In today’s realm of the complex, multidimensional and interconnected business world, resilience becomes one of the pillars, that will prepare organizations for long-term prosperity, help to successfully navigate change and master the transformation.
What defines a resilient organization? This is how Gartner in 2020 Strategic Road Map for Business Continuity Management puts it:
Resilient organizations are those that rebound and prosper after business disruption, because they’re … adaptive, elastic and sustainable in the face of disruption. Response, recovery, and contingency are the basis or resilience.
To become resilient in this sense, organizations need to develop certain distinguishing characteristics, that will help and organization to rebound, adapt and grow, when facing disruption. Let us take a closer look at these.
1. First and foremost, it is the flexibility. To have a chance of being successful, organizations need to be flexible by design. Most organizations were built having a clear structure, strictly defined functions, inputs, and role descriptions. Clear rules ensured predefined flow of operations, bound responsibilities, and command-and-control from top to bottom. These measures give a sense of predictability, efficiency, ability to plan, standardize and operate in a predefined manner. This implies however, that a change in one unit or process requires a series of decisions and a cascade of adjustments, which often take a lot of time and trigger resistance. The cost: lack of ability to quickly respond to change. Flexible structures are at the core of the companies, that are willing to trade some of the advantages of traditional structures for better responsiveness.
2. Self-reliance and assumption of responsibility. The key design elements of a flexible organizational structure are flatness and network. A smaller number of organizational levels usually decrease the bureaucracy. However, when no middle management can be blamed for slow processes, bad decisions, and resistance to adopt better ways of work – it is up to the people closest to the job, to make the change happen. In this case the employees must be self-reliant and proactive.
3. The culture. A resilient organization is first and foremost resilient people on its payroll. But this goes far beyond only employing resilient individuals. If resilient employees are all interpreting change in different ways, through their personal perspective, lacking a common understanding of the organizational value and its value for them, then when the going gets tough, you surely can expect the surge of conflicts and power battles, that can put a serous strain on the success or even survival of the organization. In this case, highly resilient individuals might be more likely to cause harm to the organization, rather than to jeopardize their personal best-off. A prisoner’s dilemma on the individual level can be the result. For high resilience, a cohesive collaborative culture is a must.
4. The eco-system. The world is interconnected and so are the business structures of the future, that are resilient and adaptable. For most resilience, organizations should enhance their flexible internal structures with an adjustable flow of external participants, like freelances, consultants, external service providers, trainers, and coaches. No organization – large or small can afford these days to stew in its own juice anymore. Demands for the skills, and organizational requirements are so fluid, that only a reliable ecosystem of external providers and partners can give the flexibility, the quality, and the effectiveness to scale up and down, change focus and adjust quickly.
5. Great leadership. A resilient organization needs outstanding leadership as much as a any other organization, maybe even more so. Flexible organizations with flat hierarchical structures look like more freedom, but for many employees this comes with the cost of personal stress, as the expectations are less clearly defined and less evidently tracked – the individual contribution might not be visible. Higher self-reliance seems like a great thing, but is comes with responsibility, and it takes great leadership to strike the balance between the skills and the expectations of the employees on the one hand side, and the strategic direction of the organization – on the other.
How to build a resilient organization.
Any organization that has set a goal to transform, has probably realized, that this a no easy task to accomplish. Many large companies that start transformational programs struggle to accomplish their original goals.
Commitment in all dimensions. One of the reasons is, that such a transformation is multidimensional in nature. We are talking about more agility and flexibility in the structure, in the strategy, in the operations and in the culture. This must be done on the all-organization scale, including top-down, bottom-up and cross-functional approaches, otherwise we might be risking ending up of having some disconnected initiatives here and there, that do not manage to create a momentum.
Reducing resistance. Another reason, why many transformational programs fail, is the potential resistance from within the organization. We all know that what has got us here, will not get us there, but being flexible often means higher degree of uncertainty, and operating outside of our comfort zones – for the leaders and followers alike. The immediate fear of the unknown kicks in and is more palpable than the more abstract thought, that the business will go obsolete if we do nothing. Studies and estimations suggest that this danger of becoming obsolete is very real: according to McKinsey, by 2027, 75% of the companies currently quoted on the S&P 500 will have disappeared from the index.
Uniting behind the organization’s vision. Strong organizational vision is the most compelling foundation of any future-viable organization. This organization’s picture of success must be seen by the inner eye of each employee. The why behind the daily work, the individual and collective pride of being part of something greater than yourself. And the understanding, of why we are doing it together. At the times of disruption, challenge or distress, the organizational resilience will kick in with more noble and more positive coping strategies. When connected by vision, people will be looking for opportunities how to succeed and thrive, rather than deciding whom to blame. Learning from the lessons, optimizing, and adjusting the ways of work, while further shaping the purpose and growing personally through adversities will be the right way forward.
Growing resilient leaders. In the disruptive world we are placing many expectations on our leaders. Also, when it comes to resilience, they hold the key role in building resilient organizations and cultures. The role of leadership in the face of disruption is not only to react and find the best short-term fix, but to prepare the company for long-term strength and agility, to act decisively and with determination – even under uncertainty. It is on the lead
ers to have a strong strategic foresight and to see the opportunities and threats before they are visible to the competition. Resilient leaders empower teams and give people confidence. They give their employees not the type of confidence to simply act according to the job description, but confidence in the own potential, in the ability to become better and stronger though transformation and learning. Resilient leaders will be the driver of transformation to more flexibility and less resistance, less silo and more collaboration, better cultures and more empowered teams at all levels.
Developing highly empowered, network-oriented teams. Advantages of strong cohesive and personally connected teams for resilience is obvious in many ways. We can help each other out, support with a difficult task, put things into a different perspective or add humor when things are all but funny. Resilient teams are together always more than the sum of the parts. Good personal relationships at work are the best and the most unrecognized source of organizational resilience. Here are some ways to add resilience to organizational teams:
– Make a positive, realistic perspective a part of your team’s culture. It does not mean being overly optimistic, as it might hamper resilience in the times of crisis. But reflection and willingness to adjust must be part of your culture’s DNA. When the wind is not favorable, an optimist will hope, that it will change, a pessimist will blame the sea, but the realist will adjust the sails and continue the journey. That should be you team’s mindset.
– Identify your team’s best sources of resilience and create ways to practice them. It might come from better sharing the workload, together reconnecting to the organization’s vision, finding allies within your company to help you put a worthy idea forward, or just laughing and crying together. (HBR – The secret to building resilience)
– Hold resilient conversations – make them a priority, seek to help out less resilient people through empathy and mentorship, ask questions, share stories, build trust. Not only in the position of a leader, but in every position. The deeper the connection between the people in the good times, the more resilient the team will be, when the going gets tough.
– Find learning opportunities – hold review sessions, make effort to find a good thing about any bad thing that has happened.
Looking forward, resilience is a true organizational superpower. Only organizations, that will create the structure, the culture and the personal connections for more transformation and learning, will prosper in these times of accelerated change.