In a breakout session in Edinburgh today, in the lead up to the ESOMAR Annual Congress, Quentin Dunstan, the Organizational Resilience Market Development Manager at BSI, shared the results of BSI/Cranfield research on resilience.

The traditional metaphor of organizational resilience was bouncing an egg off the pavement without breaking it. What do you have to do to change the egg “pre-bounce”, so it doesn’t break?

The answer, not surprisingly, varies too much to be standardized. But a framework can help organizations understand the tensions they face and how they should adapt.

To develop that framework, Cranfield School of Management reviewed the past 50 years of academic literature, evaluating 181 academic articles. As academic research into resilience has evolved, a consensus has developed that organizations vary along two dimensions, from the defensive (protecting results) to the progressive (achieving results), and from consistency (around goals, processes, and routines) to flexibility (around ideas, views, and actions). An organization often finds itself in a particular quadrant.

Consistent Flexible
Progressive Performance optimization
“Improving and exploiting”
Goal setting, measurement, and continual improvement
Adaptive innovation
“Imagining and creating”
Turning creative thoughts and ideas into workable practices
Defensive Preventative control
“Stopping bad things from happening, making goods things happen”
Monitoring and controlling using rules, procedures, systems, and standards
Mindful action
“Noticing and responding”
Empowering and taking action in a timely manner

No one quadrant is right for every organization. Leaders need to identify the quadrant they’re in now, and whether it is the right fit for the future.

As Professor David Denyer wrote in the report:

Organizational Resilience is the ability of an organization to anticipate, prepare for, respond and adapt to incremental change and sudden disruptions in order to survive and prosper…

Leaders have to manage the tensions between the need to be both defensive AND progressive and also consistent AND flexible. Paradoxical thinking helps leaders shift beyond ‘either/or’ toward ‘both/and’ outcomes.

Organizational Resilience requires constant effort. If neglected, preventative control, mindful action, performance optimization and adaptive innovation will erode over time and can result in organizations sleepwalking into disaster.

Market research and insights are core to building organization resilience. The report outlines a “4Sight methodology”—

  1. Foresight: Anticipate, predict and prepare for your future
  2. Insight: Interpret and respond to your present conditions
  3. Oversight: Monitor and review what has happened and access changes
  4. Hindsight: Learn the right lessons from your experience.

You can download the full report, Organizational Resilience: A summary of academic evidence, business insights and new thinking, from Cranfield.