This is the first instalment of our three-part series on business resilience. To investigate what makes an organisation “resilient” and how can it be achieved, we sat down with four experienced business leaders – Dawn Browne, People & Talent Director at Fuller, Smith & Turner, Adam Boukadida, Chief Finance Officer at Etihad, Rory Lamont, Chief Procurement Office at Hitachi Rail, and Group Head of Corporate Finance, Treasury and Special Projects, Anthony Leung – to get their insights and advice at this crucial time.

The global upheaval of recent years caused disruption for the business world on a momentous scale. Some companies were able to ride it out, while others failed. For many, it was resilience that made the difference.

Business resilience is an organisation’s ability to adapt to and recover from a crisis. Covid-19 was an unprecedented global crisis, and the speed and scale of the changes it brought about caught the world by surprise – but whatever the particular cause, change is always coming.

Resilient organisations are able to not just survive a crisis – big or small – but to thrive on the other side. So it’s unsurprising that in today’s tumultuous, fast-paced environment, resilience is becoming a non-negotiable facet of business strategy. Indeed, PwC’s Global Crisis Survey 2021 revealed that 84% of global respondents had discussed the value of organisational resilience.

“As we went through the pandemic, one of our aspirations was to emerge from it stronger. And that, really, is a decent definition of resilience, isn’t it?” says Dawn Browne. “For me, resilience today is about accepting that there isn’t going to be a ‘new normal’. We’re not looking for stability. We’re now living, operating and employing in an environment where things will constantly change.”

Right now, businesses have an opportunity to seize upon the learnings of the past few years and future-proof themselves. Change is, after all, the only constant. “Even if there isn’t another global health crisis, the demands of your employees and your customers will change over time. External influences will change. For us, becoming more resilient is about setting up a mindset of knowing and accepting that’s the case and then building systems and processes into our business that allow us to manage that mindset and manage how things are.”

Anthony Leung agrees: “In the current market, it’s hard for anybody to plan, so you need to have structures with flexibility. You need to be able to react quickly. Think of it this way – when you’re under stress, your body reacts to stress in different ways, producing different types of responses to deal with the stimuli. It’s the same in business. You need to be able to execute a response. And that’s resilience.”

So what do resilient organisations have in common?

A willingness to change

It seems simple, but one of the shared characteristics of resilient organisations is a willingness to change. As Anthony Leung explains: “In order to deal with the pressure, you have to be able to step out of your comfort zone. You can’t be scared of changing – you have to look at the opportunities changing brings.” There’s no such thing as ‘business as usual’ in a volatile situation.

Curiosity and flexibility

Resilient organisations interrogate beyond what they’re doing to explore why and how they’re doing it. “Constant reflection is vital,” says Dawn Browne. “You have to keep looking at how you can do things better.” And then, when making necessary improvements, it’s about looking beyond the immediate issue, being inquisitive and trying to really understand what’s going on. “We ask questions and try to get enough insights to act,” says Rory Lamont. “Cross-functional working and a bit of investigative thinking can be very beneficial here.”

Toughness and resolve

Resilient organisations make tough calls and do what needs to be done in order to survive. “Ultimately, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger,” says Adam Boukadida. “When times are tough, you have to embrace that and be tougher. You develop grit – on both a personal and company level – from tackling a challenge, rebounding and coming out the other side stronger. You need determination, character and a desire to embrace the learning opportunities.”

A long-term perspective

It can be tempting to take a short-term view in periods of stress and just focus on what needs to be done moment to moment. However, resilient organisations keep a weather eye on the horizon. “Yes, you’ve got to deal with business operations right now – but you’ve got to stay focused on the future of your business,” explains Dawn Browne. Anthony Leung agrees, adding: “You might think you can get away with it in the short-term, but what happens if market recovery takes longer than you expected?”

Sophisticated digital capabilities

Whether it’s to enact far-reaching digital transformations, or harness data in order to pivot to new operating models and measure their effectiveness, digital capabilities are ubiquitous among today’s resilient organisations. “You need to have the digital capabilities and understanding to really use the information you gather - to interpret it, throw it around, challenge it. And then you can use it to evolve,” says Anthony Leung. Embracing technology allows companies to be more flexible, access insights and information, perform value-adding analysis and ultimately bring data to the table that “triggers conversations and provokes thinking,” as Rory Lamont explains.

A deep understanding of how to manage risk

Companies that have resilience in their DNA are adept at gathering information, evaluating it and taking decisive action. “You can’t try to anticipate and solve every problem before you act – at some point you have to manage the pressure, balance the risk and make a decision,” says Anthony Leung. “You need to be willing to take more of a commercial view and take more risk. The last thing you want to do is take no risk at all.” Rory Lamont agrees: “You can’t be absolutely correct. You’ve just got to ask – is this decision good enough to help us move forward? And are we smart enough to course-correct if something goes wrong?

Our resilience series continues in Part Two: How is resilience achieved?

For more information on how BIE can help you build more resilient organisations, please contact our team.

Written by

Alex Hyde

Alex is a Director within the finance team and focusses on leadership, succession planning and transformation, strategically partnering with a range of FTSE, AIM and privately-owned companies to appoint senior finance professionals.

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