Resilience key to successful organizations

Fear and disregard for risks can be the biggest hindrances to effective crisis preparedness and management in an organization. The digital/social media craze and complex global interconnection means every organization lives with constant threats, ranging from cyber-attacks to natural disasters, disgruntled employees to human error.

Academics and practitioners recently discovered resilience as a core topic of interest. Resilience is widely viewed as a potential solution to the challenges posed by crises and disasters. The promise of resilience is an organisation or society that absorbs shocks and ‘bounces back’ after a disturbance.

The possibility of a crisis severely disrupting an organisation’s ability to operate looms large today, given the pace with which global threats evolve. Incidents of sophisticated cyber sabotage, volatile weather patterns, terrorism attacks, and labor disruptions are escalating, and can strike, obviously, without warning. With these crisis events and the inability to continue operations and meet objectives, comes damage to an organisation’s reputation and its ability to meet stakeholder expectations.

Japan’s post-tsunami crisis and repeated tornadoes of the Southern and Midwestern US demonstrate the vulnerability of modern infrastructure to the forces of nature.Wall Street’s meltdown, the subsequent recession, and the consequent demise of discretionary spending remind us that human-made disasters can be devastating in other ways.

Tipping Point

The key to not only surviving such events, but to prospering during such upheavals, is human resilience. While human resilience may be thought of as a personality trait, in the aggregate, groups, organizations, and even communities can learn to develop a “culture of resilience” which manifests itself as a form of “psychological immunity” to, or the ability to rebound from, the untoward effects of adversity.

It can be argued that a culture of organisational resilience is built largely upon leadership, what we refer to as “resilient leadership.” Consistent with the “Law of the Few” described in Malcom Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point, it is believed key leadership personnel, often frontline leadership, appear to have the ability to “tip” the organization in the direction of resilience and to serve as a catalyst to increase group cohesion and dedication to the “mission.”

They do this, it can be argued, by demonstrating four core attributes of optimism, decisiveness, integrity, and open communications while serving as conduits and gatekeepers of formal and informal information flows throughout the organization and enjoying high source credibility (ethos).

Emerging evidence suggests that optimism and self-efficacy can be learned employing a simple yet powerful framework in the organization. Astute communications managers and Company administrators would tend to think about creating a crisis-resilient organization, not a crisis-free organization. In contrast to an organization that is fearful of crisis, a crisis-resilient one recognizes opportunity, embraces risk and opens minds and hearts within and outside of the organization.

 Strong values

In situations where organizations are ill prepared or positioned, the hazard can grow exponentially and the opportunity can be lost, but those that have built a crisis-resilient structures, can experience crises as opportunities to learn, grow and respond in ways that minimize hazard and risk and lead to meaningful changes and adaptations that foster improvements and growth within the organization.

Ideally, proper preparation can also prevent or lessen the intensity of an impending crisis. This doesn’t mean “spinning” something to look better. What it does mean is honest, ethical behavior, hard work and a willingness to make changes and adjustments in vulnerable or antiquated systems and processes. It means your organization and your leadership are focused on, and anchored in strong values and morals.

An organization’s resilience is drawn from its planned and adaptive capabilities. Such organizations are able to sense change as it emerges, take action to minimize the downside risk, and to extract maximum upside. They are able to prevent many crises from ever occurring, and when crises do occur, they manage them responsively and effectively.

Resilience is less dependent on the structural design of the organization than it is on the relationship between people and groups within that organization. Different resilience challenges are faced by organizations operating in different sectors.  Organizations in highly regulated environments can sometimes find themselves constrained in their ability to implement solutions at short notice, yet organizations operating in highly competitive environments may have more incentive to innovate.

Business continuity and crisis management programs create the systems and training that foster organized, adaptive responses. Whether you face a subtle shift in your operating environment or a calamitous event, the essence of resilience is responding in a way that protects value and ensures long-term, competitive advantage.

Mr Nduri is a Communications Expert in the Energy Sector.