Friday, 14 October 2016

Individual and organisational resilience

I love the movie The Pursuit of Happyness. The resilience portrayed in that movie is a real depiction of the human capacity to overcome. Personal resilience is the ability to endure hardship, to adapt to changes, and to recover from trying situations[1]. It can be summarised in the context of four concepts namely: determination, endurance, adaptability and recuperability [2].

Resilience is something that is developed in all of us over time, and in most cases due to circumstances we didn’t anticipate, or didn’t bring on ourselves. As individuals we are constantly exposed to the risk of personal disruptions, and there are countless scenarios that can cause major disruptions in our lives. As a country we are exposed to the disruptions forced on us by our decision makers, and we are also exposed to the decisions of other countries. As organisations, we face all of the above mentioned disruptions as well as disruptions within markets and technology etc. For all of this we must develop resilience so that we can move past the point of just surviving, and press into growth and accomplishment.  

Organisational resilience is a pre-requisite of firm’s performance and innovation[3]. Organisational resilience should include all pillars of business itself, from the individual to groups, systems, operations, physical material properties, supply chain management, strategy, and innovation. It speaks to the ability of these elements to weather systematic disruptions, but also their ability to respond to new risk environments[4]. The resilience of an organisation depends on the availability and accessibility of resources, as well as the organisation’s formal structures[5]. While strict processes and controls might work in times of stability, major disruptions might require greater flexibility in order to survive[6]. If an organisation is not able to practically apply policies and procedures during a fast moving crisis then these plans are rendered useless[7]. What a company therefore needs, is to develop an inherent resilience that can support a quick response to large scale change during turbulent times[8].

People are still the driving force of organisations and therefore a critical contributor to the total resilience[9]. When aggregated, these individual characteristics form the compositions of the organisation[10]. Research also shows that while the characteristics of an individual speaks to potential for resilience, the combined characteristics of a densely networked team, where openness and innovation is supported by the organisation, allows these groups to tap into their collective resources, process information, detect disruptions quickly, make sense of it, respond and prevent it from spreading[11].

Relating to Figure 1 below, an organisation must build their capacity to: ‘investigate, to learn, and to act without knowing in advance what one will be called to act upon’[12]. The ability to identify or detect disruptions and to take action is key in organisational resilience, as well as creating proactive habits and having effective feedback mechanisms[13]. Is the organisation learning? Some studies have shown that practical proactive habits and behavioural preparedness in an organisation shows a positive association with product innovativeness[14]. Innovating products reconciles the gap between the resilience capacity of an organisation and the organisation’s performance[15].

In a behavioural context, you can allow people to engage in disciplined creativity (learn resourcefulness), increase their ability to respond to a drastic change in the course of action (unscripted agility), increase their ability to take action before it is needed, and steer away from over-learned and repetitive routines in crucial departments[16].

Figure 1:Resilience response framework (Burnard & Bharma, 2011)

In order to increase the flexibility and resilience of your organisation, you can have a look at increasing the following[17]:

  • Decentralised decision making. Disruptions require organisations to adapt to decentralised decision-making so that the organisation can increase its responsiveness[18];
  • Lower levels of formalisation. Case studies related to organisational resilience show that formal bureaucratic structures impede creativity and the adaptive behaviours necessary to be resilient[19];
  • A higher degree of absorbency between different organisational boundaries or functions; and
  • Establishments of collaborative partnerships. Many organisations and supply networks are interconnected and therefore they strongly affect the resilience of an organisation[20].

At workpoints we work to enable organisations to facilitate these changes in behaviour. Using our platform, organisations can emphasise, reward and acknowledge the key behaviours that will lead to greater organisational resilience.  


Estée Roodt (MCom Industrial Psychology)

Estée is part of our Behavioural Specialist team here at Workpoints. She is our keen researcher, our problem-solver and our number one sports star.

Workpoints is a fully featured reward, recognition and incentives platform that provides you with the tools to create a high performance organisation. Our easy-to-use application integrates simply into any organisation and instantly encourages staff to do the daily grind with excellence and energy. 

Visit for more info and a free trial!


Akgün, A. E., & Keskin, H. (2014). Organisational resilience capacity and firm product innovativeness and performance. International Journal of Production Research, 7543(September), 1–20.
Burnard, K., & Bhamra, R. (2011). Organisational resilience: development of a conceptual framework for organisational responses. International Journal of Production Research, 49(18), 5581–5599.
Taormina, R. J. (2015). Adult personal resilience: A new theory, new measure, and practical implications. Psychological Thought, 8(1), 35–46.
Van der Vegt, G. ., Essen, P., Wahlstrom, M., & George, G. (2015). Managing Risk and Resilience. Academy of Management Journal, 58(4), 971–980.

[1] (Taormina, 2015)
[2] (Taormina, 2015)
[3] (Akgün & Keskin, 2014)
[4] (Starr et al, 2003, Crichton et al, 2009 as cited by Burnard & Bhamra, 2011)
[5] (Van der Vegt, Essen, Wahlstrom, & George, 2015)
[6] (Van der Vegt et al., 2015)
[7] (Seville et all as cited by Burnard & Bhamra, 2011)
[8] (Burnard & Bhamra, 2011)
[9] (Van der Vegt et al., 2015)
[10] (Van der Vegt et al., 2015)
[11] (Carmeli, Friedman, Tidhler, 2013 as cited by Van der Vegt et al., 2015)
[12] (Wildavksy as cited by Akgün & Keskin, 2014. p. 6919)
[13] (Burnard & Bhamra, 2011)
[14] (Akgün & Keskin, 2014)
[15] (Akgün & Keskin, 2014)
[16] (Lengnick-Hall and Beck 2005; Lengnick-Hall, Beck, and Lengnick-Hall 2011 as cited by Akgün & Keskin, 2014)
[17] (Burnard & Bhamra, 2011)
[18] (Van der Vegt et al., 2015)
[19] (Van der Vegt et al., 2015)
[20] (Van der Vegt et al., 2015)

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