Building Organisational Resilience

Building Organisational Resilience

9 years ago 0 0 1873

Is your organisation resilient?  How have you build adaptability, and even the power to transform under stress, into the fabric of your business operations?

In my first post on resilience, I covered the concept of personal resilience and the core skills that someone would need to be resilient.  In the second part of the series, we looked at how a resilient leader can create resilient teams.

In this third part of the series, I want to take the idea of resilience into the context of organisations.

Commonly, resilience in organisations is often equated to risk mitigation and continuance.  This forms a significant part of what resilience can be in organisations – and yet this is not the end of it.

Risk mitigation and management forms a ‘context specific resilience’.  Generalised resilience is a deeper concept, where resilience forms part of the fabric of the organisation and is the standard way of approaching stress and challenge inside and outside the organisation.

Context specific resilience is well covered in crisis management and continuance approaches.  I covered this topic in a previous post.  Preparing your organisation to be vigilant to search for risk, to be able to evaluate and predict it, and to properly manage it is a critical business function.  Not being prepared for crisis or risk, and not being able to properly manage it is a recipe for destroying the business.  Organisations that have no crisis plan and suffer crisis are likely to be out of business within the next two years.

To support the development of crisis plans and continuity processes, there is the international standard on societal resilience (ISO/PA22399).  It is a key function of leadership to identify, prepare for or manage threats that may occur for the business.

Generalised resilience is something more profound – it is the capacity of the organisation to respond productively to unknown or unexpected risks or stresses, which can emerge within, or external to the organisation.  It is not what happens, but what the organisation does which defines its robustness or resilience.  This generalised resilience creates an inherent capacity within the organisation to react better, react faster, learn and appropriately adapt to stresses (including catastrophe and crisis).

More resilient organisations could be expected to be better performers in difficult circumstances and promote an environment which encourages greater individual performance within the organisation.  Resilience is a powerful framework for creating a high performing organisation.

How do leaders create organisations which demonstrate greater generalised resilience (assuming ALL organisations take care of contextual resilience through risk identification and amelioration!)?

The first key to creating a resilient organisation revolves around having a clear purpose.  The purpose of the organisation sits above the mission/vision/values, and represents the “Why” of the organisation.  One way to think about it is to ask the question ‘what benefit to the community does our organisation serve, that is bigger than us, and more than just return on capital?’

Knowing the purpose is critical to resilience – it acts as the ‘true north’ setting for the organisation’s compass.  When circumstances change, the purpose points the organisation in the direction it needs to travel – and allows the strategies and tactics (the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ of the organisation) to change and adapt to allow it to keep serving its purpose effectively and efficiently even when the market or the context changes dramatically.

A robust organisation might be able to belligerently push on through changing environments, without changing their ‘how’ or ‘what’ – and this may provide short term survival.  A resilient organisation can change what it does dramatically, and still serve its purpose and have a clear ‘reason to operate.  This allows transformations and adaptations to occur within the business, reshaping the organisation to be successful under new stresses or changed conditions and contexts.  Being clear in the purpose but flexible in the processes and structure is a key part of being resilient.

The second element of a resilient organisation is to have a culture.  A culture which is based upon responsibility and internal flexibility provides the framework for resilient responses – to get through stress and change, or to adapt and even transform.  A culture which is based on rigidity of structures (hierarchies) and ‘pass the buck’ mentality will miss the signal from the market, not know how to respond, and be difficult to shift in the face of stress or change.

This means that the ‘cultural artifacts’ are consciously developed  across the organisation which demonstrate and value resilience.  These artifacts can be broken into three clusters: culture, process and design; stories, heroes and rituals; and language.

As outlined in the post on team resilience, these three clusters need to be consciously developed, propagated and exploited to build the culture that is valued and supported.  When the organisation values people taking responsibility and being internally flexible to serve the company’s ‘why’ (purpose), then the organisation is set up to be resilient.

When the people within the organisation are hired for, or are helped to develop, the key skills or personal resilience, this also helps the organisation be more resilient.  Organisations that actively encourage the development of skills which underpin resilience, and engage in coaching to continuously enhance these skills, ensure that their organisations are built to be resilience.  Coaching has a significant impact on individual’s and teams’ capacities to adapt and respond, supporting resilient functioning.

Organisations that have leaders who have actively develop a purpose and a culture of resilience can actually use crisis or context change to drive transformative growth.

For example, I have recently worked with a number of high schools that have had to adapt to the new ‘performance management’ requirements of the Department of education.  This change has led to a lot of stress within schools.  Working with the leadership of these schools, we were able to take ‘what we have to do’ and play a bigger game – by asking “what is the best that we can do?”  By working with the leaders to transform their approach to a ‘leader as coach’ model, the schools have used the changing landscape to create a new frame of reference – coaching and development for staff and students that sits over the minimalist bones of the performance management criteria.

In this way, the leadership has demonstrated a form of transformative resilience – they have positively adapted to a change in context to step up to a ‘bigger game’ that adds value to themselves and others.  They did not just find a way to ‘survive’ the change in their conditions, they used them as a platform to adapt their processes, transform their ‘how’ and ‘what’ to push the organisations forward in serving their stated purpose of serving the student body in a more profound way.

Organisations have to work to be resilient by continuously being conscious of the purpose, the culture and the skills of the people.  The benefits of being resilient can be the difference between going out of business or transforming to new ways to operate which serve your bigger purpose.

How is your organisation resilient?

What specific things do you do to create a clear purpose and a responsible and resilient culture?

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