These days all of us recognize that long-term success is not guaranteed for any organization, even those that appear to be secure now. Unremitting change can sneak up on companies and entire industries with lightning speed. New competition may catch us off guard. Activist stakeholders may make strong and unexpected demands. Disruptive technologies may threaten our products and services. If we recognize our vulnerabilities, we can prepare ourselves and our organizations to face the inevitable and frequently uninvited changes that can impact our futures.
In our January Transatlantic Blog, Katrin Muff discussed how she learned to build personal resilience while facing challenging situations. She defined resilience as “the capacity to respond to external pressure by adapting and recovering quickly and hence finding a new equilibrium.” This month I will extend her discussion to organizations and explore two different perspectives on organizational resilience.
The Coping and Adapting Perspective
A common perspective of resilience is that it involves an organization’s ability to absorb shock, cope, adjust, bounce back and resume previous levels of performance in the face of unexpected threats. This definition implies that organizations are reactively resilient when faced with changing conditions. This capacity for adjusting quickly to unforeseen circumstances is positive for any individual or organization. Who wouldn’t want to be able to bounce back in the face of what could be viewed as adversity?
The Transformative Perspective
Another way of framing resilience is to view it as an organization’s ability to proactively seek the opportunities that even unanticipated challenges can offer. Rather than merely coping, adapting and bouncing back, these organizations allow change to become transformative. They emerge stronger than before while embracing changes that others might view as threatening. This is the kind of resilience that allows organizations to reinvent themselves.
Characteristics of the Transformative Resilient
Organizations that possess transformative resilience have unique characteristics and cultures. Researchers have concluded that they possess a “blend of expertise, opportunism, creativity, and decisiveness despite uncertainty.” In my own research and writing, I refer to these organizations as change adept.
The challenge as I see it is that so few companies possess these cultures and capabilities. Our research consistently shows that change adept organizations are very rare. In our studies of organizational culture, we find that companies do not have strong track records for large-scale change for the most part. Many fully acknowledge that their organizations do not handle uncertainty well. Very few encourage challenges to the status quo and most fail to allow time for reflection and learning. Without these qualities, organizations are likely to be change inept rather than change adept.
As always, a first step in confronting a weakness is to acknowledge it. Therefore, I challenge you to reflect carefully on the culture of your own organization. Ask yourselves whether the collective has the mindset and capabilities to cope and adapt in the face of threats. This is a minimal standard for survival. Next ponder whether your organization has transformational resilience. When you can address change by looking for opportunities to transform rather than threats to overcome, you will be on the right path for long-term success.
 Marston, A and s Marston. Type R: Transformative Resilience for Thriving in a Turbulent World. PublicAffairs (January 9, 2018).
 Lengnick-Hall, C.A., Beck,T. and Lengnick-Hall, M. Developing a capacity for organizational resilience through strategic human resource management. Human Resource Management Review, 21 (2011)-255.
Author: Dr. Kathy Miller Perkins
Dr. Kathy Miller Perkins is a social psychologist and is the CEO and owner of Miller Consultants , a firm specializing in organizational development, executive coaching and change management. Her work involves helping companies create and sustain organizational cultures that are conducive to executing sustainable strategies. She has worked with companies such as Toyota, IBM, Kindred Health, Brown-Forman, Lexmark, Anthem, Ashland Chemical, the U.S. Military and BC Hydro.