Resilience: a new mantra for business?


A New Mantra?

Have you noticed that this year is different?

Different in terms of what people are talking about? Well, it seems that way to me. The first few months of this year have produced some words, phrases and subjects that seem to keep popping up in conversation everywhere, such as:













Which all paints a picture of hope ……. and doubt …… but above all confusion.

And all of this whilst the stock markets are pushing new highs.

Piecing Things Together

Piecing these words and phrases together, the underlying concern or common issue seems to be ‘are things just too good to be true…..?’or ‘Are we living in the first salad days of a new world that we know very little – or totally zero about?

I’ll dare to answer that last question with a resounding ‘yes’ …..

So, if we are living in the first days of a new world that we know zero about then it strikes me that we need a new word at the top of the leadership vocabulary. Or a new mantra for business.

All this will mean displacing a word that has stood at the top of the leadership vocabulary for decades, probably longer than most of us have been alive.

That word of course is ‘growth’, a word that has, at the very least, subliminally influenced practically every management decision made within living memory. But that word, ‘growth’, sounds a little hollow, thought-restricting and over-confident if we are really facing the emergence of a totally new world. So we need a new mantra. The new word, or mantra that should guide us, I’m going to propose, is ‘resilience’, a word that should sit at the top of our thoughts and guide our actions as we take the first tentative steps to explore this new environment. And it might just prove to be the most important word that we as leaders have to consider in the years (correction – decades) ahead.

But What Is Resilience?

Therefore, ‘resilience’ will be the major theme for my blogs and executive briefings at least for the next 12 months or so. But what do we mean by resilience? How should this word be defined from the perspective of business leaders?

For me, it’s a lot more than the commonly-held interpretation of bouncing back or ‘recovering quickly from a problem’. Building a resilient organization means more than disaster recovery planning. Essentially, resilience embraces a culture that willingly explores and learns from uncertainty. So, taking this broader meaning, resilience should embrace these closely inter-related characteristics:

Courage – having the determination to challenge and see through the commonly accepted
Breakthink* – creating the capacity to see what others cannot
Emergence – crafting a culture that creates strategy through experimentation, exploration as opposed to relying just upon pre-defined, pre-planned activities
Mindfulness – the capacity to spot and analyse small deviations from the norm, correct mistakes and adapt
Sensemaking – The ability and willingness to explore and create learning when uncertainty and ambiguity surrounds the organization.

* The opposite of groupthink, the comfortable, but low quality decision-making we see frequently in tightly-controlled groups.

In short, we could say that the result of these qualities is the capacity to see the next big shift and to turn future challenges from threats into opportunities before the competition has even caught sight of them.

So where do we go from here?

Well, in this briefing I will present a short questionnaire that will help you to start to assess how resilient your organization is. In my next briefing I will discuss the first steps in becoming a leader of resilience.

So please try these questions, they will help to give you a glimpse of how resilient your organization might be:

Q1. Think back to the last time that your organization faced either a crisis or a significant failure. Don’t please focus on natural disasters like a fire, but business-related issues. Examples might be the loss of your biggest client, the failure of a new product or a significant delay in the introduction of a new system. Which of the following statements best summarises how your organization reacted?
A. ‘Disciplining those responsible’. B. ‘We focused on the introduction of new rules and procedures to stop a re-occurrence.’ C. ‘An opportunity for learning and growth’.

Q2. How is decision-making controlled?
A. ‘A well-defined set of rules and authority levels that has stood the test of time’ B. ‘More a strong, well-defined set of values than rules’ C. ‘It’s a balance of values, rules and managing by walking around’.

Q3. How would you describe your mission statement?
A. ‘Yes, we’ve done that, ticked that box.’ B. ‘It guides everything we do, with a strongly defined set of core values of course.’ C. ‘We’ve moved on from just mission statements. We like to think about our purpose and then think what could stop us.’

Q4. How is your business planning process characterised?
A. ‘We have a well-defined once a year planning schedule drive by the top’. B. ‘It’s a once a year process strongly drive by ideas from the front-edge of the organization’. C. ‘It’s ongoing. Yes, we do an annual review but we like to think about it as a framework for learning.’

So how did you do?

Mostly As: It looks like your organization might be designed for a steady-state environment where nothing really major changes.

Mostly Bs: You’re following a good route developed from thinking in the period 1980 – early 2000s – when most thought that globalisation was a predictable given and that we wouldn’t face shocks that would derail this assumption.

Mostly Cs: Well, it look like you’re on your way to developing resilience as we define it here!

Next Briefing

My next briefing will focus on the first actions that leaders should think about when developing resilience. And that starts with how we think and challenging those really deep, subliminal assumptions. If you want an example of challenging a set of popular business assumptions, try this article.

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