Surviving Crises: Building a resilient organization

Some people bounce back time and time again from whatever hardships they may face. Others seem to take forever to recover from a single setback. The underlying difference between these two types of people often boils down to their individual resiliency in the face of difficulties. Our latest lesson on learning how to manage change through developing resiliency has been extremely helpful in shedding light on this concept, and I will attempt to delve more into this topic to highlight the importance of this often overlooked trait to organizations.

Factors influencing individual resilience

Resilience in organizations is a crucial part of enabling a firm to handle and adapt to a rapidly changing environment, yet so few employers seem to deem it part of their hiring requirements. More often than not, talent and experience are prized far above the abilities of employees to endure and adapt to change, but firms that are especially prone to rapidly changing circumstances should consider giving some added importance to resilience. After all, even the most talented, experienced professionals would not be of use to a fast-paced company if s/he was not sufficiently resilient, as functions could be swiftly made redundant and new skillsets coming into greater demand within a matter of months. Moreover, resilience is particularly crucial in times of crisis, when the survival of the organization is at stake. This was the situation for many firms during the recent Great Recession, but certain events may target a few specific companies along with their employees.


The recent unfortunate incident of MH370 is a case in point. The abilities of both Malaysian Airlines and the Malaysian Government to handle an international crisis of this magnitude have been called into question after the botched handling of the incident, where repeated miscommunications led to precious time and resources being frittered away on fruitless searches. Relatives of passengers on the flight, along with rescuers, have had to remain resilient as they keep up the on-going search for survivors and remains of the plane, even in the face of dwindling hope.

Furthermore, in the long term, it remains to be seen how both the airline and the government will adapt their contingency policies and business continuity plans in order to handle future emergencies. Not only do Malaysian Airline employees have to resist the urge to quit while they bore the brunt of allegations directed at their employer, but they also have to persevere in carrying out routine operations on top of implementing new policy measures to prevent similar incidents in future.


What could Malaysian Airlines, as well as firms caught in the whirlwind of the Great Recession, have done to improve the resiliency of their employees? For a start, encouraging interpersonal support among employees, together with basic training on how to handle stress, would be very helpful. Many of the less resilient employees of Malaysian Airlines would likely be searching for new job opportunities at this point in time. With the immense amount of stress they are facing from the aforementioned factors, the company would do well to provide training and retreats to manage employee stress.

Managing stress


However, many of the measures to boost resiliency are naturally most effective if implemented before a crisis has occurred. Apart from hiring employees who have been identified to be more resilient and self-efficacious, firms should foster an environment where employees believe that they are successful and can succeed with the organization. Evidence shows that by creating this culture of success and by reinforcing people’s self-belief, this in turn creates a self-fulfilling prophecy which drives the actual success of the organization. Top universities and companies operate using this principle. Another method to build up this principle in new hires is to assign them to successful mentors who would willingly guide them onto this path of success.


Promoting employee health

In order to be successful, resilient firms should invest in promoting employee health and wellness. This leads to healthier, happier employees who are more loyal to the firm. Moreover, training their managers and leaders, particularly in methods to deal with contingencies, is another potential method. If Malaysian Airlines and certain branches of the Malaysian Government had invested more in business continuity, it is much less likely that their reputations would have been tarnished and quite possible that lives could have been saved.


Examples of resilient leaders

This post has largely focused on methods that organizations may use to generate resilient employees. However, would it be possible for each person, regardless of his/her upbringing and genes, to learn resilience? Ultimately, resilience may be born and bred into all of us. As the great moral philosopher Sir Bernard Williams once said: “Man never made any material as resilient as the human spirit.” May you uphold the human spirit in you, stand strong amidst the winds of change and build an enduring, resilient organization that is capable of surviving crises.




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