Building your organization’s adaptive capacity

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Welcome to the Age of Turbulence, where change and unpredictability constitute the new normal. Where fast-paced innovation and market shifts can upset successful business models seemingly overnight. Where computerized systems increasingly put company and customer information at risk, and where cascading failures across infrastructures can bring down complex systems in an instance.

This is a world where your organization needs core resilience capabilities to survive.

But what is it that creates resilience in an organization? Does it happen by chance, or can resilience be developed with intention? 

Within the research community, excitement is building. We are unlocking the mysteries of what enables some organizations to thrive in the face of adversity, whilst others wilt and fail.

So often when thinking about resilience, we think of the moment of crisis. But resilience comes from deeper within an organization’s culture.

It depends on the style of an organization's leadership and culture, the networks and relationships that can be drawn on during times of adversity, and how it strategically positions itself to be ready for change. 

Indicators of resilience

Over the past decade, a team of 35 New Zealand researchers have been seeking to understand what creates resilience in an organization.

We have identified a suite of thirteen leading indicators that can help reveal how resilient an organization is likely to be in the face of future crises.

Resilience Indicators

  • Leadership: Strong crisis leadership to provide good management and decision making during times of crisis, as well as continuous evaluation of strategies and work programs against organizational goals.
  • Staff engagement: The engagement and involvement of staff who understand the link between their own work, the organization's resilience, and its long term success. Staff are empowered and use their skills to solve problems.
  • Situation awareness: Staff are encouraged to be vigilant about the organization, its performance and potential problems. Staff are rewarded for sharing good and bad news about the organization including early warning signals and these are quickly reported to organizational leaders.
  • Decision making: Staff have the appropriate authority to make decisions related to their work and authority is clearly delegated to enable a crisis response. Highly skilled staff are involved, or are able to make, decisions where their specific knowledge adds significant value, or where their involvement will aid implementation.
  • Innovation and creativity: Staff are encouraged and rewarded for using their knowledge in novel ways to solve new and existing problems, and for utilising innovative and creative approaches to developing solutions.
  • Effective partnerships: An understanding of the relationships and resources the organization might need to access from other organizations during a crisis, and planning and management to ensure this access.
  • Leveraging knowledge: Critical information is stored in a number of formats and locations and staff have access to expert opinions when needed. Roles are shared and staff are trained so that someone will always be able to fill key roles.
  • Breaking silos: Minimisation of divisive social, cultural and behavioural barriers, which are most often manifested as communication barriers creating disjointed, disconnected and detrimental ways of working.
  • Internal resources: The management and mobilisation of the organization's resources to ensure its ability to operate during business as usual, as well as being able to provide the extra capacity required during a crisis.
  • Unity of purpose: An organization-wide awareness of what the organization's priorities would be following a crisis, clearly defined at the organization level, as well as an understanding of the organization's minimum operating requirements.
  • Proactive posture: A strategic and behavioural readiness to respond to early warning signals of change in the organization's internal and external environment before they escalate into crisis.
  • Planning strategies: The development and evaluation of plans and strategies to manage vulnerabilities in relation to the business environment and its stakeholders.
  • Stress testing plans: The participation of staff in simulations or scenarios designed to practice response arrangements and validate plans.

Resilience integrates the concepts of Risk, Crisis Management, Business Continuity Planning and Organisational Leadership and Learning to provide a platform for developing more robust and agile organizations.

Resilient organizations are able to detect, respond and adapt to both slow and rapid onset forms of adversity.

But in order to improve resilience, we need to know how an organisation’s resilience is currently tracking and where gains could be made. 

Why monitor resilience?

Monitoring an organization’s resilience over time is important. As an organization goes through normal changes its level of resilience will fluctuate.

It is important to identify these changes, putting in place strategies to maintain to and grow resilience over time. Researchers have developed tools for measuring and monitoring levels of resilience over time

There is still a way to go to build a complete picture of what drives an organization’s resilience. But the good news for organizations is that we already know that any organization can become more resilient if it wants to.

With the pace and intensity of change unlikely to slow down, it’s more important than ever to build organizational resilience skills to effectively navigate the future. In the book ‘Resilient Organizations: How to survive, thrive and create opportunities through crisis and change’ you can learn more about the latest research on what creates resilience, presented as tangible, practical advice that you can implement in your own organization, starting today.

About Erica Seville


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