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June | Development and Growth | Read time: calculating...

Leading through times of change: building a resilient organisation

Effective partnerships are one of the keys to long-term success. We are delighted to be introducing Resilient Organisations who we will be partnering with to create a leadership programme that will support leaders to navigate the new normal. We present an article written by joint Managing Directors Tracy Hatton and Charlotte Brown from Resilient Organisations.


At first, 2020 was looking to be ‘the year that was cancelled.’ As weeks and months passed since the first physical distancing restrictions were announced, leaders in all industries have been faced with new business complexities, uncertainty and setbacks. In addition to the impacts of COVID-19 we’re seeing other signs of economic, social and geopolitical instability. Technology changes can disrupt an industry and unseat a leading business faster than ever. As we create the ‘new normal,’ it’s clear that developing organisational and leadership resilience is essential in overcoming difficult challenges, embracing and managing change, and thriving in the face of adversity. 

Organisational resilience matters deeply because it’s only a matter of time before any organisation is presented with another challenge or crisis. Resilient organisations are able to weather the storms of change and find the opportunities to emerge in a stronger position. Resilient organisations both plan for the unexpected and build the capacity to bounce back from a blindside and adapt to new situations. 

Beyond having good financial management that can help to buffer disruptions, resilience means planning and practising the skills necessary to respond positively to disruptions. It also means developing leadership capability; a supportive, innovative, inclusive and learning culture; and quality relationships with customers, suppliers and competitors. 

Building Resilient Leaders

Growing and maintaining a resilient organisation starts at the top.

To be prepared for the unknown, a leader must be able to clearly label the known. Whether you’re a senior manager in a large multinational firm, or you run an SME, there are some key principles to follow through any disruption:

1. Know your goals and articulate them clearly.

While your company mission and values will remain largely fixed, goals need to move as the game changes. Is growth in the next quarter still realistic in the face of a global pandemic? If leads are drying up, does the goal of expanding internationally make sense in the wider scheme? Take time to pause, reflect and change course if you need to. Then, take charge and make the goals clear. 

2. Be consistent and stay true to your values.

Values are not fluffy feelgoodery; they are decision-making tools, a filter for which to run your choices through. Deeply held values – ones that align through individual and organisation – can remove the cognitive load of logic to derive a sense of prescience, a ‘gut feeling’. More than ever, through challenges and times of scarcity, we need to ‘know thyself’ to avoid temptations that will likely be damaging in the long term.

3. Lead with your heart as well as your head.

At its core, your business is a system that solves problems to benefit people. Relationships are part of that system. The more we connect with the people in our circle and beyond, show empathy and compassion for people, the better equipped we are to respond to problems. Realise everyone will deal with a crisis or challenging situation in a different way. 

4. Remember that you are not just your title.

When the proverbial hits the fan, get some perspective and separate who you are from what you do. A job is just one element of your identity. Your career is just one part of your life. For a leader, cultivating networks within and outside the industry creates a strong base of support. The good thing is that resilience is an ability that can serve us in all areas of our life.

Building organisational resilience for the next crisis

Resilient organisations have dynamic flexible systems that can transform quickly in times of change. They also place a focus on building EQ, or emotional intelligence, so that people are free to change with evolving contexts, instead of fighting against them. Resilience is dynamic, ebbing and flowing and often needing rebuilding following any major event.

Involve more of your people, even your customers

Involve others in planning and decision-making. Seek out multiple and diverse perspectives (from frontline worker to key supplier to bank), actively listen, and stress test any critical decisions you are making. Involving staff early will lead to better outcomes for the business in the short and long term. Be open and honest with staff even if hard decisions have to be made. 

In times of change, clarity and a feeling of certainty or control are high on people’s priority list. Involving co-workers across departments and tiers of the organisation in the deliberation process can lead to more creative solutions to the challenges you are facing. Focusing on staff engagement also helps avoid the ‘us vs them’ mentality to build trust and loyalty long term.

If you know how and where to ask, customers will tell you what they want or need. If you don’t ask, the only way you’ll find out you missed the mark is when they call to cancel.

Look out for staff wellbeing

People are at the heart of resilient organisations. During a crisis response and recovery, it is critical for leaders to look out for their staff, key business partners, their family and themselves. We are facing a long road ahead with challenges aplenty. 

Where at all possible, invest in staff/team training and development, internal and external. Investing in staff is proof they are valued and pays dividends by building teams ready to identify opportunities and make the most of them.

Forecasting is tricky, but planning is still possible

While it may feel like planning is impossible given the uncertainty we are facing, it remains important to plan. Worst case, best case, what are the contingencies? Look ahead for 1, 3, 6, 12, 18 months and start asking “what if…” questions. What possible and diverse scenarios exist for demand and revenue? Critical supplies or costs? Retention and availability of staff?

To act decisively, consciously seek out a variety of options and look at what other people are doing (from within your sector and outside it).

You will be thinking several moves ahead, but be ready for things to change. Make peace with the fact that you will have to adapt.

Do the right thing

Some actions may help in the short-term but have poor outcomes in the longer term. This is particularly important when it involves your organisation’s reputation, either internally among staff or externally with customers and suppliers. If you are perceived as acting selfishly or against the interests of those you depend on, it will negatively impact on goodwill and willingness to support your organisation’s recovery. Attention spans may be speeding up, but people will always remember how you made them feel, and people are keeping score with tools like 

Keep communicating: upwards, downwards and outwards

As we immerse ourselves in responding to the crisis, it is easy to forget how important it is to share and listen to those that we depend on or who depend on us. Provide regular business updates, sharing what you know, what you are doing and planning, and what you want them to do. Ask for updates from others. Be open, honest and listen for feedback. 

Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it – even if it is simply asking for patience and understanding as you work through what needs to be done. If nothing has changed since your last update, say so – even that is keeping people informed.

Good communication will grow relationships and set you up for the future.

Resilient leaders and organisations work together

It may have quickly become a cliche to say, but we are stronger together.  This means making the most of the people and knowledge within your organisation, as well as those outside your organisation. 

When times get tough, it’s natural to want to retreat to the trenches and get ready for battle. But we need to be reaching out to each other – business partners, sub-contractors, suppliers, competitors – to openly share stories, resources, and strategise so everyone can pull through this crisis.

Learn from the experience

Covid-19 won’t be the last crisis situation we face. Make sure you take time to learn and reflect on how you have coped and what you can do to improve. And be sure to celebrate the successes too. 

What organisations do now, and how they navigate the next few months will help to build a more reliable, resilient and sustainable organisation that is better able to proactively manage all kinds of disruptions and perform better day to day.

Who are we?

Resilient Organisations is a research and consulting group who combine business, engineering and social science backgrounds to create innovative solutions to risk and resilience problems. We are based in New Zealand and have worked with clients, funders and collaborators in Australia, the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and Asia. We have been working with organisations for over 14 years, and have partnered with Keogh to build resilient leaders and organisations able to navigate disruptions and capture the opportunities inherent in challenge and crisis.