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Latest Report: Kaikoura Earthquake Social Science Research Workshop

Latest Report: Kaikoura Earthquake Social Science Research Workshop

Our latest report summarises the Kaikoura Earthquake Social Science Research Workshop held in February this year and lessons learned about research collaboration, coordination,and impact following major disruptive events.It includes te research and research coordination priorities for the Kaikoura earthquake and tsunami, that were identified during the workshop.

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Why testing and exercising are essential for an effective business continuity plan

Why testing and exercising are essential for an effective business continuity plan

Business Continutity Plans are often created in the spirit of compliance and obligation, rather than a desire for real organisational readiness. They sit in the filing cabinet gathering dust along with the insurance policy and that warranty for the printer your company bought back in 2007.

In order for Business Continuity Plans to be effective when the ground starts shaking (literally or figuratively) they need to be well thought out documents, but more importantly, they need to be practiced as a living strategy. Stress testing plans is important to both ensure plans are adequate but also to make sure staff are practiced and ready to face a crisis when it occurs. Plans are not particularly valuable if staff do not know how to implement them, or worse, do not even know they exist!

But stress testing plans can seem like just another burden. Fire drills stopped being fun after primary school! So what are some ways that your organisation can start engaging staff members in business continuity planning that won't feel like another time-consuming compliance exercise?

9 Ideas for Stress Testing Your Plans that Don't Feel like Homework on a Saturday
  1. Plan a morning tea or Friday drinks crisis scenario session with staff. Put some simple scenarios to your staff and see what kinds of responses and questions they come up with.
  2. Organise a half-day workshop for all new staff to welcome them to the organisation and introduce them to the plan.  This could be designed, through interactive scenario based training, to introduce new staff to the region, the hazards, the organisations involved and dependencies between the organisations. This will help new staff learn about the organisation and start building partnerships.
  3. Develop a series of small 15-30 minute crisis scenarios for the group to share. Choose one scenario each month for different teams to carry out each month. Observations from the exercises can then be shared at regular staff meetings.
  4. Get staff out of the office.  Have a day or two a year where staff exercise remote operations (e.g. working from home).
  5. Get staff together over lunch one week and brainstorm possible approaches to service restoration and rapid impact assessment.  The following week, give them a crisis scenario to test these approaches. Divide into groups and challenge them to see who can come up with the most effective restoration strategy.
  6. Have staff swap roles (perhaps even desks and literal hats) during planning exercises or while discussing crisis scenarios.  This will help break down silos in the organisation.
  7. Hold a workshop with other organisations to discuss opportunities for site and resource sharing. This will build valuable partnerships for your business during non-crisis times too.
  8. Make sure people know how to get in touch if the regular communication systems are down. Compile a list; make multiple copies in both electronic (mobile phone, USB stick or in the cloud) and paper format and diary a reminder to check that it is up to date periodically. Make sure it's up to date every few months by having everyone call the next person down on the list to invite them to a company lunch or coffee date.
  9. Practice the ultimate computer crash scenario to find out what data is critical and where it's stored.  Check in with everyone about where their backup data is stored? Brainstorm about what kind of disaster would destroy backup data too? How do you reduce this risk? Does anyone else in your organisation know where to find and retieve this information if you were not there?

The vital link between businesses and communities after disaster

The vital link between businesses and communities after disaster

Christchurch’s earthquake -hit services, particularly those we often take for granted, proved the perfect case study for Joanne Stevenson.

The University of Canterbury PhD student is nearly three years into her thesis on organisational resilience and the vital post disaster link between businesses and communities.

“I’m trying to create a more connected understanding of organisational resilience and figure out what it means for businesses and what it means for policy and development,” said Joanne. “It’s about making the links between an organisation and the community they’re a part of more clear.”

Joanne said people often didn’t consider the importance of businesses in establishing both social and economic progress following a major disaster.

“We rely on businesses for so much of the daily interaction in our lives. Often people don’t think about businesses in the sense of community and economic recovery but organisations are important hubs of social interaction.”

Joanne uses the example of wanting a coffee after the September earthquake to illustrate the important role of businesses in everyday life.

She had to drive around several outlets which were closed before finding a service centre that served coffee where she waited an hour. This small example illustrates how everyday services provided by business, no matter how big or small, are an integral factor to consider in post disaster communities.

Following both the September 2010 and February 2011 quakes Joanne surveyed 360 organisations throughout Canterbury. She then selected 32 businesses within the selected areas of Christchurch CBD, Kaiapoi and Lyttelton to carry out comprehensive case studies on.

facade-containersThroughout last year Joanne spent hours with each organisation, getting to know their post quake worksite and develop an understanding of their economic situation.

She was then able to compare the data gained from these interviews with the earlier surveys to evaluate the level of business resilience both immediately post quake and again at a later period.

A surprising find resulting from her research was four organisations reporting significant positive economic outcomes.

“Some of the businesses that were most disrupted by the earthquakes experienced a significant pick up in cash flow,” said Joanne.

In one example a business lost their retail outlet in the February 2011 quake and was forced to change to wholesale selling. The new products designed for wholesale led to a higher turnover for the company resulting in increased revenue.

Joanne’s findings also revealed the impact disasters have on a business’ operational objectives.

Post quake many businesses called on a range of contacts, both formal and informal, to provide additional labour. For some organisations this meant family members helping with administrative backlog while other businesses redistributed their work to different offices around the country.

Managing employee wellbeing and stress was another challenge identified by several organisations. A range of methods were undertaken by businesses to lend staff the emotional support they often required.

Joanne’s research showed that in post disaster environments competing businesses were often best positioned to provide each other with assistance because of familiarity with the operational and supply processes.

The earthquakes also acted as a stimulus for some businesses to re-evaluate their overall efficiency, allowing them to upgrade technologies and identify underperforming segments of the organisation.

People power: building resilient organisations

People power: building resilient organisations

Resilient Organisations researchers from the University of Canterbury are hoping their ground breaking work on employee resilience will help businesses lay the foundations for a more successful future – whatever the challenge.

Katharina Näswall, Joana Kuntz and Sanna Malinen have developed a scale, aimed at measuring an employee’s resilience level. Resilience is an individual’s ability to successfully adapt to change and use this capacity to overcome challenging situations.

Katharina says that an employee’s resilience level is something that can be developed and strengthened, often through the workplace environment.

“We propose that an open, supportive, collaborative and learning orientated work environment fosters employee resilience. All organisations, small or large, can help their employees become more resilient.”

Katharina says workplaces that are aware of staff resilience can work on methods to improve it. This creates wider organisational benefits including increased productivity, output and potential financial gain.

“If you don’t measure resilience you can’t control it – and you don’t know what needs to be done to improve it. If you want a resilient organisation in itself, you need to challenge-proof your employees. Organisations can develop and get better at employee resilience and in turn employees can be enabled by the organisation.”

The team has tested the Employee Resilience Scale (EmpRes) across both blue and white collar organisations.
Employees were asked to rate themselves on a scale of 1-5 in response to 12 statements. The variables were wide ranging and aimed to give a comprehensive picture of an employee’s resilience level.

Katharina says the research showed that employees placed high emphasis on the organisational and social factors of the workplace environment. These included having clearly defined work roles and expectations, clear reporting lines and being able to access support and guidance if required.

Workplaces with a learning orientated culture, where mistakes were seen as an opportunity for development and workers were encouraged to ask questions, had a higher level of employee resilience than those where these situations were perceived negatively.

In turn this higher level of resilience meant employees were better equipped to deal with challenges both inside and outside the work environment, including restructuring, workload and changes in personal circumstances.
“The scale has primarily been thought of in a research sense. Researchers can work with the organisation to provide information to the employer so they know where their employees are at,” says Katharina.

The group is continuing to tweak the scale and will continue further testing to increase its validity.
Katharina hopes in time the scale, in conjunction with the Resilient Organisations Benchmark Resilience Tool, will be able to provide a direct link between employee resilience and organisational outcomes.

“I hope this research helps highlight to organisations how much they have to gain by focusing on employee resilience.”

For further information on Employee Resilience or the EmpRes Scale go to www.resorgs.org.nz.nz or contact Katharina Näswall.
Email: [email protected]
Website: www.psyc.canterbury.ac.nz/research/empres

Planning for the people side of continuity

Planning for the people side of continuity

Recent events in Canterbury, New Zealand, have emphasised the risks that exist in business and the fragility of organisational operational ability. The earthquakes that shook the city of Christchurch in 2010-2011 caused extensive damage to people's lives, homes and businesses. Organisations, particularly those within critical industries, faced enormous pressure to continue operating while simultaneously experiencing major business disruption which threatened their survival. Yet some organisations were able to endure, even thrive, throughout and after the events. How?

A study conducted by Resilient Organisations (in partnership with the University of Canterbury) found that the magic ingredients to such success are not only being prepared through planning, but also organisations taking care of their social capital and utilising their networks. Organisations that had prepared thorough Business Continuity Plans (BCPs) prior to the September earthquake were able to use them to take immediate action during the disasters and continue operations. They knew how to take care of their people, how to keep communication channels open, and what actions to take. Those that had no formal plan, or whose plans were weak, experienced a significant learning curve (which served them well for when the more devastating February earthquakes occurred). They survived based on their utilisation of networks - good relationships and cooperation along the supply chain - and through the ways in which they took care of staff – providing for employee needs and making sure they felt valued by the company. These organisations contradicted the myth that a lack of formal planning will result in business failure. Plan or no plan, it was the relationships between people and the resilience of organisational members that allowed the organisation to succeed through such disruption. In a truly resilient style, these organisations learnt from their experiences and came out stronger and more resourceful for when the next disaster struck.

BCPs are well established as a central plank in an organisation's risk management process, and an integral component of developing a resilient organisation - one that is able to recover and recuperate quickly from a disaster and resume normal functioning. But BCP is just one part of creating a resilient organisation with other aspects relating to leadership and culture of equal importance.

Resilient Organisations interviewed Canterbury businesses to investigate what part their BCP played in their recovery; which parts of their plans were the most or least useful, and whether the process of preparing the plan influenced its perceived efficacy. The findings suggest that the identification of critical functions, good communication prior to and during a disaster, having information back-ups, and training and testing were found to be the most important parts of the BCP process. However, this was something that large organisations found to be more important, and the larger the organisation, the stronger the plan tended to be. Small organisations (SMEs) however found the creation of formal plans to be less important, instead relying on communication and common sense to get them through. If you only have three people in your organisation, there seems little point in writing a large document governing each individual action and telling people where to meet afterwards... everyone already knows! Nevertheless, for those that did use BCPs, keeping the BCP relevant and incorporating the organisation's learning's into it was also key.

Areas that were not well covered in these organisations' plans relate to the consideration of human capital. The study highlights the importance of considering employee wellbeing in designing a BCP, as well as choosing BCP leaders who have good levels of personal resilience and high EQ (Emotional Quotient). Such considerations are often neglected in both theory and practice because of the complexity that planning for human capital demands. After all, planning how to manage people, especially during a disaster, is a lot harder than planning for the more constant elements of one's business such as equipment. However, looking after employees – an organisation's most important asset – is essential for supporting individual resilience through disaster and helping people stay with the organisation when they may otherwise leave. Furthermore, having resilient BCP leaders who can stay calm during high-stress situations, and who can monitor their own emotions to keep everyone else calm too, will be better able to make quick decisions that direct people and resources to actions that promote business continuity. Difficult as it may be, the people side of business during disaster is the number one determinant of success and was of greatest concern following the earthquakes.

The empirical evidence from real organisations in real crises provided by this study should help companies understand the value of, and make improvements to, their own BCP process in the future.

18th March 2014

This article is one of many articles published simultaneously as part of a Flashblog for Business Continuity Awareness Week: #bcFlashBlog, #CountingTheCost