What is organisational resilience and how do you build it?

09 June 2020 Consultancy.uk 4 min. read
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For organisations to successfully come through the Covid-19-induced pandemic and bounce back stronger from the crisis, organisational resilience is key. Clive Weston, co-founder of MorenOE and an organisation development consultant, explores organisational resilience – what is it, how can it be achieved and how can it be leveraged to deliver competitive advantage once ‘normality’ is restored. 

What is organisational resilience?

According to Cranfield University, organisational resilience is the ability of an organisation to anticipate, prepare for, respond and adapt to incremental change and sudden disruptions in order to survive and prosper.

Organisations that are well run are usually able to do those things – anticipate, prepare, respond and adapt. There are exceptions of course – rules-based bureaucracies might struggle with some of those verbs although most would say that the NHS are doing rather well at the moment and face-to-face business businesses are obviously struggling with Covid-19 restrictions.

Notwithstanding the unique sets of challenges specific to specific business sectors and types (B2B; B2C), all organisations will need to work on three fundamental organisational resilience enablers if they want to deliver on those four verbs.

How is organisational resilience achieved?

Developing and improving those three enablers are huge subjects in their own right – changing a culture is extremely difficult to do, process improvement takes time and employee engagement is the ‘pot of gold’ for highly stressed businesses. But if it’s deeply desired and the team is prepared to work hard at it, it can be achieved. 

It starts in the boardroom of course. Is the leadership team strong and courageous enough to identify the problem areas and make the changes needed to create the culture to move forward? To do that involves spending much less of their time in their offices, on their devices and in meeting rooms and more time with their workforce helping them to succeed – ‘generals on the battlefield and not in the tent’, especially in times of major change. 

Leaders then have to take business process mapping and deployment seriously – processes to raise customer expectation (R&D, Sales & Marketing), processes to deliver on those expectations (Operations, Customer Service; Support) and processes to manage their business including of course future Business Continuity Planning and the accelerated use of technology. 

And finally the building of a workforce who want to work for the business because they are committed to the cause, because they are led by leaders and not managers, because they are trained and encouraged to ‘own’ their own jobs and deploy discretionary effort and because they fell that just rewards and recognition will follow when they do. Possibly even tougher after the Covid-19 furlough experience?

All three enablers must be subject to deeper analysis before taking action and there are plenty of templates out there to do that, including those developed by Peters, Kanter, Kotter, Collins and Sinek. At MorenOE [a provider of software solutions for organisational effectiveness], we use an 11-point checklist and present behavioural data back to clients using the Force-Field Analysis tool. 

How do you leverage organisational resilience?

The three enablers of organisational resilience are also the primary source of competitive advantage and the leading guru on this subject is of course Michael Porter from Harvard Business School. Studying Porters’ work indicates that building a competitive strategy is about identifying what makes an organisation special and unique. 

Leaders can-not hope to achieve world-class status across all three enablers in the short term, so knowing where their company is particularly mature would be a good start point – access to industry benchmarks is also very useful, although sometimes getting that data can be difficult. 

Finally, remember that this is a never-ending journey, as the nature of organisational resilience evolves with time, the context and market, and the culture within a company.

Clive Weston is a specialist consultant with 40 years of experience in the organisation development and human resources fields.