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Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

By Adam Stringer, PA business design expert

As humans, we are pretty resilient. We have two of almost everything (limbs and organs) and our resilience is tested daily, not least when fighting to get on a packed train to work at 8am. 

Unfortunately, the organisations we belong to don’t always benefit from the same intrinsic resilience. For the last couple of decades, organisations (both public and private) have strived to streamline operations and many have become more efficient by removing redundancy wherever possible. Our systems and processes are full of flaws and people, while individually resilient, often become single points of failure. In many cases this leaves organisations without the capacity to respond to shocks and so we try and ‘bolt-on’ resilient practices to the parts of the organisation that need it most – an afterthought at best. 

But is it time for a more strategic approach where we embed resilient practices in our business design? After all, what are the organisations we work for if not resilient? 

Harriet Tregoning, Director of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Economic Resilience, helps President Obama to design resilient cities, counties and towns across the US that contribute towards a prosperous economy. She recently talked about the need to design resilience into communities. 

“Resilience can be thought of as a place-based attribute, but places don’t have these qualities unless they are very deliberate about it. It’s almost never the automatic by-product of a laissez-faire, market-based system.” 

Her administration launched a $1 billion National Disaster Resilience Competition last year that helps support innovative and community-based resilience projects. So, if we are thinking strategically about resilience in our communities, and the positive affect that has on the economy, why are we not yet doing so in our places of work? 

Every week, I receive requests from organisations for my team to ‘audit’ their level of resilience, to assess where there are gaps and to try and fix them. This usually happens after the organisation has received a big shock. Perhaps a very public IT system failure has landed them on the front pages, or a natural disaster has regrettably reminded them of their weaknesses. This is a valuable exercise as we must continually improve and learn from each event. But it does strike me that there is room for improvement. I have been working on some tests against PA’s business design approach that help organisations to think about how they build in resilience more holistically to their ongoing operations:

Market – what does your target market expect of you from a resilience perspective? Do they need you to take a leading role during a crisis?

Value – how will you maintain profitability during shocks to your business model (for example, the recent plunging oil price)

Customer – are your governance structures agile enough to adapt to customer changes? Are you innovating to prevent your core products and services from becoming stale so that you can move on when the market does?

Capability – are you assessing impacts of process failure across the organisation rather than at a component level (system, team, location)? Do you understand your talent profile, single points of failure and succession plan?

Financial – have you got access to financial management information to allow you to make informed decisions quickly and assess the impact of external events (for example, a Greek exit from the Euro)? 

Traditionally, organisations focus on capability resilience (inwards facing) and neglect the need for market resilience (outwards facing). By thinking about resilience in the round, we can start to challenge our organisations to embed resilient practices – allowing them competitive advantage during times of difficulty and to stop resilience being an add-on or afterthought. 

Find out more about our work in business design.

Contact the business design team

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