by Douglas Searle


Resilience has numerous meanings, including in engineering (Wang et al., 2017), personal resilience (Allen et al. 2018), and city (Labaka et al, 2019) or community resilience (HM Government, 2019). All cover the response to a challenge or stress, resulting in either recovery or a new state (Connelly et al.,2017), and for organisational resilience there is not a universally accepted definition (Aburn et al., 2016), although a common thread this it exceeds crisis management; it is a framework not just for surviving adversity but adapting and, therefore, improving (Burnard and Bhamra, 2011). But what are the key elements of implementing resilience in an organisation?

Organisational resilience will be compared to health and safety culture to synthesise a definition. The actual framework implemented is irrelevant in this context, with the key element being the potential strengths and barriers to developing organisational resilience.

Defining Resilience

Burnard and Bhamra (2011) illustrate that grouping risk management, business continuity, and crisis response under one holistic umbrella could be considered as resilience. Bryce et al. (2020) demonstrates a link between risk and resilience, with reference to the pandemic, where the risk was foreseen but organisations failed to prepare. However, the UK Government response may have been hard to predict, given the public inquiry into whether data provided by experts was followed (UK Covid-19 Inquiry, 2023). Clearly management systems form part of resilience, but is resilience more than a series of integrated management systems?

A resilient organisation will not just ‘bounce back’ from a crisis but bounce forward into a stronger or more advantageous position (Bharwani and Barrott, 2020); resilience can take the mitigation of risks, inherent in the above systems, and use them to an organisation’s advantage. This is not a new concept; it was a tenet of Sun Tzu (Tzu, 2000, p. 6). Proactive management, and a suitable culture, allows rapid response to events (Burnard and Bhamra, 2011) and confidence that realised threats can be managed – fundamentally changing an organisations risk tolerance. In addition, tracking of potential disruption allows identification of trends, leading to incremental or radical innovation (Wang et al., 2022). Therefore, resilience is not a crisis management tool but a fundamental organisational change, with the key element being the process of t achieving resilience, rather than any individual outcomes, and that the concept of resilience itself should be resilient to failure (Välikangas and Lewin, 2022).

This implies that resilience must be embedded throughout the organisation, with Kutsch (2018) covering tactical, operational, and strategic resilience, as well as leadership; the will to respond is as necessary as the ability to do so (Butler, 2018). Furthermore, the BSI places product, process, and people at the heart of its organisational resilience model (Kerr, 2023). Organisational culture is therefore a key element of resilience, and partly consists of the characteristics of its people (Szydło and Grześ-Bukłaho, 2020), with Burnard and Bhamra (2011) outlining the importance of individual resilience in achieving organisational resilience. While health services demonstrated resilience during the pandemic, it may have come at the cost of its workforce, in both the short and long-term, as outlined by Zhou et al. (2022) and Schwartz et al. (2020); health services resilience during the pandemic may not be judged as a success if re-evaluated in the future.

Parallels may be drawn to more developed areas, such as safety culture. Cooper (2000) identifies three aspects of safety culture: safety behaviours, the safety management system, and the perception of safety. To synthesise the elements above, organisational resilience culture can be defined as: behaviours at all organisational levels; the management system; and, in place of perception, the development and support of people and their personal resilience. All elements should be underpinned by leadership, providing the organisation will to respond and the strategic aims and objectives.

Figure 1 . Resilience summary

Implementing Resilience

These elements can be considered to identify the factors that are strengths and barriers to the implementation of resilience. The pandemic and proposed UK power cuts during 2022 (National Gas, 2022) highlight that organisations do not exist in isolation and not all external events can be mitigated internally. Risk management includes considering potential disruptions, although organisations may make assumptions on areas outside their control, such as a regional or national response (Business Continuity Institute, 2022) that may set the upper bound for a organisation’s resilience.

The management systems implemented by an organisation can be a strength or weakness depending on their maturity. Effective and embedded systems cover elements of resilience, such as clearly understand the strategic aims and objectives – a requirement of ISO management systems, including risk management (British Standards Institution, 2018). Governance is another common element, with Mather (2020) noting that the agility to adapt to a crisis may stretch business-as-usual governance structures, requiring actions such as adding subject-matter experts to strategic decision-making boards potentially being necessary. This highlights the need for resilience to be embedded at all levels within the organisation as changes may be required at even the highest levels.

For any significant change, there must be the will to change and support from leadership (Butler, 2018), which will likely require effective change management to influence people and behaviours (Kutsch, 2018) to ensure it occurs – approximately 70% of all change programs fail (Balogun and Hope Hailey, 2004). In addition, the organisation must have the resources available to implement an organisation-wide change, with financial services organisations committing an average of 14% of their annual budget on change programs, and a quarter committing 21–30% (PwC, 2021). De Witte and Muijen (2010) reference Kilmann (1985), when stating that for change to occur it requires not just leadership but working within a group receptive to changing, highlighting the need for resilience to be an organisational priority with support across the organisation and people integrated into the planning (Achour et al., 2015).

The type of organisational culture will affect the effectiveness of a resilience framework: a control culture with a strict hierarchy may be effective at managing risk and business continuity but hampered in a crisis, where formal structures reduce adaptability (Tharp, 2009). Furthermore, the size of the organisation is likely to be a factor, with Serpa (2016) referencing Costa (2003) in discussing the three levels of organisational culture: artefacts, values, and key assumptions. In larger organisations it will be challenging to align these levels, particularly the assumptions, as these can be sub-conscious.

A resilience system cannot operate without people, and while personal resilience could be required within a job description it may be hard to assess at interview and may infringe on an individual’s rights under the Equalities Act 2010. Therefore, organisations must provide the support to staff over the duration of their careers to enable them to develop resilience, as outlined by Zhou et al. (2022) and Schwartz et al. (2020). Furthermore, these skills must be tested, as they are needed during periods of high uncertainty and stress (Crichton et al., 2009), requiring specific resilience training exercises. Business continuity or crisis management approaches will not cover everything; however, parallels can be drawn as the aim remains to build capability (Borell and Eriksson, 2013). Again, organisations with business continuity or emergency planning structures will be at an advantage in terms of understanding the requirement, although they may struggle to change the culture of considering resilience as an extension of areas, they are already familiar with. There are few organisations that will excel in all areas identified in figure 1, but few without any strengths.


Organisational resilience is ill-defined, but can be considered as: the management system, people, and behaviours, underpinned by leadership – the will to make an organisation resilient.

The breadth of resilience, and requirement to embed it throughout the organisation, means that strengths and weaknesses exist in all organisations. While existing management systems may provide an advantage, the scale of change and resources required should not be underestimated. Similarly, organisational culture may help or hinder the development of organisational resilience. Finally, staff competence and personal resilience must be developed. Resilience is a fundamentally different way for an organisation to operate; one with the potential to fundamentally transform how risk is considered in pursuit of its aims and objectives.

The will to implement resilience, through leadership and resourced cultural change, are the key element in implementing resilience.