Resilience The New
An important characteristic
of a great organization is the concept of resilience.
Neither academia nor
organizations give much attention to it, especially in
practical day-to-day organizational training and
Resilience is the property
of a material, person or an organization to absorb the
unexpected, or to absorb internal and external forces that may
attack it, while being able to respond or bounce back from the
impact of those forces. The greater the resilience of
organizations or people, the more successful they will be in
meeting the challenges of maintaining a productive work
environment, managing crises and building a positive future
Conversely, an organization
that is weak to begin with or has eroded over time loses its
resilience and is less likely to survive a crisis effectively.
Accepting mediocre as the organizational standard will
result in a failure waiting to happen just wait for the
right (or actually, the wrong) combination of pressures and
events to take place.
There is a clear parallel to
human health. The more a person pays attention to her health
by a combination of eating right, walking the HR dog
regularly, having friends and a positive relationship with a
family physician (I, of course, recommend the HR doctor
daughter Rachel), the more likely she will be to survive
accidents or illnesses and spring back to health after such
Resilience is a key factor
in organizational success. However, our ability to develop
resilience in local public agencies is sometimes affected by
the short-sighted actions of politicians at other levels,
typically (and increasingly) state governments.
State legislators seem to be
suffering from what is almost a genetic compulsion to find
ways to foist unfunded mandates and caseload-driven programs
on local governments. Often, this is gift wrapped around
press conferences to talk about how the legislator is
responding to the wishes of the people. Unfortunately, further
down the food chain, it is the local, and not the state,
governments that deal with the problems of meeting these
mandates at the direct service level.
While the mandates flow
freely from the state houses, so does the apparent lust to
restrict local governments ability to raise funds. This
combination steers local governments focus toward more
short-term crisis repair and less on long-term organizational
development and prevention. The latter, ironically would make
it easier for these unexpected mandates to be managed.
The move to increased
mandates and reduced capacity will eventually hurt the states
as much as the local governments.
Perhaps the greatest victim
of this amalgamation of legislative forces will be the
individual citizens and their children and grandchildren. They
will see, over time, the erosion of civil society, which at
its best includes a strong sense of public safety, access to
quality education, ability to care for its most vulnerable
members, and the desire of the best and most able of the next
generation to want to have a career in public service. There
are only so many new frontiers for us to head to when we get
fed up with the negative characteristics of crowded, urban,
high-traffic, complex living.
Organizations that are
strong and resilient can handle hurricanes and earthquakes.
They can handle budget reductions and the adaptation of
technology to the delivery of service. They will attract and
retain great employees and more effectively manage
inappropriate performance or behavior.
Great organizations look to
the future as well as to the pressures of the present, but
they cannot be successful if their focus is on a daily grind
of narrow-focused responses and reactions to the events of the
Just as you should pay
attention to personal health by a basic foundation of healthy
habits and by responding immediately to a sense of anomalies
or feelings of illness, so too will a resilient organization
act quickly, ethically and respectfully to meet challenges and
Do you want to manage the
mediocre? If so, read this article and then immediately
do nothing. Do you want to be a contributor to organizational
success? Then read the article and assess how much your
organization is doing to build resilience. It probably is not
enough. Proceed to act on what still needs to be done.
Take the latter approach and
youll find that not only is the organization improving,
becoming healthier, and more successful, but so are you and
youll be having more fun in the process.