Exclusive: Rethinking organisational resiliency


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Within literature devoted to crisis management, much attention has been focused on the topic of resiliency. Resilience is framed in the context of an organisation’s ability to adapt to extraordinary situations, to endure stress and change and survive into the future. Organisational resiliency depends upon the ability and capacity of an organisation to anticipate disruptive situations/events, react to short-term shocks and adjust to the unexpected disruptions triggered by them. Generally, such situations are short-term events – impactful situations stemming from a natural disaster event, such as a hurricane, earthquake or major flood. Similarly, they may be “man-made” impactful events such as a terrorist attack, a workplace violence incident, or a business-related event that imperils a company’s brand or reputation. The challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic present opportunities to reconsider organisational resiliency from a fresh perspective, particularly for small enterprises and sole proprietorships.

Considering the current pandemic response exposes some of the deficiencies of the current resiliency framework – anticipate, plan, prepare and respond to extraordinary situations/events. First, it belies simplicity. Second, most organisations simply don’t. Despite all the exhortations to plan and prepare – many organisations still lack an organisational strategy – a defined organisational approach to such extraordinary situations/events. Accordingly, they respond to them reactively, incrementally and disjointedly. Why is that?

Two potential reasons. The first may be their inability to gather relevant information and to assess it in an efficient and timely manner. Because of this, they tend to react to developments as they unfold, rather than to anticipate and forward-think them. They get ensnared into incrementalism predicated on the immediacy of the situation/event, rather than building for a more protracted and sustainable campaign of response and recovery. The second may be that their resiliency strategy is primarily centred on situations/events that are organisational-centric (that is, situations/events specific to them and/or over which they have direct influence/control of its resolution. For example, the response and recovery to the impacts and damages of a natural disaster, or a workplace violence incident on premises). Their resiliency strategy may not align to situations or events that necessitate timely information (intelligence) for quick decision-making or agile alignment to externally imposed operational requirements (such as travel restrictions, mandated quarantines, required hygiene practices, etc.).

Creating an intelligence capacity to enable the organisation to anticipate business disrupters and reliable basis for informed decision-making to address them, should be a critical element of the organisation’s approach to resiliency. Intelligence creates the foresight that enables the organisation to anticipate situations/events, to see and assess them uniquely (unobscured by prior events/experience) and to adapt to the situational dynamics they impose on the organisation. In too many cases the current approach to resiliency relies more on communications stratagems than it does on adaptive intelligence stratagems.

The COVID-19 pandemic has proven unique in many ways. Unlike events that have some finality – such as natural disasters, terrorist attacks, workplace violence incidents, etc., this pandemic affects organisations from a multitude of vectors without a clear end in sight. It has given rise to adaptive resilience measures such as flexible means for working remotely, videoconferencing, customer service delivery, etc. – measures that once adopted may become institutionalised. The pandemic has also evidenced the need for elastic organisational structures and adaptive business practices and behaviours.

Finally, the pandemic has revealed the serious shortcoming of imbalanced optimism in response planning – the tendency to try and make the facts of a situation/event fit a desired mental picture of things not being as bad as they really are or could be. This can lead to efforts that are insufficient to successful resolution, particularly if the situation escalates or worsens.

Hoping for the best is never a recommended tactic to manage a crisis. When the crisis, like the current global pandemic, has no clear end or solution within a known timeframe, people can feel hopeless and one may wonder where to begin. Focusing strategically on resilience rather than tactically on recovery is key to the transition toward a framework that can support the long term and potentially permanent need for agile adaptation to an ever-changing security and business risk intelligence landscape.

Key elements of the new framework

Create an uncomplicated organisational strategy – not a tactical recovery plan. The strategy specifically establishes how the organisation will manage implementation of the strategy (e.g. assigned to a specific team, managed by an internal committee, assigned to a specific individual to lead/manage, etc.). An effective leadership process over the strategy as well as effective leadership of the implementation of the strategy is critical to the organisation’s success.

Create streamlined organisational processes to collect, collate and assess business impacts invoked by the situation/event. These include but are not limited to financial, human resources, logistics, customer services/delivery, etc. One of the most critical impacts in the context of the pandemic is cash flow. What is the current and anticipated revenue stream, what is the expense burn rate, what cost cutting measures/operational adjustments can be implemented or financial resourcing acquired to achieve/sustain a desired operational duration?

Create simple, integrated stratagems to address the actual and potential business impacts. These stratagems are dynamic and constantly reviewed/assessed against achieving targeted desired outcomes. These stratagems address the fundamental question of “how long will the organisation have to endure the situation to be able to recover and survive?” Establishing such a timeline enables agile adjustments to the various stratagems developed to achieve this goal.

Mark Sanna

By Mark Sanna, Managing Partner of Northpoint International

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