6 characteristics necessary for building organisational resilience


BDO's Nadine Rix on how to recognise, develop and measure organisational resilience. 

Organisational resilience has become the buzzword in the Covid-19 survival playbook, but I keep wondering, what does that really mean? What does a resilient organisation look like? An Amazon search revealed more than 7,000 publications around the topic of individual resilience, whilst combining the search with the word “organisation” resulted in less than 100 products – of which you would be hard-pressed to find one that does not refer to Covid-19.

Traditionally, organisations rely on individual leadership to show resilience in a time of adversity. The internet is flooded with information about becoming an agile and adaptable leader and in most cases, organisational survival and success are closely correlated to leadership capability. While I agree that leadership plays a critical role, putting the responsibility for organisational resilience on the shoulders of leaders and managers could pose some challenges. 

For one, it is incredibly difficult to concretely measure individual resilience. It is very much based on perception and varies from person to person. In addition. I believe that even the most successful leaders have a resilience threshold – a boundary where “enough is enough”. 

In times of adversity, organisations should have mechanisms in place to lessen the burden of survival on leaders in order to preserve their mental and physical well-being. We need our leaders to be able to think, create and communicate in an environment that is not in constant need of their attention. 

Another mechanism favoured to showcase organisational readiness in time of crisis is the business continuity and disaster recovery plan. In my experience, these well-intentioned plans are seldom tested, rarely well-communicated and often make for good bedtime reading for those struggling to fall asleep. Yet, auditors have to issue an opinion on their effectiveness – which begs the question, how do they know? Surely if our BCPs and DR plans were effective we would not have seen a world-wide scrambling for answers when the pandemic broke out? After all, we have been warned for years that this could happen.  

The resilient organisation: What it looks like

One can define organisational resilience, much as personal resilience, in the sense that it is the organisation’s ability to “bounce back” after suffering trauma, loss or disruption. The Covid-19 pandemic, although first and foremost a humanitarian crisis, has caused, and is still causing, significant business disruption. The crisis management approach followed at the beginning of the pandemic needs to be replaced with a sustainable mechanism to continually manage the growing list of unexpected challenges organisations will keep facing on a regular basis. We will be subject to changes in legislation, regulation and elements much wider that were previously under our control, as we learn to live with the virus. 

Much has been researched and documented on human and personal resilience, so what would happen if we applied what we know about resilient individuals to organisations? What if we could define, in organisational terms, that which has always been defined in humanitarian terms? We would then have a framework for the identification, development and measurement of organisational resilience in a manner that is practical, easy to implement and adaptable to size, industry and environment. 

A framework developed on these principles recognises the role that resilient leaders and employees play but is not dependant on having them within the organisation. It does not deal explicitly with any particular leadership style but shows in organisational terms what resilience looks like when being compared to personal (human) resilience.

Here are six traits and characteristics of the resilient person, translated into what these would look like in an organisation. 

1 Sense of control. Companies are resilient when staff receive the same unambiguous message and decisions are made based on real-time, accurate and readily available information with no one running around trying to figure out what is real and what is fake and

2 Goal-oriented. Capacity to make and ability to carry out realistic plans is key. When employees know the plans they feel empowered to accomplish them and know their role in fulfilling them. Goal-setting in this context should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely) with all options including innovative and flexible solutions. Task division must also be clear. 

3 Strong Social Connections. A clearly communicated and visible practice of the organisational “why” is necessary in order to be resilient. This is because having strong connections to staff, peers, clients, suppliers, regulators, legislators, and the community creates a strong sense of measurable trust.

4 Strong problem-solving. Active scenario planning should be a constant theme in every organisation with aims of building resilience. This requires the encouragement of innovation and brain-storming activities and a workplace culture wherein there is no fear of failure and deadlines are more relaxed. Because creativity can’t flourish under pressure.

5 Asks for help. When engaging with stakeholders, there should always be transparency and vulnerability in communication with an honest intent of seeking and offering assistance. 

6 Survivor Mentality. Lastly, the key to building resilience is viewing change as an opportunity and having confidence in your strengths and abilities.



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