Why do some organisations cope with disasters, emergencies and disruptions better than others? In our profession, we have witnessed organisations absorb and manage threats. At the same time, other vulnerable businesses are wounded, often mortally from the same event.

Resilient organisations appear to have two strong features that vulnerable businesses lack, being:

  • They manage strategically (hard aspects)
  • They have strong and open cultures (soft aspects)
Why do some businesses bounce back, but others fold during an emergency?

The link between a resilient organisation, and its culture, should be immediately apparent. Resilient organisations are best situated to respond to emerging threats, be they competitive, human-made or natural disasters. Recently COVID-19 has tested organisations’ ability to respond and recover from the supply chain disruption, consumer behavioural changes, government restrictions, staff shortages and border closures.

Organisations which have best-weathered COVID-19 tend to share common characteristics, which provide a strategic competitive advantage on the road to recovery.

Hard aspects

Strategic management represents the hard aspects. Strategic management includes setting objectives and goals and constant measurement of results. Strategic management begins with leadership.

Leadership: resilient organisations have strong leadership that set the tone. These organisations have clear plans, and the employees have buy-in and understand their roles.

Planning:  the most resilient businesses, governments, NGOs, and community groups practice detailed goal setting and continuously measure their progress against well-considered key performance indicators. They monitor their progress towards their goals and objectives constantly, report their performance monthly, and conduct detailed reviews at least quarterly.

Set process and systems: resilient organisations have developed processes and systems, which allows them to deliver their objectives. Theses processes and systems are continuously reviewed and updated when improvement opportunities are identified to increase overall performance.

Risk management is discussed and practised: in resilient organisations,  staff are encouraged to talk about risks and formally register concerns, and mitigations are put in place. This includes alterations to systems and processes. Some organisations suppress risk discussions, as they do not want to concern senior management. Resilient organisations’ Senior Managers are more concerned when they are not informed of risks by their staff.  Internal and external interdependencies are mapped, and strategies can be adjusted when market conditions deteriorate, or natural/human-made disasters occur.

Risks identified are formalised into strategies to cater for unexpected changes in the business environment and incorporated into a Business Continuity Plan, which is regularly updated and tested. These updates and tests occur at least annually, after restructures and following the addition of new product or service lines. The Business Continuity Plan is linked to an up to date Information Technology Disaster Recovery Plan (ITDRP) as the loss of IT services can be devastating as businesses become more reliant on digital technology.

Soft aspects

Resilient organisations place importance on the soft issues of culture. Soft issues are those aspects of business culture that are hard to assess and measure.  Soft issues support the openness of resilient business culture, and include:

Trust: employees are trusted by their management, and this trust is reciprocated

Care: staff have a genuine concern for the wellbeing and prosperity of the business and every employee

Symmetry in terms of the quality of the organisation being made up of equally valuable parts and contributions by employees and suppliers

Openness: the ability to have frank and open discussions, including feedback, innovation, and risk

Teamwork: the organisation rallies together to reach objectives and provide inclusivity equal access to opportunities and resources

Empowerment: removing as many layers of bureaucracy as possible so people can be decisive and respond quickly

Communications are open, informative and are two way, between staff and management

In summary, those organisations that absorb disasters have strong strategic groundings, supported by a healthy culture. This supports discussion and management of risks that threaten strategic objectives. When a threat emerges, the whole company is either prepared for the risk or are agile in responding to new risks. Resilient organisations maintain operations, even if scaled down, to ensure strategic objectives are met.

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