Transform and Thrive’s Lucy Whitehall discusses steps organisations can take to become resilient to unexpected events.
We’ve experienced arguably the most challenging years of recent modern history.
Economic crises and unexpected world events have become the norm.
A steady, comfortable state of business operations is probably a thing of the distant past, something we might talk about with nostalgia to our grandchildren.
Now we turn our attention to the wider system that teams and people function within – the organisation.
How can organisations become more resilient?
How can organisations ensure they’re able to deal effectively with unexpected events, recover from crises, and build the capabilities needed to anticipate issues that may derail their performance?
Research in resilience within organisational systems is still relatively sparse, although there are several valuable perspectives.
It might be useful to consider these as you ponder on how best to build resilience capability within your business.
Before considering resilience approaches however, it’s also useful to think about what type of events might rock our organisations as they’re not always obvious like global pandemics or economic meltdowns!
Responsible organisations should be aware that more insidious behavioural and cultural problems can cause lasting damage both reputationally and financially.
These include bullying, harassment, and fraud.
How to become agile and strong
One helpful way of considering resilience within business is that suggested by Dr Stephanie Duchek, who’s studied strength within organisations at great depth.
A three-pronged approach is proposed.
First, organisations need to get savvy at spotting potential issues further down the line.
Then, they need to manage and cope with the crises or events as they unfold.
Finally, businesses need to adapt in wise ways to their experiences.
Let’s look at these three stages in turn and consider what this means in practical and tangible ways.
In project terms, we might equate this to risk assessment.
All employees need to be aware of market forces, issues in the economic environment, and problems that could be brewing in and between teams.
This is the equivalent of the meerkat scanning their terrain to see where possible danger could lurk.
It’s not simply the role of leaders to take on this responsibility, although ultimately, they will be accountable for outcomes.
Everyone in the business needs to have the confidence to know the signs of potential trouble and be able to share their thoughts.
Leaders must therefore create a psychologically safe environment, so everyone feels they are able to speak up and share concerns.
Some crises might even be avoided if organisations become adept at spotting difficulties in advance and then responding promptly and courageously.
We may be more familiar with the idea of coping when we are building our personal resilience strategies.
However, businesses also need to create consistent ways of managing how they behave within crises and difficult events, whether it’s a pandemic or a more local or cultural shared event.
Crisis management is of course vital and will involve creative responses to problems as they arise.
Teams can work together to proactively scenario plan and keep their creative juices flowing by regularly observing what other businesses are facing (whether in or outside sector) and debating and discussing how they would approach similar problems.
Once in crisis, research suggests that being calm and clear in calling out the reality (rather than ignoring or minimising it) is critical to priming people to apply their practiced plans.
This enables wiser and informed navigation of the difficult environment.
Very often, when we’ve gone through a hard period in life, we rush to put it behind us and ‘move on’.
But just as this tactic tends to backfire on a personal level, it will inevitably lead to lost learning opportunities for teams and businesses.
One of my most popular facilitated workshops post-Covid lockdowns involved working with teams to identify treasured nuggets of learning.
Reflection is vital for effective performance.
If we don’t look back at what we did right and wrong, we can never learn from situations.
The learning gained in active reflection captures the essence of a growth-mindset: remaining kind and curious about the events, avoiding blame, and documenting success and failure to inform future strategy.
It’s never too late to start reflecting
If your business isn’t already encouraging a learning culture through reflection, don’t worry, it is never too late.
Teams can quickly get into the habit of de-briefing all projects, whether deemed successful or otherwise.
Employees at all levels can be encouraged to make time to reflect on their own performance and experiences.
There is no one ‘right’ way to reflect.
It’s important that the concept of reflection and curious exploration is championed in loose frameworks, rather than a dogmatic application of prescriptive reflection cycles or methodology.
Resilience takes time
Just like personal and team resilience, organisational resilience is cultivated and not automatic.
With a deliberate emphasis on psychological safety and growth mindset, alongside regular courageous conversations and smart risk assessment, all businesses have the capacity to become stronger and more effective.
In this way they will remain competitive, profitable, productive, and respected for many years to come.