Posted by: Katherine Raleigh
Programme Manager on Mon 08 May

KnowledgeBrief clients were joined by Dr Rachel Doern, Goldsmiths University of London, at the latest Innovation Day to explore some of the strategies to build individual and organisational resilience.

In April, Innovation Programme clients were joined by Dr Rachel Doern to hear critical insights from her research on the London riots in 2011, a human induced crisis that threatened the continuity of many of the city’s small businesses. The presentation highlighted how leaders can’t fall back on the “it won’t happen to us” mentality and must prioritise being prepared when (not if) a crisis does hit.

Here are some key insights.

Resilience goes beyond regular crisis management

Crisis management frameworks capture different stages in the evolution of a crisis and many large organisations are rather mature when it comes to anticipatory and containment processes. However, organisational resilience is going beyond having a comprehensive strategy.

In theory, resilience refers to the ability to maintain a stable equilibrium following adversity (Bonanno, 2004). Depending on the level of resilience, it can mitigate risks, reduce the negative effects of adversity or even lead to post-traumatic growth and transformation.

Resilience is not just a trait that people or organisations either have or do not have. It is something an individual or organisation can build and nurture. Organisations can develop two key areas to build their resilience: protective factors and adaption strategies.

Build protective qualities on an organisational level

If an individual has experienced a set-back before, he or she is more likely to anticipate and prepare for future crises, and in some cases to recover well as a result.  The individual has existing protective qualities, or factors, which has an important role to play in being resilient. Protective qualities include skills, strengths, resources, support or coping strategies that help individuals deal more effectively with a crisis.

Research suggests that, as for an individual, it is possible for organisations to develop protective qualities. For example, this might involve determining whether the organisation empowers its employees to make non-routine decisions, enables them to improvise, or is aware of supply chain complexities, and had access to community resources and institutional support.

Organisations can use and invest in their protective qualities to strategically build and strengthen resilience. Overall, protective qualities strengthen all individuals and organisations, not just those at risk.

Adaptation strategy is essential

Adaptation is about what an organisation does. It occurs in the process of decisions and actions taken by individuals and organisations to return to an equilibrium state and can be either positive, negative, or non-existent. The more resilient you are, the more likely you are to choose a positive adaptation strategy.

A positive approach involves being pro-active and looking for the opportunities, and can possibly lead to post-traumatic growth and transformation. In comparison, negative adaptation, which involves passive strategies, can lead to destructive behaviours and disengaged employees. When organisations experience a set-back, it is an opportunity to rethink goals, processes, and structures.

Strengthen individual resilient mindsets

Underlying organisational resilience is the people behind the organisation. For an organisation to be resilient, it is important that employees have the mindset to react to a crisis and bounce back – and have the strategies and support from upper management to do so effectively.

The key is to train individuals in the organisation to have a positive and pro-active mindset. For example, when something negative happens, focus on what was saved rather than lost. Invest in building confidence in your team to deal with crisis. Positive adaptation will only thrive at the organisational level if the mindset thrives at an individual level too.

Think about if some people in your organisation are more resilient than others. Remember, people that have developed protective qualities are more likely to pro-actively look for a solution, and are more likely to act. Simply, nurture your employees’ strengths and find a way to enable and empower them to make non-routine decisions should a crisis occur.


These are just some key highlights taken from April’s Innovation Day. Each month, clients of the Innovation Programme receive a full ACT report, capturing the guest expert’s research, the implications, and next steps for leaders to apply back in their team and organisation. For more information, or for a full list of references, please get in touch.

Next, Innovation Programme clients – including BT, Keltbray and Warrington CCG – will explore the digital tools to enhance creativity and innovation. For more information, please view the Innovation Day page.

After a crisis, move on, adapt and adopt.

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