Organisational Resilience

Have you ever noticed how some organisations/businesses handle adversity better than others? Of course we see that in the number of small businesses in particular that do not survive tough times. We also see some very small businesses that appear initially vulnerable, actually blossom under adverse economic circumstances. From my office window I can see a wonderful metaphor for this kind of resilience – a small petunia flower apparently thriving having germinated between the brick pavers. Organisational resilience doesn’t need to be quite that extreme, but it helps.

Organisational resilience


Originally a term used to describe the physical properties of materials able to return to their original form after having been distorted, Resilience is now also used in social terms to describe the capacity of people and organisations to come out of an extreme shock, damage, injury and trauma and get back to normal life.

In an organisational or business sense this might mean being able to recover an efficient or profitable operation following a significant disruption – such as the global financial crisis, the death of a key executive, or a physical catastrophe like fire, flood or earthquake.

When “It” Happens.

We know that “it” happens to the best of organisations and businesses in spite of meticulous planning and the best of good intentions. When it does happen, often the best measure of management effectiveness is how quickly the organisational business can recover and therefore how resilient it is. Being able to effectively bounce back from adversity requires a mixture of preparedness, perseverance, determination, and relies heavily on the initiative and agility of management.

Preparedness at the highest level is not always possible but some degree of preparation provides confidence in tackling the recovery effort, which in turn produces resilience. Being prepared to respond in appropriate ways means that time is not wasted in debate as to what needs to be done, by whom and when.

Most large businesses now appreciate the wisdom of maintaining back-up electronic data stores off site. But it is surprising how many are still reliant on mountains of paper files which they pile up in offices and storerooms on the business premises, to be consumed by a fire or water-damaged by the fire fighting. Having a contingency plan to move into new premises is a good start, but losing all your customer records makes bouncing back that much harder.


(Image courtesy Sydney Morning Herald)

How do we build resilience into our organisations?

A few thoughts on what organisations can do to build resilience into their fabric might include:

  • Laying the foundations for financial sustainability, so that the organisation can withstand unexpected financial or economic shocks.
  • Attending to the various elements of Workforce Planning, including attracting and retaining appropriate skills and talents, succession planning and regular workforce profiling and analysis to identify where the organisation might be vulnerable.
  • Developing staff to encourage initiative and their capability to “step up” in times of crisis.
  • Development of management systems to generate and analyse appropriate business information from all strategic quarters.
  • Maintaining appropriate focus on strategy development.
  • Placing effective leaders in key roles.
  • Formulating strong business continuity plans and risk management frameworks.
  • Securing and maintaining effective strategic alliances, that can be called upon in times of need.
  • Creating and maintaining strong customer and client relationship management programs.
  • Adopting effective internal and external communication practices.

Importantly, being resilient is about not being discouraged by the fact that adversity strikes but rather being enlivened to respond and determined to bounce back. Being able to see a way forward through the dust and smoke of disaster is the key attribute of leaders in times of crisis.

When playing that wonderfully enduring board game Monopoly I was always nervous about drawing a “CHANCE” card. I would alwaysGoojfcard worry about whether I had enough cash and property to survive any terrible consequences of being required to ” Advance to Mayfair and pay twice the usual rent” or “Go directly to Gaol”. Did my portfolio have enough resilience to allow me to revive my strategy to acquire both the Electricity and Water Utilities?

Organisational Resilience isn’t always a “get out of jail free card” but it can certainly help the rehabilitation to be swifter and perhaps less painful.

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