Everyday steps towards resilience

Building high-trust environments in workplaces helps collaboration and collaboration helps build...
Building high-trust environments in workplaces helps collaboration and collaboration helps build trust Photo: Getty Images
Building back better can start with the small things too.

It is hard this week to write anything about sustainable business that does not acknowledge the plight of the businesses reeling in the aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle. The intensity and magnitude of this weather event has shocked the country and our thoughts are with those with lost ones.

The clean-up and rebuilding is going to be significant. At the risk of adding another voice to the chorus, I think we need to be asking how we build back better to create resilient businesses and communities, prepared for future disruptive events. Unfortunately, we know there is a high likelihood of similar future weather events, and it is in that context that we have to rebuild people’s livelihoods. Therefore, there must be benefits from pressing pause for a moment to ensure we indeed do build back better, particularly for the resilience of businesses and communities impacted right now.

In 2021, Deloitte Global produced a report on resilience and noted that "organisations that plan and invest in anticipation of future disruptions will be better positioned to survive". They found five characteristics of resilience. These are being prepared, adaptable, collaborative, trustworthy and responsible.

It was interesting because despite the survey being well into the Covid period, still about two-thirds of respondents did not have faith or confidence in their company’s capability to adapt to disruptions. Furthermore, most of the resilient characteristics concern internal aspects of organisation, e.g., respondents were not confident of the ability of their organisational structures to support internal collaboration or whether there was internal trust between employees and managers as well as external trust with customers and stakeholders.

In addition, respondents said they were unsure whether their organisations were embracing triple bottom lines and multiple stakeholder needs.

So, overall, while these characteristics were recognised as building blocks of resilience, most participants did not see them enacted in their everyday organisational practices.

Often when ideals such as building back better or developing resilience are banded around we jump to the big things that need to happen. However, this can result in paralysis as it all seems too big.

The Deloitte research suggests we can also start with the small things.

A useful question may be, "what are some ways that my organisation might start to build resilience through everyday practices?".

This could involve asking how collaboration might be enhanced in the workplace. Breaking down the silos that exist in workplaces has many benefits, for example for innovation, information flow and brainstorming. Collaboration helps to bring different roles in the organisation together and can celebrate different ways of thinking, identifying and solving problems. In a high-trust environment, collaboration can find common ground for productive conversations. Building high-trust environments in workplaces helps collaboration and collaboration helps build trust.

When building back/up consider how might work and workspaces be organised to allow for and encourage collaboration internally.

Questions also need to be asked about responsibility. The Deloitte research shows that feeling responsible for economic, social and environmental outcomes helps build resilience to disruptions. Hence, understanding stakeholder and partners’ needs as well as taking responsibility for the environmental impacts of organisations means that wider elements are being considered in the day-to-day decision making activities. In a period of disruption the decision-making powers in the organisation are more in tune with being able to adapt to competing demands, balancing and creating optimal solutions.

I am sure that this article has said nothing new for many people yet it seems that these are processes that often get left to do later or are seen as non-essential to business outcomes. This is perhaps the pivot point here. Unless we start to consider some of these "nice to have" processes as essential to business we will not shift conversations and start to build resilience in our workplaces.

Building back better for resilience to disruptions requires organisational thinking that is inclusive, deals with diversity and multiple viewpoints. Practising these qualities will help build sustainability and resilience for multiple benefits.

- Sara Walton is associate professor of sustainability and business at the Otago Business School, University of Otago. Each week in this column, writers addresses issues of sustainability.