What does business resilience mean today?

We assess how the perception of business resilience has changed over time, and what employers must learn from emerging trends.

According to The Oxford English Dictionary, the definition of resilience is ‘‘The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness’’ 1.

It makes sense then why, historically, the term ‘business resilience’ has been used to describe a set of characteristics that convey the operational strength of a business in the face of adversity.

Closely aligned with continuity planning, the ability of a business to identify, mitigate and adapt to internal and external risks has traditionally been used as to gauge the resilience of an organisation.

But in an increasingly complex business landscape, where companies are expected to be more dynamic than ever, is this definition still fit for purpose? With so many potential challenges, is a more flexible definition required?

The truth is that this historical definition has evolved. Of course, the operational running of a business remains as important as ever. Companies must be able to withstand change, it’s a core part of what determines their ability to be successful. From volatile markets and political unrest to population challenges and other socio-economic trends, the best businesses anticipate change and use it to their advantage.

However, successful companies also understand that resilience has become more than administrative and operations-based planning. Process, preparation and innovation are critical, but a business’s ability to endure the unexpected is found principally in the resilience of its leaders; the resilience of its employees; and theresilience of its reputation. In other words, business resilience is as much about fostering useful cultural behaviours as it is about operational continuity.

Now more than ever, there is a fundamental appreciation for the role of culture in fostering organisational resilience. Business continuity is important, but so are people. A workforce, regardless of its size, plays a fundamental role in determining how an organisation adapts to crises, threats and challenges. For companies, this means creating a strong, cohesive working culture. It means attracting and retaining the brightest and best talent. It means innovative thinking, agility and demonstrating your ability to support changing workforce demands and expectations. Even the best laid plans need leaders to execute them. 

Having the strength and agility to face whatever the future holds offers both protection from a changing landscape of risk, but also the freedom to embrace opportunities. Part of the wider trend we are seeing is that, for a company to be truly resilient, it must be able to not only meet challenges, but also have the capacity to turn them into new opportunities to grow. 

Whilst managing financial risks is essential, so is capitalising on challenges to create a supportive working environment. Your business today is only as good as your thinking for tomorrow. 

In the same way that finances need to be strong for a rainy day, employees need to feel appreciated when times are tough. People want to feel valued and respected, so that, when they are stressed or ‘‘up against a wall’’, they are willing to go above and beyond for their company. Processes cannot drive change without the support from the employees that underpin their very existence.  

Ultimately, we believe that a two-tiered approach, focusing on both behavioural (cultural) and operational driven resilience, yields the best results. One strategy cannot be truly effective without the other, and businesses that incorporate both ways of thinking into their planning will be best placed to deal with a range of threats.

In an operating environment as dynamic and volatile as today’s, businesses would do well to take such a holistic approach. 

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