What is organisational resilience?

For some organisations, resilience is an emerging area so I thought I would share some insights from our experiences.

At an industry lunch this year I was interested to find that the questions being raised about the definition of resilience were not dissimilar to the ones being asked nearly ten years ago.

In the last ten years Janellis Australia have been working with the Federal Government and a number of organisations operating in high risk industries, to quantify and build resilience capability.

Janellis began our ‘What is organisational resilience?’ conversation during industry lunches that highlighted that there are many parts that make up organisational resilience. Our lunches on the topic were attended by executives responsible for risk management, business continuity, security, insurance, crisis management, emergency management, disaster recovery and human resources. Each executive was looking at resilience through their own prism of responsibility and yet there were some common threads running through.

In 2006 we took the resilience conversation up to the CEO and Board level and with Retired General Peter Cosgrove we asked CEOs what organisational resilience meant to them.’

We discovered through these industry lunches that organisational resilience means different things to different organisations, depending on their industry, the threats they face and the personal experience of the executives and their teams.

We penned our first organisational resilience framework in 2006 which brought together all of the key areas into an integrated and enterprise-wide structure.  Although the enterprise-wide and strategic view of resilience was only somewhat understood at that time, key components of the framework were rolled out nationally and internationally in countries including the USA, Canada, NZ, and India.

Whilst rolling out the tools globally the Americans asked “What can the Aussies teach us?”.  We found that we actually were at the forefront in some areas and they were very receptive. We should not have been surprised as the tools were developed in collaboration with some of the brightest minds and most experienced people in Australia. It is interesting to note that the International Standard for Risk Management IS0 3100, was based initially on the Australian and New Zealand Standard AS/NZS4360. More than 30 countries contributed to the ISO 3100 standard and it is now recognized as the enterprise risk management standard adopted in 80% of countries around the world.

In the last ten years the Australian Federal Government has made a significant commitment to defining and developing organisational resilience for critical infrastructure operators. There are a number of research papers and tools available that have been developed with industry leaders and subject matter experts. The new British Standard for Organisational Resilience has defined organisational resilience and it was this definition that opened the debate at the recent lunch discussion I attended.

Our recommendation is that the definition of resilience needs to be determined by the CEO, endorsed by the Board and implemented by the Executive. The definition should reflect the CEOs resilience vision for the organisation, the current threats and the current maturity levels of the organisation. The first resilience vision statement may be more focused on being prepared for disruptive events and meeting the expectations of the community and other key stakeholders. An example of this could be:

In the event of an emergency or crisis that has the potential to impact on our organisation or the community, we will take a leadership role in ensuring the safety and welfare of people, the protection of our reputation and; the ability to continue to operate critical services.’

As the maturity in organisational resilience develops, the definition could evolve to include ‘intelligently anticipating and managing change swiftly and; seeing opportunities to enhance capability’.

The first organisation in Australia that engaged Janellis to embark on a Board led, enterprise-wide multi-year program to build organisational resilience was Qantas.

Very soon after starting our work with Qantas we realised that our framework needed another dimension to be included. The Board and other key stakeholders wanted quantifiable evidence of how the resilience program was tracking and they were looking for leading indicators of capability. In providing assurance we developed specific tools and metrics that would allow the organisation to report to the board on enterprise-risks as well as their organisational resilience capability. These resilience reporting tools have subsequently been embedded into a number of organisations operating in high risk industries.

In 2012 we reviewed our framework to confirm which components had maintained their relevance and value and which had not. Organisations who participated in this research included: Qantas Group, Westpac Banking Corporation, NSW State Emergency Service, Lend Lease Group and Transfield Services. All of these organisations had used all or parts of the framework.

The review resulted in an Organisational Resilience Benchmarking Framework that can be used within an organisation nationally and internationally and across industries – to assess capability.  The framework is being used as a roadmap for organisations starting their resilience journey as well as an assurance tool for organisations that already have the capability.

The framework was submitted to HBR in 2012 and a copy is below.  Below is also a ‘technical version’ for practitioners who may use it as a guide to build capability. International Benchmarking on Organisational Resilience: HBR submission and Technical Version of Framework 

Whilst there has been considerable thinking, effort and work completed in the area of organisational resilience for some organisations, many are just beginning to build this capability.  Organisations that are at the beginning of their resilience journey can look to others who have been operating in high risk industries and can adopt some of the strategies that have now been robustly tested.

I find the topic of organisational resilience endlessly fascinating and it has created unique opportunities to work with some of the brightest and most experienced executives in the public and private sector.  The highlight for me is seeing teams and organisations responding well to challenging and difficult circumstances. If you would like more information, a copy of the Qantas case study or have feedback on the framework please email me at Natalie.Botha@Janellis.com.au


Janellis is an enterprise consulting firm working with leading organisations across many industry sectors and government agencies. We help organisations execute their strategy and are specialists in transformation and change management; organisational resilience; risk and compliance; crisis and emergency management and portfolio and program management.