If you put the word “resilience” into a search engine, the first results you get back are about psychological resilience. This is the ability of individuals to cope with life’s stresses. Or to use the phrases used in some of the websites that you will find, it is the “dynamic process whereby individuals exhibit positive behavioral adaptation when they encounter significant adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or even significant sources of stress”.
I suppose that organisational resilience is pretty much the same thing.
However, many individuals made up an organisation. So the response of an organisation to a stress can be a bit more chaotic. Organisations do have a “psyche” and so to respond psychologically. “Culture” is the psyche. “Organisational behaviour” is the response. So how do you define a resilient culture?
What is resilience?
So, if the definition of resilience for the individual is as above; what is the definition of organisational resilience? There is a British Standard for organisational resilience (really… there is! BS65000(2014)), which defines organisational resilience as:
The ability of an organization to anticipate, prepare for, and respond and adapt to incremental change and sudden disruptions in order to survive and prosper.
In the same way that some people have the right psyche to respond to stresses, some organisations have the right culture to respond to sudden disruptions. The corrollory is also true – some organisations do not have the right culture.
So remembering that the definition of resilience requires an organisation to anticipate, prepare, respond and adapt, let’s look at some examples.
What needs to be in place?
I am frequently asked about suppliers’ arrangements for business continuity . One of the standard procurement questions is “do you have a business continuity plan?”. The thing is, a business continuity plan means nothing. Under a Freedom of Information request, Essex County Council had to divulge its plans to deal with a zombie attack. This was a tongue-in-cheek plan. But it demonstrates realistic scenarios should be the basis of a plan. In other words we have to anticipate the right things.
Some preparations are also poor. You’ll remember the flooding that occurred in the north of England in the winter of 2015, and the fact that the Government’s plans were called into question. So they had anticipated, but not properly prepared.
In other cases the anticipation and preparation are great, but the response doesn’t work. The Hillsborough football disaster is one of those. The authorities predicted the number of fans. The control measures were fine (keep the entrants to ticket holders only, keep the gate shut). But the response was woeful. This happens a lot, people rewrite carefully considered plans on the fly without considering the consequences. This is panic!
After the event we need to adapt – learn the lessons and change. We frequently do a “lessons learned” exercise following a major event. But the issue is repeated. Why? Because a lesson learned is different to a lesson identified. There is a paper from the American Department of Homeland Security on these issues that is worth a read.
So there are many points on which we fail to be resilient – but they are quite east to fix!