Starting with a six-year government funded grant we began examining how organisations could recover economic competitiveness after hazard events by improving their resilience.
Shortly after, a tornado ripped through the New Zealand town of Greymouth. The tornado cut a path through an industrial area of the town – over the top of an engineering firm called Dispatch and Garlick.
Resilient Organisations’ researcher Dr Erica Seville visited Greymouth a week later and found Dispatch and Garlick doing remarkably well, despite having done little preparation for a crisis, with no business continuity or emergency response plans. The staff rallied around with the unified purpose of getting the factory back up and operating.
With the help of competitors, suppliers, and their community Dispatch and Garlick managed to re-open the next morning working under tarpaulins and filled an international order for an important client that week.
As researchers, this forced us to challenge our assumption that the only way to make organisations more resilient was to get them to plan and prepare for crisis in better and more comprehensive ways. Instead, we began to wonder if there might be something about the organisations themselves, their character, their ethos, their ways of operating that made them resilient?
We decided to set our prior assumptions aside and embarked on a grounded theory approach to discover what leads to resilience in an organisation. We started with 10 in-depth case studies of very different organisations.
One of our first PhD student’s Sonia McManus spent three years getting to know these organisations, analysing their day-to-day operations, their crisis preparedness,, their response to previous crises, and their capabilities and competencies they could draw on if needed. Through Sonia’s research we came up with our first set of resilience indicators.
Over the years we have stress-tested and refined those indicators. We have surveyed and interviewed hundreds of organisations and made numerous refinements to our understanding of resilience. Yet the essence of Sonia’s initial findings have remained true – resilience emerges from an organisation’s culture. It isn’t what an organisation does that is so important, but how it does it that leads to effective preparation, builds trust, grows adaptability and thus fosters resilience.
In 2014, we morphed from a research entity into a social enterprise, continuing our research as well as working directly with organisations to help them understand and develop their resilience. This transition has given us the opportunity to apply our knowledge generated from high-quality research and to communicate and interact with an increasingly diverse group of people and organisations. Our goal is to future-proof organisations and their communities, helping them to build the insight, culture and capability to survive a crisis and thrive in the face of a turbulent and uncertain world.