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Dave's Ponderings on

Defining Resilience and its Attributes

Resilience is a strategic capability. It is an organizational "lifestyle".

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Greetings Colleagues!


In my last Pondering, I touched on change and the role of leadership for resilient organizations.  In the meantime, it has occurred to me that resilience might mean different things to different people.  For clarity, this Pondering will provide a definition of resilience and some attributes and indicators that have been identified.



It is the ability to anticipate, prepare for, respond and adapt to changing internal and external conditions ... from almost imperceptible incremental change all the way to sudden major disruptions ... in order to flourish.


An international guidance standard is provided by ISO 22316 (2017).  It highlights the following as attributes for organizational resilience:


Shared vision and clarity of purpose: Organizational resilience is enhanced by a clearly articulated and understood purpose, vision and values to provide clarity to decision making at all levels of the organization.


Understanding and influencing context:  A comprehensive understanding of the organization’s internal and external environments will help the organization make more effective strategic decisions about the priorities for resilience.


Effective and empowered leadership:  Organizational resilience is enhanced by leadership that develops and encourages others to lead under a range of conditions and circumstances, including during periods of uncertainty and disruptions.


A culture supportive of organizational resilience:  A culture that is supportive of organizational resilience demonstrates a commitment to, and existence of, shared beliefs and values, positive attitudes and behavior.


Shared information and knowledge:  Organizational resilience is enhanced when knowledge is widely shared where appropriate and applied. Learning from experience and learning from each other is encouraged.


Availability of resources:  The organization should develop and allocate resources, such as people, premises, technology, finance and information, to address vulnerabilities, providing the ability to adapt to changing circumstances.


Development and coordination of management disciplines:  The design, development and coordination of management disciplines and their alignment with the organization’s strategic objectives are fundamental to enhancing organizational resilience.


Supporting continual improvement:  Organizational resilience is improved when organizations continually monitor their performance against pre-determined criteria to learn and improve from experience and take advantage of opportunities. Organizations create and encourage a culture of continual improvement across all employees.


Ability to anticipate and managing change:  Organizational resilience is enhanced when an organization has the ability to anticipate, plan, and respond to change.

I also find work done by Resilient Organizations Ltd out of New Zealand very useful.  They have articulated three interdependent attributes and thirteen indicators of resilience.  You will notice similarities with the ISO standard.

The three attributes are:  leadership and culture; networks and relationships; and change ready.

The indicators are distributed among the attributes in the following manner:

Leadership and culture - The adaptive capacity of the organization created by its leadership and culture identified by the following indicators:

  • Leadership: Strong leadership to provide good management and decision- making during times of stress, as well as continuous evaluation of strategies and work programs against organizational goals.

  • Staff engagement:  The engagement and involvement of staff who understand the link between their own work, the organization's resilience, and its long-term success. Staff are empowered and use their skills to solve problems.

  • Situation awareness:  Staff are encouraged to be vigilant about the organization, its performance and potential problems. Staff are rewarded for sharing good and bad news about the organization including early warning signals and these are quickly reported to organizational leaders.

  • Decision making: Staff have the appropriate authority to make decisions related to their work and authority is clearly delegated to enable a crisis response. Highly skilled staff are involved, or are able to make, decisions where their specific knowledge adds significant value, or where their involvement will aid implementation.

  • Innovation and creativity:  Staff are encouraged and rewarded for using their knowledge in novel ways to solve new and existing problems, and for utilizing innovative and creative approaches to developing solutions.


Networks and relationships - The internal and external relationships fostered and developed for the organization to leverage when needed; identified by the following indicators:

  • Effective partnerships:  An understanding of the relationships and resources the organization might need to access from other organizations during stress, and planning and management to ensure this access.

  • Leveraging knowledge:  Critical information is stored in a number of formats and locations and staff have access to expert opinions when needed. Roles are shared and staff are trained so that someone will always be able to fill key roles.

  • Breaking silos:  Minimization of divisive social, cultural and behavioral barriers, which are most often manifested as communication barriers creating disjointed, disconnected and detrimental ways of working.

  • Internal resources:  The management and mobilization of the organization's resources to ensure its ability to operate during business as usual, as well as being able to provide the extra capacity required during a crisis.


Change ready - The planning undertaken and direction established to enable the organization to be change ready; identified by the following indicators:

  • Unity of purpose:  An organization wide awareness of what the organization's priorities would be following a crisis, clearly defined at the organization level, as well as an understanding of the organization's minimum operating requirements.

  • Proactive posture:  A strategic and behavioral readiness to respond to early warning signals of change in the organization's internal and external environment before they escalate into crisis.

  • Planning strategies:  The development and evaluation of plans and strategies to manage vulnerabilities in relation to the business environment and its stakeholders.

  • Stress testing plans:  The participation of staff in simulations or scenarios designed to practice response arrangements and validate plans.


Resilience is more than a program.  It is an organizational “lifestyle”.


Until next time, I wish for you a resilient and flourishing life and organization!



Next up:  Resilience as a function of dynamic external and internal eco-systems

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