Business adventures – Instilling Resilience

By F R (Rhys) Robinson

If you think of the heroes in movies or books, they often have a lot in common. They might be brave or willing to take risks. They may have special skills or different ideas to everyone else. It is clear that one of the most important characteristics they share is resilience.

Resilience is the ability to bounce back in the face of adversity – to rebound, to recover quickly and to keep going, while learning. That’s what heroes do, whether it’s Frodo the hobbit in Lord of the Rings, Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games or Tim Robbin’s character, Andy Dufresne, in The Shawshank Redemption.

I believe that businesses that survive the test of time do so for the same reason – they are resilient. Companies like Ford, Coca-Cola, Sasol and Woolworths have seen their fair share of challenging markets, economies in recession, sector-specific demands and socio-political upheaval through the years. And yet, due to their resilience, they always bounce back as the heroes!

What does business resilience look like?

PwC, in its DNA Profiler® Survey, describes a resilient organisation as follows: “flexible enough to adapt quickly to external market shifts, this organisation remains steadfastly focused on and aligned behind a coherent business strategy.”

The company goes on to explain that resilient organisations are forward-looking and self-correcting. They anticipate changes routinely and work to address them proactively. When things go wrong, resilient organisations respond immediately, thoroughly and constructively. Resilient businesses are “always scanning the horizon for the next competitive battle or market innovation”.

How to go about building resilience

From my own experience, I think the best thing you can do to build a resilient business is to hire resilient people, and to consciously work on helping your employees to develop resilience. For us, this means hiring people who view setbacks as temporary and failure as part of the learning and growth process. It also means cultivating an environment where failure is not the end of the world.

By teaching people that it’s completely normal to fail on occasion, but to “fail fast”, learn and then to pick themselves up and move on, businesses encourage employee resilience. This in turn fuels organisational resilience.

In striving for resilience, which I’d call the cousin of sustainability, it’s also important for organisations to be constantly aware of potential changes. This allows them to pre-empt them and to steer adjustments quickly, efficiently and in the best interests of the business. At the most basic level, this could mean adjusting inventory based on seasonal demand forecasting. At a higher-level, it is the ability to foresee industry shifts and to take advantage of them. For example, the Naspers decision in the 1990s to split M-Net into two companies to create MultiChoice, which would manage subscribers and ultimately go on to offer multi-channel digital subscription TV services.

Resilient businesses don’t respond to change or challenge with fear and inertia. Instead, they choose to adapt and elevate by finding a silver lining to flourish, through a continued focus.

The foundations that underpin resilience

We often talk about how change is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean human beings have become any less averse to it. People seek out stability, and it’s important to get the balance right in building resilient companies.

There needs to be stability at a basic level – establishing processes and systems; automating where possible and sensible, and focusing on accountability and transparency. At the same time, it’s important to retain a degree of flexibility – to allow for fluid processes and adaptation to changing conditions. 

As examples, you might consider your HR systems or financial reporting processes. In both, there are elements that can be easily systemised and tested solutions available to help optimise efficiency and minimise human error. On the other hand, both also need to be equipped to deal with exceptions that don’t fit the mould, and to evolve as your business grows to deal with new challenges. 

Closing the loop

Based on the above, one could say that at the heart of resilience is a culture of learning and of continuous improvement. Toyota, a famously resilient company, encapsulates this approach by using the PDCA model – plan-do-check-act. Essentially a critical thinking map, this speaks to Toyota’s philosophy of “building people before building cars”.

By focusing on teaching employees to plan, implement the plan, measure the result, and adapt accordingly, Toyota is actually instilling resilience. Whether a plan succeeds or fails, the PDCA cycle is still valid, and the next action is simply to start the process over again. When failures occur, employees can bounce back and look to create a new or modified plan with the aim to succeed. 

That brings me back to my first point – the best way to create a resilient business is to focus on developing resilient people. 

In closing, I have two questions for you to consider: What are you doing to create a culture of resilience within your organisation? And are you looking for resilience when hiring new talent?


F.R. (Rhys) Robinson, PhD is Executive Director, Infinitus Reporting Solutions (Pty) Ltd.



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