What's the penalty for not being prepared? The Brazilian football team learned the hard way in the FIFA World Cup semi-final last week. For faced with the loss of their most valuable talent, and then a competitor that made the most of every opportunity, the team was totally unable to change its game to recover.
As a business leader, chances are that you can sympathise somewhat with the Brazilian team managers, right? Talent shortages, inability to adapt, competitive surprises, lack of agility in a fast-paced game... these are challenges we all deal with daily. So what can we learn from Brazil's downturn in football fortunes? Make sure you're resilient enough to handle the risks of a totally changed game.
Commenting on the defeat, the Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff urged Brazilians to "Get up, shake off the dust and come out on top". In other words, she was calling on their resilience. Resilience includes the ability of an organisation (a business, a nation, or a sports team) to be ready for crises, so that they can recover speedily and come out ahead. Nobody had expected the team to find itself in the situation it faced going in to the semi-final. So when the German side rapidly took the lead, the Brazilians were unable to bounce back. The team, and consequently the nation, was left in shock, deflated. How will they pick themselves up from this?
Unready for risks
Crises and the resulting disruption come in many forms. They can hit at home or away. They can be expected risks or totally unforeseen. And they are often followed by aftershocks. For Brazil's national football team, the "catastrophe" as their coach Luiz Felipe Scolari put it, started when one of their key players was injured in the quarter-finals. Next came the suspension of the team captain in the same match. Suddenly, valuable resources were no longer available. It happens in the business world too – strategies risk stalling because of a shortage of key skills. Indeed, in PwC's 17th Annual Global CEO Survey, 63% of CEOs say they are somewhat or extremely concerned about the availability of key skills.
Football fans around the world, soccer for the American fans, wondered how the Brazilian team managers would react. Would they stick to plan A, and address the gap with a "stock replenishment"? Or were they ready to re-assess the new reality, adapt their strategy with agility to capitalise on their remaining strengths, and switch to an alternative, but rehearsed new team constellation? Sometimes crises inspire innovation, a chance to surprise the competition, new ways to play the game, but nevertheless need a prompt response.
They opted for replacement, but with a different kind of player, an underworked business continuity plan if you will. The German team read the new situation accurately and Brazil was in crisis management mode. The crisis management plan seemed to be missing though. There was no apparent leadership on the pitch. Nobody took responsibility for corralling and re-focusing the team on the most urgent priorities – no more goals. Communication between players seemed non-existent, with each man trying to fix the problem for themselves, rather than pulling together, using the strengths and assigned responsibilities of the whole team.
When disasters hit, rehearsed crisis plans have to kick-in, leadership needs to be immediate, communication clear, information shared, and reactions speedy - but agile - as the situation develops rapidly. These factors strengthen resilience and help you recover. None of them were present and goals three, four and five went in. Brazil's defence wasn't prepared for the attack, their team spirit was gone.
Fit for the match
Never before has a team with the resources or perceived skills of Brazil been in this situation in a World Cup match. Brazil had not seen itself in this situation in almost 100 years. But just because something has never happened, it doesn't mean it never will. Resilient organisations constantly look out for the unpredicted and the unknown. They know that disaster doesn't discriminate – it can strike anybody. They run the scenarios, size up the risks and prepare their organisation for them, with rigour, structure, planning, training and skills. This is what Germany illustrated. According to their coach, the German team had a "clear and consistent game plan." But even this result must have been unexpected for them. They stayed in control of the situation, they demonstrated professionalism, ability, knowledge and preparedness.
Leading organisations don't leave resilience to chance. However, observing their inability to bounce-back, one can only wonder if this is exactly what the Brazilian team had done. They lacked their best talent, they were overpowered by a better-prepared competitor, and they couldn't react when crisis struck.
Can they bounce back?
What will happen now? We can expect aftershocks. Given Brazil's recent political turbulence, some people fear that the collective disappointment might prolong political and economic unease. But the nation's people have every reason to shake off the dust and be proud anyway. They staged a successful tournament, and have received much praise as hosts to the largest world sporting event. Brazil's resilience is about to be put to the test.
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