How To Fortify Your Organization’s Resilience Well

November 20, 2020

By Adam Chapman, EyeForPharma on Mar 21, 2019
Wishing Well With Wooden Bucket On A Barren Landscape

Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties and spring back into shape. Experts like Roger Martin have been speaking out for years about how we’ve sacrificed resilience at the altar of efficiency, and it seems like only now, as a result of Covid-19, people are listening. The last few months have proven the importance of resilience, as it has meant and will mean the difference between success and failure for individuals, teams, organizations, leaders, business models, supply chains, communities, regions, and countries.

Resilience is a crucial concept for leaders, but its multifaceted nature makes it incredibly difficult to cultivate. Leaders must consider the resilience of individuals, as well as the resilience of their teams, organization, culture and system. There is also leadership resilience to take into account, along with the resilience of business models and strategies. That’s not to mention the role of resilience in supply chains, customer relationships, and the communities and environments in which businesses operate. These factors cannot be tackled in isolation – they are all interconnected and interdependent, making resilience an incredibly complex challenge. And the sheer volume of expert guidance on building resilience at each level can overwhelm even the most seasoned and insightful leader.

We have created a framework called the Resilience Well. It helps leaders understand the multiple levels of resilience – from individual to community – how they interact with and influence each other, and how to build resilience at each level.

Each subject is represented as a level of the well:

A graph showing the levels of hierarchy in an organization using the image of a well of water to indicate dependency.

The degree of resilience at each level of the well is linked to the resilience at other levels. For example:

  • An individual’s resilience is a product of many factors, some that are very personal, and some that are impacted by the team they’re on, the company they work for, their boss and their boss’s boss, the success of the company’s business model, their relationship with customers, and the community they live in;
  • A team or organization’s resilience is a product of its people, its culture, its leadership, its business model, supply chain and customers, and its surrounding environment;
  • A community’s resilience is profoundly affected by the success and the social responsibility of its local businesses and their customers, and by the resilience of the people who live and work there;

Fortifying this resilience well - building it up, and repairing it when damaged - is a key success factor in complex times, when everyone must regularly draw strength not just from within themselves, but from their colleagues, leaders, partners, customers, and communities. And this has been particularly true during the pandemic.

For this reason, leaders should learn how to build resilience at each layer of the well and up and down the well. There’s a lot of advice on how to do that, subject by subject, but we have distilled it down to two key things: alignment and mobilization on the right way forward; and a disposition for change and ability to execute on it.

1. Alignment and Mobilization on the Right Way Forward

Without alignment, the right way forward becomes open to too many interpretations. Here are five keys to getting everyone on track.

Shared commitment to mission, purpose, values and vision

As a leader, one of your most important roles is ensuring alignment and mobilization on what the organization is trying to accomplish. Put the mission first and embed it in your business model, and align mission, goals and activities with societal needs. These elements give people the big picture about their organization, its overall direction, and why their work matters.

Alignment with societal needs

Given that organizations are embedded in supply chains, business and natural ecosystems, economies, and societies, aligning goals and activities with societal needs “is a good way to ensure that the company does not find itself in opposition to society and inviting resistance, restriction, and sanction” (see Martin Reeves and Kevin Whitaker’s Harvard Business Review article “A Guide to Building a More Resilient Business”). This is acutely important when during crisis conditions, businesses have key assets and responsibilities to bring to partnerships with other companies, civil society, and governments.

Clear accountability and authority for decisions

Clarity on accountabilities, roles, responsibilities and decision authority down the chain of command enables people to know how things will get done and who will drive. And because accountability always starts at the top, as a leader you need to own what you know and what you don’t know, and delegate or inform decisions and action accordingly. Learn how to quickly tap into the abundant talent around you to inform those decisions and to know how to get the right people moving.

A clear and shared understanding amongst all key stakeholders

Gather the necessary input, establish shared clarity on what’s going on and what to do about it, and keep everyone aligned and working collaboratively in a sustainable way. It is best to co-create the right way forward together with all key stakeholders, including customers if possible. By giving them a voice and getting them actively involved in the strategic planning process, you will secure their trust and commitment, and they will buy into the course that’s been set and support the decisions and actions that follow.

Informed balance between the here-and-now and possible futures

Keep one eye on the present and one eye on the future when setting vision and goals, developing strategy and tactics, and making high-stakes decisions. Taking the long view and embracing the healthy tension between operational optimization and future-focused innovation better prepares organizations to act quickly and decisively when a disruptive shift changes everything ‘overnight’.

2. Disposition for Change and Ability to Execute on It

Mobilization and alignment are all for naught if a person or system is unwilling or unable to change. With that in mind, there are three key areas to address to fortify your resilience well:

Willingness to take risks, learn and adapt

The organizations that have proven to be most resilient during the pandemic are those with courageous people who are empowered to try bold things and adapt through trial-and-error, comfortable with continual transformation, devoted to learning, vocal with their feedback, and quick to self-correct. They don’t hesitate, they act. As Safi Bahcall told us, to bolster resilience in your organization, recruit ‘artists’ who are courageous and willing to do bold things and set the expectation with them that risk-taking and failure are part of the job.

Clearly defined expectations and rewards for performance and execution

Resilient organizations know how to maintain a constant sense of urgency, keep people motivated and feeling recognized, track progress against clearly-defined individual, team and organizational goals, and hold everyone accountable for success or failure in delivering on the mission - in good times and bad. As Brent Gleeson wrote, make performance expectations clear and recognize and reward people who go above-and beyond.

Ability to develop, commit to, and execute an effective response to challenges and opportunities

As we’ve seen during the pandemic, resilient organizations are able to take decisive action, with a bias for speed over elegance as a competitive differentiator. Listen to data, apply intelligence, triage effectively, and follow-through. The boldness, coupled with an ability to execute, means that even under pressure - or especially under pressure - resilient companies don’t just survive, they thrive.

To fortify your organization’s resilience well, design your processes and structures for flexibility and learning, and emphasize the importance of ongoing experimentation, trial-and-error, fast feedback, scaling up ideas that work well, and shutting down those that don’t. When in crisis, speed matters; Rely on the knowledge, experiences, and instincts of the people around you to inform key decisions, and if you’ve built trusted relationships with a highly diverse network of internal and external stakeholders, you’ll be well-positioned to do so quickly.

AUTHORS’ NOTE: If you would like to more deeply explore resilience on a variety of subjects,  here is a list of resources that have informed our own thinking.

Original article posted on Forbes on Nov 30, 2020

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