This is the final 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.

“Building resilience starts with us as the executive team,” says Dawn Browne. “And it involves a different way of communicating, more regular communication, and more agile decision-making. We also need to connect our people together more. With the world changing more frequently, we need to change with it – and it’s our job to help our people be ready for that.”

Leaders, in essence, need to lead the way. And our other interviewees agree. “For us, when creating that grit culture, that resilience culture, we led from the top and we practised what we preached,” says Adam Boukadida. “We ensured it was at every touchpoint, and we made it clear that it was a joint cause we were trying to achieve, that we were all in it together.” Anthony Leung agrees: “You need to empathise with and understand your team and their fears and hold a more holistic view. You want them to believe you when you say you’re out to succeed for them, not just yourself.”

The sense of common purpose is significant. “You have to be attuned to what the business needs,” says Rory Lamont. “Sometimes that means pivoting, sometimes it’s leading, listening, starting conversations, asking questions, analysing, driving… You need all of that in the DNA of a resilient leadership team.”

So what can leaders do to build resilience?

Communicate openly and honestly

To withstand disruption, organisations must be solid from the top down, which means that the leadership team and the company as a whole need to be in strategic alignment. The key to this is communication.

“Transparency was the key part for me,” says Adam Boukadida. “It was our utmost focus. During the pandemic, for example, we didn’t sugar-coat things. That meant people understood why we were doing things, which made a real difference. Open communication also meant that we had joined up, aligned decision-making, particularly at the executive committee level. We would talk about all areas of our business and the impact of our decisions.”

Stay agile

Being resilient means knowing your company – right now. You need clear, up-to-date information. “We quickly realised that our monthly executive meetings were completely invalid. They meant nothing,” says Dawn Browne. “So in crisis mode, we sped up and met much, much more frequently. As things eased off, it was tempting to revert. But we’re not going back. We’re going forward to the next thing. More frequent, more targeted interactions build resilience and, as a result, the whole rhythm of the business is different.”

Speed is key for Rory Lamont as well. “Even at the level of the data, we’ve ratcheted up the number of times we do checks in the software. That way we’re moving away from reactive actions and into constant scanning.” The faster you get information, the faster you can respond.

Create a culture

“If you can create a culture of confidence, empathy, and communication, you will build a more effective organisation that can deal with volatility,” stresses Anthony Leung. “Often the biggest hurdle is just overcoming the fear of change itself. The key is to present it in a way that everyone understands. You won’t convince everyone in one go – it takes time – but persevere.”

Leaders can help this along by advocating for change and exemplifying the values you’re trying to embed in the organisation. “For me, what gets talked about becomes culture,” says Dawn Browne. “If you can start people talking about resilience and agility, then those things become ingrained in your culture more.”

Engage deeply with the business

Leading a resilient organisation means getting stuck in, not just making strategic decisions from a top-down viewpoint. You need to be immersed in the business so you can work effectively, respond to evolving situations and enact meaningful change.

“If you want to be more resilient, you have to deliberately poke the bear from time to time,” explains Rory Lamont. You have to figure out and understand where the pain points are – and the only way to do that is get up close and personal. “We wanted to build more resilience into our supply chain so we did some analysis, but then we actually went and talked to our suppliers. It was the best way to understand what was really happening.”

Be realistic 

Anthony Leung advises taking an 80/20 approach as a leader; ultimately, you won’t be able to solve every answer or convince every person, but 80% is good enough. “In the world we live in, nothing ever stops and we don’t have the luxury of unlimited time. If you have that 80/20 view, you can be realistic and deliver in a manageable way. Otherwise, if you don’t manage that pressure, no matter how much resilience you have, it’ll get whittled down.”

 

Building a more resilient organisation will help future-proof your organisations. For more information on how BIE can help you achieve this, 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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