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We can’t always predict the future. But by building resilience, businesses can push through adversity and adapt to change. At the same time, there are what we might call ‘sustainability synergies’ to be won.

According to KPMG (PDF, 1.03MB), 96% of organisations are in some phase of transformation and nearly half completed at least one transformation initiative in the two years preceding its survey.

Meanwhile, the short and medium-term outlook for business and finance has deteriorated. The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said in June 2022 that its data suggests: “growth will soften as household spending turns downwards amid dented business and consumer confidence.”

It said it has: “downgraded its GDP growth outlook significantly, to 3.7% in 2022 from 5.1% previously and 1% in 2023 from 3% previously."

This is particularly worrying as almost half (48%) of businesses have “low resilience,” according to Aviva, the insurer.

In times like these, resilience is more critical than ever. While it’s not always possible to know where change could lead, you can prepare by strengthening yourself, your workers, and your company’s critical areas. The issues to consider when building resilience include:

Strong staffing practices

Resilient organisations need resilient people. Strength comes to employees through training, management feedback and good pay and benefits.

Since employees often create business resilience it is worrying that workplace stress is commonplace. According to statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) (PDF, 498 KB), 822,000 workers were affected by work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2020/21. In the same period, it said, work-related stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 50% of all work-related ill health.

Creating adequate support for stressed or ‘burnt-out’ employees is a key part of building organisational resilience. You can prevent burn out by monitoring employees closely, offering support, and discouraging presenteeism.

Financial resilience

To deal with change, you need to operate with viable financial cushions. Adaptation takes time – and with the Bank of England pointing to an SME (Small and Medium-sized Enterprises) funding gap of £22bn in the UK (PDF, 365KB), external lenders can’t always be counted on.

You can add resilience by ensuring you have an adequate cash buffer and, or, working capital reserves. Appropriate buffer sizes will depend on business types and circumstance but you should probably have a cushion of at least three months.

Encouraging innovation

The portmanteau word “intrapreneurship” is somewhat clunky but it captures an important aspect of business resilience: internal innovation.

By including employees when resolving issues, you can take advantage of insights that come from on-the-ground perspectives.

A culture of inclusiveness among employees may make it easier to bring about changes in everyday practices and, where necessary, organisational reform. Employees will not only be more receptive to change, they are more likely to put it into practice.

Common mistakes when building business resilience include:

Curtailing investment

Amid any sort of change or crisis, businesses instinctively tighten the purse strings. Another Bank of England survey found that business investment fell by an average of 32% last year as the coronavirus crisis took hold.

That’s not necessarily wrong, of course, as discussed earlier, financial prudence is a critical building block of business resilience. But at the same time, don’t let automatic parsimony over-rule long-term strategic visions.

It’s an important lesson to not totally curtail ambition in a crisis. Opportunities are out there to be seized.

Business process inertia

Strong businesses often rely on tried and tested methods. There is a danger, however, that established practices get in the way of change. American entrepreneur Salim Ismail characterises the conundrum as a “corporate immune system” which, he writes, “naturally rises out of systems, procedures and employee mindsets. It does its best to keep the system running smoothly by the status quo.”

But he goes on to write that such behaviour also: “stifles innovation and often leads organizations and industries to self-collapse.” 

It can be difficult, in other words, for a business to tell the difference between a threat and an innovative opportunity. Resilience builds in businesses that maintain the strategic, financial and operational flexibility to tell the difference and act accordingly.

Optimism bias

As the cognitive neuroscientist Tali Sharot explains: “Inferences about what will occur in the future are critical to decision making, enabling us to prepare our actions so as to avoid harm and gain reward.”

But this vital work is hampered by: “a pervasive bias towards overestimating the likelihood of positive events and underestimating the likelihood of negative events.”

To overcome this, many business leaders deliberately think about worst-case scenarios and keep alive memories of times when things go wrong. This healthy pessimism stops decision-makers from acting on the kind of instinctive optimism that may underestimate costs and risks.

Three quick wins in making business more resilient involve:

Establishing a framework for managing shocks

Common understanding is vital since it creates unity in crisis response. Think about potential upheaval and plan ahead. Generally speaking, you can bucket crises in the following five categories: Financial crisis, personnel crisis, organisational crisis, technological crisis and natural crisis.

Map out supply chains

You are likely familiar with your first tier of suppliers, but perhaps have a less solid grasp of your suppliers’ suppliers even though problems in networks outside your immediate sphere of operation can exert significant influence.

Your suppliers are businesses prone to risk just like you. They can be disrupted, caught up in a scandal over labour practices or lose a key supplier. While these risks can’t be strictly avoided, knowing who and where your suppliers are can help you approach any issues more strategically.

Engaging with networks

Businesses which establish external networks are often more resilient to challenges and shocks because groups tend to be better than individuals at interpreting events and dangers.

In conclusion, business resilience relies on many of the qualities commonly recognised in successful entrepreneurship. You need information, analysis, imagination, collaboration and, perhaps most of all, determination.

Be the Business

Be the Business

We’re working with Be the Business to help businesses across the UK raise productivity through leadership and management improvements and tech adoption.

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