Is your organisation resilient?

Is your organisation resilient?

Organisational resilience is one of the management mechanisms that organisations use to navigate a turbulent world, where many human-induced and natural hazards are present.

So what is it exactly? The BSI Group says it’s “the ability of an organisation to anticipate, prepare for, respond and adapt to incremental change and sudden disruptions in order to survive and prosper”. Research has suggested that a positive safety culture is related to organisational resilience in a variety of ways; an overall positive safety culture is associated with greater organisational resilience. However, several cultural aspects appear to be associated with the ability to adapt to changes and disturbances – which also enhances an organisation’s resilience.

Understanding the dynamics of resilience has assumed greater urgency in the face of challenges such as the current Covid-19 pandemic and associated economic recession, natural disasters, terrorism, mass migration, cyber-threats, long-term healthcare issues, including obesity, and a host of other sociopolitical and economic trends.

New technologies, such as integrated systems with artificial intelligence, the “Internet of Things” and the “circular economy”, present new opportunities and potential threats. In addition, many industries have become globalised, with the progressive international dispersion of their products and services, and the disaggregation of their supply chains, making it increasingly difficult to ensure that quality, safety and labour standards are maintained.

In response to these challenges, business leaders are increasingly aware that organisational resilience will help them grow their businesses and protect their continuing performance.

Resilience is required for businesses to respond to disruptions as well as adapt to challenging conditions, leveraging opportunities and delivering sustainable performance improvement. Simply put, senior executives need to both “insure” against bad events, while at the same time adapt before the cost of not doing so becomes too great.

Identifying best practice in organisational resilience is a significant challenge, not least because of the conflicting advice found in various sources of information.

As Howard Kerr, chief executive of BSI, says: “Striving for excellence requires business leaders to challenge complacency, promote vigilance and embrace the need for continual improvement … many organisations are instead sleepwalking to disaster; ‘waiting out a storm’ is no longer an option. Rather, leaders must face the paradox of embracing risk if they are to succeed.

“Doing so requires them to prepare their businesses to react to threats as opportunities, adapting to survive and prosper. This is the true meaning of organisational resilience – that a resilient organisation is one that not merely survives over the long term, but flourishes. We believe that mastering organisational resilience offers the best opportunity to pass the test of time, unlocking future prosperity and securing longevity.”

Organisational resilience has evolved over time and has been split by two core drivers:

• Defensive (stopping bad things from happening); and

• Progressive (making good things happen.

And, broadly, there are two approaches:

• One approach calls for consistency; and

• The other is based on flexibility.

There are also five distinct phases and five contrasting perspectives (which form part of the evolution of organisational resilience (see Figure 1).

FIGURE 1: The organisational resilience evolution.


The organisational resilience tension quadrant

As mentioned, organisational resilience is split between behaviours that are defensive (stopping bad things from happening) and those that are progressive (making good things happen), as well as between behaviours that are consistent and those that are flexible. There are four viewpoints that form an integral framework (see Figure 2):

FIGURE 2: The organisational resilience ‘tension quadrant’.

• Preventative control (defensive consistency),

• Mindful action (defensive flexibility),

• Performance optimisation (progressive consistency) and

• Adaptive innovation (progressive flexibility).

Phase 5: Paradoxical thinking

A new, fifth strand of thinking has emerged that integrates, balances and seeks fit-for-purpose solutions. Simply put, senior leaders must manage the tensions between the four approaches if organisations are to be truly resilient – and this requires paradoxical thinking; balancing preventative control, mindful action, performance optimisation and adaptive innovation; and managing the tensions inherent in these distinct perspectives.

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Marina Sander

Marina Sander is an executive business management consultant for The World of Ethics Group. Her last 20 years have been paved by ethical business practices, legal compliance, operations management, innovation, education, corporate governance, and risk with every business partner whom she engages. She specialises in methods to embed ethics, quality, optimised business solutions, and world class management systems in every process within organisations. She has a passion for developing capabilities and delivering professional value-added solutions to business partners throughout their entire value chain.
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