What Does Organizational Resilience Mean To You?
COVID-19 has necessitated revisiting the importance of organization, collaboration, & grit.
In the last 15 years, a great deal has been written about organizational resilience – how to build a resilient culture, characteristics of resilient leaders, and fostering resilience within employees. The last major event to warrant the flood of content came as a result of the recession in 2007-2009, and the current crisis certainly invokes similar considerations. Companies struggling with plunging revenue, facing potential or recurring layoffs, or coping with morale issues of distributed employees working from home, will likely revisit these themes as they plan for where to go from here.
At Acariya, we thought it useful to distill some of these themes here with an eye for updating them to increase relevance.Let’s start with a definition that we like:“Organizational resilience is the ability of an organization to anticipate, prepare for, respond and adapt to incremental change and sudden disruptions in order to survive and prosper.”1 To apply this definition within an existing organizational framework, leaders must appreciate the seemingly opposing drivers of resilience (progressive, or achieving results vs. defensive, or protecting results) in order to introduce consistency and flexibility.This framework of blended thinking informs development of all aspects of what will ultimately become an HRO (High Reliability Organization).
People Come First
Resilient organizations invest heavily in their people – both in leadership and in non-managerial staff. Corporate cultures that facilitate the growth of managers into leaders are investing in resilience, and that investment pays when these leaders are given the latitude to deviate from an established course to both protect the well-being of their staff and serve the long-term viability of the company: “When people make mistakes in the workplace, this is not seen as a source of error, but rather an opportunity to learn from the incident and to build resilience.”2 And willingness to create personnel interdependency within and across business units allows for mentoring, cross-training of skills, and mutual support, particularly important during stressful periods.
Processes Are Meant To Be Malleable
Business continuity during disruptive events requires adaptability at a corporate level. When, for example, a workforce must become completely remote overnight, established protocols will be profoundly disrupted. But if leadership is empowered to act and staff are encouraged to innovate, historically brittle operational models can be modified or replaced with nimble, distributed alternatives that have been stress-tested under trying market conditions. “Successful firms are prepared for adversity and yet are also proactive and flexible when encountering a crisis.”3 That proactivity should be embedded in business process design that includes governance, accountability, financial reporting, supply chain re-engineering, knowledge management and customer experience considerations. In many of these areas, introduction of new tools & methods in the form of technological enablers will expedite the path to the desired result.
Technology Can Be Evergreen
By ‘evergreen,’ we don’t mean that organizations should perpetually upgrade legacy systems. But by taking the steps to reshape the internal corporate technology landscape – or ideally, by building a resilient architecture in the first place – companies are far better positioned to rapidly pivot if market conditions require it. Even better, with leaders and staff operating in a culture that embraces both personal support and regular innovation, adoption of new tools to enable business to move forward becomes the new normal. Here’s an example: enterprise applications & data in the cloud are more accessible to employees connecting from home. Similarly, corporate budget allocated to upgrade last-mile connectivity infrastructure with a better WiFi access point or higher bandwidth Internet Service Provider (ISP) can produce a more productive remote workforce.
Intentions Should be Shared, Early & Often
Change is often feared, which is why true organizational resilience demands elevated levels of communication. Leaders who understand that employees respond to stressful situations in highly individualized ways - and that some are accordingly more at risk than others - will help to alleviate potential organizational issues. Articulation of the context for decisions made and the rationale for change is essential, as is striving to connect on an individual level. “The personal touch is important now more than ever, and is part of the foundation of a sustainable, resilient culture.”4 Two way communication, active listening and frequent feedback loops can convert fear of change into a culture that innovates and rewards creative problem-solving.
While the pandemic has wreaked havoc to business worldwide, examples abound of companies across multiple industries that have adapted to the current environment to survive and even thrive. In the end, leaders who embrace the drivers of resilience will see their organizations thrive during periods of instability, and companies that invest to become HRO’s will be those best positioned to weather the current COVID storm as well future seismic events.