We all know what uncertainty feels like, especially these days.
Crises are becoming more frequent and more severe. Natural disasters, conflicts and wars, economic downturns, and pandemics are just a few of the challenges that have disrupted the lives of millions over the past few years. So too have these global upheavals affected the operations of even highly prepared organizations. Most troubling of all may be that such wide-scale disturbances are only set to increase in the years to come.
This turmoil has effected the viability of nearly every organization. As a result, transformation is now a semi-permanent state. Effectively managing change has always required comprehensive, multi-level communication that reaches every employee. But now more than ever, we must realize that organizations are the sum of their people. Employees have their own ideas, expectations, and above all, fears and doubts in the face of uncertainty. Understanding and responding to these human concerns is an essential step in enabling a workforce to drive progress despite ongoing organizational transformation.
That's why now more than ever it’s essential for companies to prioritize organizational resilience — the ability to anticipate, prepare for, respond to, and recover from disruptions.
(TL;DR? Jump directly to the Staffbase Resilience Manifesto.)
What is organizational resilience?
Organizational resilience is the process of coping and adapting to difficult or challenging situations. This process involves noticing changes in the environment and trying to react or adapt to them. Companies that are more resilient can anticipate and respond to threats and opportunities that develop from either sudden or gradual changes.
In order to do this, it is essential for organizations to address challenging situations and pressures by integrating change into their targeted goals. In doing so, an organization can continue to evolve with the new experiences and insights gained. The same is true of the individuals who make up an organization. Organizations would be wise to put mechanisms in place so that personal resilience and organizational resilience are not in conflict.
Organizational resilience therefore also describes the attitude of a company and its individual employees toward accepting change. This acceptance increases personal and organizational resilience by utilizing existing resources collectively so that stressors and strains can be overcome together.
Acceptance makes way for the realization of important insights leading to the further development of each individual employee and also for the organization as a whole. These insights born from crises can then be implemented for future work.
Ongoing organizational resilience is also the result of good and responsible corporate governance and effective risk management.
Organizational resilience has two focus areas:
- organizational structures that make it possible to respond flexibly and sustainably to change.
- interpersonal interaction and communication within the company. This applies to the management level as well as to teams and individual employees. This is known as multilevel resilience.
Organizational and personal resilience should be mutually reinforcing
Multilevel resilience is crucial for long-term success. It enables an organization to not only survive disruptions, but to rebound quickly and continue operating at a high level. This resilience starts with each individual. Supporting all employees in establishing their personal resilience is therefore essential.
Employees prepared for change should feel less anxiety in their working environment. Likewise, they should be confident that their supervisors and peers appreciate their role in managing change.
In this way, employees can evolve and engage with the organization. Supporting the resilience of each individual employee will enable the personal resources, the trust, and the capability necessary to navigate through challenging times.
Resilience means being ready for tomorrow
If you Google how to ensure business continuity during crises, you’ll find a great deal of content and research from all of the world’s top business analysts about organizational resilience — how companies can build the capacity to withstand adversity and bounce back after tough circumstances.
Nevertheless, Gallagher's State of the Sector 2022/23 reports that only 6% of their respondents cited "mitigating the impact of external events / crises" as a priority. They ask, "have organizations really not felt the need to change their attitude towards commenting on what happens in the world outside?"
Research suggests that avoiding resilience-building opportunities is a mistake. Bain & Company indicates a 71% increase in the survival rate of companies that rank higher in resilience. McKinsey has drawn similar conclusions in research through a variety of economic crises.
That’s why the world’s top analysts agree that building organizational resilience is key in 2023.
How do you create a resilient organization?
Building organizational resilience requires a holistic approach and a commitment from leadership. It involves not only having the right plans and infrastructure in place, but also developing a culture of preparedness and adaptability throughout the organization.
Stress often results from change, so the approach to change is critical in building resilience. This includes training employees on emergency response procedures, encouraging open communication and collaboration, and fostering a sense of shared responsibility for the organization's well-being.
Building resilience involves developing a culture of preparedness, implementing robust plans and infrastructure, and diversifying operations and revenue streams. By investing in organizational resilience, organizations can reduce their vulnerability to disruptions and quickly recover from them, helping to ensure their long-term success.
Resilient people are at the core of resilient organizations
In 2021, McKinsey identified six crucial dimensions of business resilience:
For all of these dimensions, there are thousands of frameworks for thinking about how to build the capacity to weather disruptions into business operations and supply chains.
But at its core, when we take a few steps back, resilience has a human context.
That’s why, as communicators, we put special focus on the human side of organizational resilience. We understand that good communication is the glue that holds companies together.
Organizational resilience reflects the ability of a company’s most valuable asset — its people — to work together with shared purpose.”World Economic Forum 2022 Report, “Risk Proof: A Framework for Building Organizational Resilience in an Uncertain Future”
In a recent World Economic Forum study on organizational resilience, one element stood out: people and culture. They conducted interviews with hundreds of business leaders whose organizations had weathered tough storms.
Again and again leaders said that in a large-scale crisis, they might have the financial and strategic resilience to cope, but that failure to communicate effectively during a crisis, or having a workforce lacking commitment to crisis-averting plans, would leave them severely exposed to failure.
Resilience must be woven into the core ethos of a company
Building resilience is about building a resilience mindset as much as it is an operational philosophy.
To build a resilient culture at work, there has to be a foundation of trust (transparency and open and candid discussion), and an empowerment of employees to use their voice and experience to navigate an organization through periods of duress.
Communication is undoubtedly a key principle of building resilience: the organizational will to survive. It fosters deeper and greater understanding and reveals critical points of potential failure. To be truly effective, it must be constant, pervasive, and monitoring in nature.
However, many of today’s communicators work within a fragmented landscape not designed to drive change effectively. And as these communicators certainly know, oftentimes their teams aren’t set up to work in a way that allows them to achieve full effectiveness.
This failure can prove disastrous, given that communication is the vehicle for the commitment to survive.
How is communication essential to organizational resilience?
Communication allows for the timely sharing of information between organizational units. This information sharing allows for the identification and mitigation of potential risks and disruptions to operations. Communication also enables the coordination of response and recovery efforts in the event of an incident.
Communication can also help to identify and address potential problems before they become overwhelming, and can also help to improve the overall functioning of an organization. Good communication will also build trust and cooperation.
Pervasive communication serves to create a resilient culture with the strength and knowledge to navigate challenging times.
In the context of resilience, comprehensive and engaging communication can:
- foster a stable organizational culture in spite of uncertainty
- guide employees through adversity
- enable employees to reach towards or adopt change
- align teams throughout periods of ongoing change
- improve overall, organization-wide efficiency.
How can companies foster organizational resilience?
To achieve the organizational resilience essential for navigating challenging times, companies must take a holistic approach that addresses all aspects of their operations.
The Staffbase manifesto for building and maintaining organizational resilience:
- Establish a supporting and empowered leadership team
A resilient organization cultivates a leadership culture that also encourages others to take responsibility for tasks and projects. In addition, uncertainty and failure are accepted here, thus supporting learning.
When leadership tasks are distributed, different skills and perspectives can be incorporated into the organizational structure. This enables organizational goals to be achieved in a resilient and versatile manner. This requires a high level of acceptance and trust on the part of all involved.
- Foster a culture of constant transformation
Resilience means establishing and maintaining adaptability and agility in the organization to always be able to respond to changing conditions and permanently enable transformation. Making this a reality requires internal systems designed to evolve in the face of changing conditions and a workforce of change-tolerant or change-seeking individuals.
Values, behaviors, and goals should be understood by every employee. A culture of change requires all employees and managers to keep open and constructive mindset and have the freedom to think creatively and take calculated risks.
- Enable open and transparent communication
It is crucial for resilient organizations to establish an open communication culture for all employees. People should know and understand the company's strategy and objectives. Only when all employees are informed and engaged they can contribute the full measure of their talents and skills.
- Encourage employee feedback
Employees should be encouraged and enabled to ask questions and give feedback. This creates engagement while helping organizations identify potential risks and opportunities.
- Share your company vision and provide clarity on the company's purpose
A common understanding of your company’s goals keeps the workforce together and provides direction. Organizational resilience aims at clarity and agreement at all levels about the company's values, vision, and purpose.
- Observe your organization and its environment.
Watch! Listen! Understand!
Being aware of developments and events inside and outside the company helps to identify determinants and trends and also understand disruptions and threats for the organization, the business, or the industry sector.
- Teach resilience
Invest in the training and development of employees to ensure they have the skills and knowledge necessary to adapt to changing circumstances. A strong and engaged workforce can increase employee loyalty and commitment during difficult times.
- Invest in technology
Multichannel communication tools can help organizations respond quickly to changing market conditions. Leveraging technology can help companies continue operations even when faced with physical disruptions.
- Review and update your organization's governance structure
Ensure that your decision-making processes are efficient and effective.
- Develop a crisis management plan
Outline the steps to be taken in the event of a crisis, including emergency response procedures, communications protocols, and key contacts. And regularly review and update your crisis management strategies, plans, and procedures to stay ahead of potential challenges.
This also includes reflecting on which resources are necessary for mastering challenges and whether these are already available in the company or may need to be acquired in order to be able to act in the event of a crisis. This also relates to the recruitment and qualification of employees, which, for example, involves diversity (in skills, knowledge, behavior).
Modern communication software helps to reach every employee on the devices and channels they use most, making news and information available and fostering interaction, encouraging feedback, and increasing engagement across the entire workforce.
By taking these steps, companies can prepare themselves to navigate the inevitable challenges that come their way. It's important to keep in mind that resilience is not a destination, it's a journey.
Communicators have the power to build a resilient organization
Employee communication is the backbone of a resilient organization. As an internal communicator, you ensure that employees understand the company's strategy, objectives, and plans, and feel informed and reassured during difficult times.
Great communication can play a decisive role in creating organizations that can adapt in the face of adversity. It can bring organizations together and keep teams aligned and motivated.
Resilient organizations rely on connected, aware, active, and engaged employees. Communication teams play a critical role in connecting organizations and focusing them on what’s most important.
Resilience cannot be accomplished with disconnected channels and disconnected employees. Organizations with the means to manage all of their communications channels have an advantage here. They have the power to build a resilience culture by reaching everyone and aligning them on the organization's top priorities. The focus and unity they generate can make the difference between success or failure.
We call on all organizations to prioritize organizational resilience and take action to build the necessary systems, skills, and relationships to thrive in times of crisis. Together, we can create a more resilient world for all.
- Resilient organizations rely on employees who are connected, aware, active, and engaged, which means effective communication plays a decisive role in creating organizations that can adapt
- Organizations that successfully cultivate trust with employees will minimize risk for the future, attract and retain talent, and be able to shift business models more successfully
- Great communication builds organizational resilience by helping companies understand how change is impacting employees and how to respond accordingly, supporting employees through adversity, and fostering a motivating environment in spite of uncertainty
- Experts recommend continuing to invest in employee experience and digitalization in general through economic crises, so that they don’t fall behind.
Staffbase helps your company connect with all employees to be aware, active, and engaged during times of change. We create resilience among your most important asset: your people.