Recently I read a post by Jan Husdal reviewing a reference by Sutcliffe and Vogus – “Organizing for Resilience“. If you want a review of the article read Jan’s post – my purpose here is to take the ideas down a different path.
We are often presented case studies of ‘resilience’ based on the observation that an organisation has survived some incident or setback. The idea that this experience of recovery is special or extraordinary may perhaps provide a bad set of learnings. It reminds me in some ways of the book “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell.
In that book Gladwell sets out to examine and debunk the myth that success is about heroic individuals – people who are special and unique. As Gladwell highlights, they are often the result of a series of environmental conditions – and that they had the opportunity to achieve a level of technical mastery (the 10,000 hour rule, based on research by Ericsson) by the time their big opportunity arrived.
Resilience, Sutcliffe & Vogus argue, often requires exposure to more than a single incident.
“Good outcomes are not enough to define resilience. Nor is a single small challenge.”
I have written about a better known collaboration by Kathleen Sutcliffe (with Karl Weick) in relation to High Reliability Organisations, a central aspect of the HRO model is the concept of mindfulness. Researching Timothy Vogus provided an interesting insight into how he argues that mindfulness and resilience interact. His research has highlighted what he describes as the two critical capabilities;
- Mindful organising
- the capability to notice the unexpected, as it is unfolding, and to put a stop to the issue
- in other words – the capability to “detect and correct” an emerging incident
- the capability to achieve desirable outcomes amid adversity and significant obstacles/barriers
- the two elements of demonstrating resilience then are being able to illustrate the good outcome and the bad situation
To Vogus the way we structure our organisations can limit our resilience capability. Formal structure shape (for better or for worse) the actions and interactions in the organisation through which we make sense of an unfolding situation – and how we are able/unable to piece together the picture and take co-ordinated action.
Culture and structure are important starting points in creating the environment for resilience. Creating the environment to become resilient requires engagement at strategic levels and as part of overall organisational development.
Despite these environmental aspects, we also still need to enhance the skills and capabilities of our people. This is especially relevant in the area of good environmental monitoring (to detect an emerging problem) and information-processing capabilities (the Intelligence and Decisions Making aspects of Crisis/Emergency Management) to establish the ‘situational awareness’ and determine appropriate courses of action. These skills can (and should) be developed by ongoing management of risk and through training and exercises.
Adults learn from experience, not by just reading a plan. If you want to develop expertise in adapting and leading in a crisis, then you need to practice and learn from that experience.
Just going though the motions of exercising (or testing), like some that I have seen, do not help with these skills and capabilities – they actually make the organisation less resilient.
Practice does not make perfect, it creates habits. Perfect practice makes perfect.
Are your BC and Crisis Management exercises just re-enforcing habit, or enhancing organisational learning and capability?
What are you doing to get your 10,000 hours up before you really need to be ready to adapt and rebound?