probably wasn't thinking about cloud computing or cord cutters.

Technology, and the way people consume content, has changed dramatically in the intervening years. Although content is important, so is making sure that it's always accessible. That means that content needs to be stored, processed and transmitted over a resilient infrastructure that's protected from cyber disruptions, both malicious and accidental.

Viacom, one of the early adopters of public cloud, reportedly faced data breaches due to poor security configuration. Let's hope that as it goes into this merger, where success depends on the safe and secure leverage of information assets, Viacom has learned from its early mistakes.

Step 3: Prepare for Action

It may seem counterintuitive, but one of the major differentiators between just scraping through uncertainty and disruption and being able to turn it to your advantage is planning.

By definition, uncertainty means the possible outcomes and the probability of those outcomes occurring is unknown. Therefore, what's the point of investing energy planning for something that probably won't happen?

This is a bit like saying a sports team shouldn't practice set pieces because the chances of that situation ever occurring in a game is vanishingly small. Plans such as business continuity plans and crisis communication plans are an articulation of your aims together with an initial response framework. The knowledge you gain creating these plans is what's indispensable for adapting them to circumstances.

According to Variety, Redstone has spent the last four years "doggedly removing every obstacle that stood in her way of implementing her vision for the media empire." This would suggest that a serious amount of planning has been undertaken.

Step 4: Develop Crisis Leadership

Winston Churchill once said, "In battles, the other fellow interferes all the time and keeps up-setting things, and the best generals are those who arrive at the results of planning without being tied to plans."

With a background in corporate law, estate planning and criminal law practice, Redstone is no stranger to leadership. Since joining the family firm, she's experienced numerous aspects of the entertainment industry, and appears to have developed the skills, competencies and psychological coping strategies needed to successfully lead the merged organization successfully complex, uncertain and unstable environments.

Erik Gordon, a professor at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business, believes that Redstone "will be a powerful leader who isn't afraid to use her power." The way he sees it: "Nobody should underestimate what she's capable of."

Step 5: Nurture Strong Relationships

Change can create fear and anxiety. In a world of 24-hour news cycles and social media, even relatively minor changes or disruptions have the potential to upset the money-making capability of the wider, often delicately balanced, commercial web in which organizations operate.

However, we are not talking about a minor change here – but the second mega-merger to take place in the entertainment industry in the past few months. Fears of placing too much power in too few hands are already being raised. For example, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren tweeted that the Department of Justice "should be paying close attention."

When working with organizations to enhance their resilience, we use techniques such as Wargaming and Stress Testing to foster a mutually supportive network of vendors and stakeholders to help create symbiotic relationships where competitors become collaborators.

Early indicators are that the new entity "ViacomCBS" is going to need all the friends it can get to succeed.

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