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What is Resilience Management? E-mail

Resilience Management (also known as "Business Continuity Management") covers three main areas of interest in literature and in practical management effort, namely:

  1. Disaster and Risk Management
  2. Sustainable Development (Impact on the Environment)
  3. Obtaining Strategic Advantage (Being adept at winning despite difficulties)

In this context Resilience is taken to mean "to survive the unforeseen".  This unforeseen can be due to unforeseen events that happen, or it can be a result of a slow and hardly noticable series of changes over a period of time.  Resilience Management captures all aspects of management focus and effort that would endeavour to avoid undesirable collpase of any magnitude.

To be resilient is more than to be sustainable.  You are successful in your efforts to be sustainable if you succeed in completing all the operations you are involved in successfully, sufficiently resourced and also reaching your objectives within the time frame where it still has the desired impact.  While it is obviously true that you need to be successful in your strive to ensure sustainablility in order to be resilient, it is not sufficient.  Resilience is not a result of successful sustainability over time.  It requires attention to more aspects.

Resilience and Risk Management (and the Avoidance of Collapse)

At Van Thinking we distinguish between two types of resilience management efforts that an organization needs to give attention to.  For convenience we call them type 1 and type 2 risk management focus areas relevant to resilience. 

Type 1 Resilience Management Focus Areas (Risk)

A large part of the current effort to ensure organizational resilience is spent in the area of risk management.  The main thrust here is to be prepared for events that incur high risk.  A number of ways are proposed whereby an organization can increase its readiness to deal with undesirable, high impact events so as to minimise the risk and negative impact on the organization.  A strong focus on disaster management is part of this aspect of resilience management.

When events of sufficient magnitude and high risk happen, they threaten not only to destabalise, but to cause a collapse of the organization or significant aspects of the organization.  These kinds of events are usually very rare, highly improbable to happen, but when they do happen they have disastrous effects.  This combination of attributes of these kinds of events often causes organizations to be loathed to spend resources on preparing for them.  Yet failing to do so leave the organization vulnerable with no way to manage itself through the crisis that occurs should any of these events occur.

An important common feature of this approach to resilience management where it is strongly linked to risk management is that the events that could occur are foreseen and planned for (or wilfully not planned for).  Resilience is therefore increased by minimising the number of possible such events that could occur through futuristic contingency planning.  Understanding as many as possible events that could have this kind of disastrous impact on the organization and preparing for them is a balancing act of not over-committing resources to this effort, weighed against the magnitude of impact should they occur.

An extreme illustration of the need for type 1 resilient management is the 9/11 attacks on the twin towers in the USA.

Type 2 Resilience Management Focus Areas (RISK)

In this case collapse occurs not because of an event happening, but rather as a result of a slow systemic failure that is the result of neglecting to give attention to a downward trend over a long period of time.  This might not be wilful neglect, and usually isn't.  It is quite possible that the pointers to imminent problems are not in themselves big enough for the decision makers to give attention to what they indicate (both because the effort to turn the trend around might be too much to warrant the effort given the "insignificance" of the immediate problem that presents itself at any given time, or because the current problem presenting itself might be small enough in itself to escape notice in an environment where "bigger issues" are at stake at the time when they present themselves).

Many cases of slow systemic degradation are "forgiving" in that they do not present immediate high impact changes.  However, many of them then reach a point where a small next step brings about a sudden (and unforeseen) collapse.  At this point the impact is disastrous, and many resources are required to turn the situation around.  Usually the "pointers" are then easily identifiable in retrospect, so that the organization can clearly see the instances where the smaller triggers occurred.  It has the typical result of "if only we gave attention to ..." in the minds of decision makers, so that a typical scenario is blaming those who ignored the smaller triggers leading up to the collapse for the ultimate failure.  While they might sometimes be to blame to some extent, it is also true that an organization can do much to avoid such costly exercises by creating a culture where the "small triggers" are identified and responded to.  It is often a two-way responsibility - decision makers might have been negligent, but organizations also rarely value inputs that require much effort and resources for seemingly small problems - and these "triggers" are often deemed as such small problems when they occur.

The failure of the national electricity grid in South Africa in 2007/2008 is an example of such a type 2 failure. 

Van Thinking provides an overview of approaches to type 1 resilience management, but the focus of our online services is on recognising and managing type 2 risks that threaten organizational resilience. 

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Resilience Management and the Impact on the Environment (Sustainable Development)

Resilience Management is often also the term used for that part of management's focus that take into account the natural environment and ensures that sustainable development takes place rather than a narrow focus (e.g. on profit only).  While this is a very important aspect of resilience management, Van Thinking does not provide services in this field.

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Resilience Management (and Resilience Thinking) as a Strategic Tool

There is another application of resilience management that is often neglected.  That is the observation that training and preparing your decision makers to excel and out-perform in situations where high-impact unforeseen events happen that can give you an insurmountable strategic edge over you competition if you are able to exploit such events to your advantage rather than to be impacted on adversely as a result of such unforeseen events.  Strategic Management in this sense moves beyond the pursuit of surviving unforeseen, high risk events to seeing such events as opportunities to excel.  In this case the nature of the unforeseen events does threaten the continuity of the business, but there is also the recognition that such high-energy situations provide unique opportunities.  Watch our online video on organizational complexity to see an example of how to develop resilience as a strtaegic tool (or subscribe to do the free email course in organizational complexity).

Van Thinking has developed a skill set for people who want to excel in resilience management through our home-grown four-phased development solution, and we introduce these in our Webinar on Resilience Management.  This skill set consists mainly of conceptual and thinking skills that enhance understanding and therefore help facilitate appropriate decisions and actions to out-perform your competition.

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Published articles:

  1. Van der Walt, M, Knowledge Management and Scientific Knowledge Generation , Knowledge Management Research & Practice, (2006) 4, 319330.
  2. Van der Walt, M., De Wet, G., "A Framework for Scientific Knowledge Generation", Knowledge Management Research & Practice, (2008) 6, 141 - 154.