Culture is the backbone of organisational resilience. (Discuss)

06 April 2016

View James Crask’s profile on LinkedIn 

PwC joined with London First to learn more about how the topic of ‘organisational resilience’ is perceived in industry, and how resilient leaders and managers believe their organisations to be. This is the final article in a series of four that draws directly on that research.  Previous articles can be found here, here and here 

Over the years I’ve specialised in enterprise resilience, we’ve used lots of academic research, read the Harvard Business Review and Strategy + Business and talked to lots of people at all levels of organisations, as well as experts in the field. And yet I still had that fleeting thought that a current survey not aimed at risk and resilience professionals, but business leaders could return new results that surprised and further challenged us.

As Chair of the ISO standards committee for Organisational Resilience Standards I have a responsibility to make sure that we reflect thought leadership, academic research and the views of industry leaders. So with that fleeting thought came the conviction that the timing was such that we needed a new survey. For some of the participants – particularly the Non-Executive Directors that we interviewed - this was likely to have been the first time they had been forced to think about organisational resilience directly and in isolation. 

The findings of the survey confirmed two things for me:

  • The first is that there is a heavy emphasis across industry on the operational activities that support organisational resilience. I think this is to be expected, they are at the visible, easily investible end of resilience. They are well understood and there are usually resources in place to oversee them. It’s only natural to point at the Head of Risk or Business Continuity or IT Resilience and say that significant resilience is generated by their efforts.
  • The second point, I think is more significant. That is that whilst these operational activities are important, they are part of a wider set of attributes that drive an organisation’s long term survival. Culture and strategy are as important as risk management, business continuity and other disciplines and, of course, they pervade the whole organisation with less visibility and less controls to ensure they’re achieving the levels of resilience required. What is interesting to me from the research is that the more senior the respondent, and again particularly the Non-Executive Directors, the more likely they were to reference these wider attributes.

To me this is encouraging and neatly describes the opportunity we all have as risk and resilience professionals. Coming back to the findings, some of the more interesting points were found in the free-form comments where participants were able to give their own personal interpretation of the issues. It’s in these boxes that we saw more references to the non-operational components of resilience – values, culture, leadership etc.

At this point I will make a link back to Charley Newnham’s first blog post introducing this survey. She was talking about the finding about how many organisations were expecting their businesses to change. 75% of our respondents believe, to some extent or another, that the very core of what their organisation is about is going to change - and probably rather radically. For me this is the biggest argument for thinking broader than operational activities when delivering resilience. A good departmental risk register and business continuity plan will always be critical, but it will never be able to help an organisation change its structure, or even its purpose in response to market influences.

I had a conversation with a risk leader a few weeks ago that has stuck with me. She said that she has a choice: she can either embrace the concept of organisational resilience placing herself at the heart of the initiative in her organisation, or she can bury her head in the sand and risk becoming irrelevant. I was really encouraged to see the Business Continuity Institute publish their positioning paper on Organisational Resilience in February. 

None of this means that the debate on how to achieve optimal organisational resilience is over. I believe that perhaps it’s just begun. And I challenge myself as well as you to keep listening, keep asking and keep learning from others and – perhaps most importantly – keep debating. It’s by debating and keeping the conversation alive that we continue to learn. 

So here is my first challenge to you. Our survey found that leaders overwhelmingly believe (92%) that culture plays a vital role in organisational resilience. What do you think about that? Do you agree or do you disagree? And why? Have a conversation today with a colleague, or with me, or in the comments section or on LinkedIn. Is culture more important than anything else, or is this result an anomaly? 

Criticism and debate is very welcome in helping to build something new. Looking ahead to the publication of the ISO Standard, expected in April 2017, we need the criticism and the views from a wide range of stakeholders to make that document, and the concepts it contains relevant to our needs. 

You can download copy of the research report here.    

James Crask leads PwC’s Enterprise Resilience proposition and is chairing the ISO committee responsible for Business Continuity and Organizational Resilience Standards.

James Crask | Senior Manager - Business Resilience
 +44 (0) 207 212 3064

More articles by James Crask


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