Posted on June 18, 2012


And here’s the introductory chapter.

If you use any of it in some work, please reference it as per this link!

For the sources of the quotes, please use the Bibliography (which includes links to those available on the  web).

Don’t forget that it’s fine for you to use this work for your own purposes, so long as you credit the source. For private or commercial purposes please credit Charley Newnham and include a link to her Linked In profile. For academic purposes please click here for the complete reference.



“We would like to live as we once lived.  But history will not permit it.” John F Kennedy (1963)


1.1 Background

The concept of ‘organisational resilience’ has emerged over the past two decades.   Robert (2010) claims this is “more than merely a fashion; this trend corresponds to a will on the part of international governments to develop a culture of resilience” when just 7 years earlier Coutu (2003) suggested many industry leaders considered it just another “buzzword”.

In the 1980/90’s, business students were taught strategic frameworks from new business gurus such as Handy (1995), Drucker (1993) and Mintzberg (1989).  Academically sound tomes became mainstream books, bought by business leaders as well as students.  In 1994, Charles Perrow published the first version of his work on ‘normal accidents’ (Perrow, 1999), asserting that the more technologies and entities were tightly coupled, the more likely accidents are to happen.  Chains of entities become more vulnerable because they are dependent on each other.  While Perrow was focusing on complex systems such as nuclear facilities, he was also predicting that rapid advances in technology would ensure even tighter coupling via more extensive networks.  He claimed that though these new infrastructures would offer great business efficiencies, they would also provide a new set of challenges. Business practices such as outsourcing, championed by the likes of Drucker (1993), were becoming more mainstream and beginning to create larger and more complex networks.  Newly emerging tools including email and the internet ensured that organisations became more reliant on technology, circuits and systems in local, national and global markets; participating in networks beyond any single entity’s control.

Fear of the so-called “Millennium Bug” prompted many companies to undertake pre-emptive work to protect themselves from disaster during the period leading to January 1, 2000 (Young, 1999).  Concerns included the sudden failure of elevators, financial transactions, traffic lights and air traffic control systems as the clock struck midnight (Paynter, 1998).  Relatively new reliance on technology and dependencies between networks saw organisations undertaking work to ensure their systems were amended to cope.  Many more prepared plans in case other organisations failed as the new millennium began.

While the predicted doom of Y2K simply didn’t happen, the plans put in place in case it did were the first business continuity plans for many organisations (Barrett, 2000).  This may explain the common perception that business continuity plans relate only to technology issues (Hiles, 2010) despite a growing recognition that company-wide contingency planning was something organisations should be considering more seriously (Barrett, 2000).

By the beginning of 2002, a new formality began to surround what had previously been known as contingency planning, and the discipline of ‘business continuity planning’ was beginning to emerge (Robert, 2010).  Spurred by increasing reliance on networks and technology, and perhaps because of the introduction of 24hour news coverage which meant that the implications of high-profile events such as terrorist attacks and power outages in the USA were understood and feared on a global scale, many more organisations across the globe began to seriously consider their arrangements in an emergency (Robert, 2010).

Governments encouraged this.  For example, the UK created a new government department called the Civil Contingencies Secretariat and passed the Civil Contingencies Act (Cabinet Office, 2004).  As well as placing obligations for continuity and emergency preparedness on emergency services, first responders and utility companies, it mandated local authorities to provide business continuity guidance to organisations within its jurisdiction. More organisations began adopting the principles and British Standard Institute formalised the processes by issuing BS25999 The British Standard for Business Continuity in 2006 (BSI, 2006).   That it is the fastest-selling standard of all time (BSI Workshop, 2010) indicates enthusiasm for understanding, if not adopting, the principles.

By March 2011, 58% of organisations had a business continuity management programme, with the figure rising to 73% for public service organisations (Woodman and Hutchings, 2011), running alongside their other risk management departments.  However, while business continuity and crisis management arrangements seek to prepare an organisation to mitigate and deal with business disruption, for some, this is no longer enough.

Recent months have seen an increasing emerge of “Resilience” business units, which appeared to the researcher (who is acquainted with the individuals working in some of these) to be replacing or subsuming “Business Continuity” business units.  A search carried out on the professional networking site, LinkedIn, for this paper in July 2011[1] demonstrated this was the case for organisations such as British Airways, KPMG, British Telecom, BAE Systems, Transport for London, and the London Olympic organisers.  So some ‘business continuity’ functions are part of a re-branding exercise to re-establish them as part of the ‘resilience’ effort.  What does this mean in practice?

A fruitless search led to the identification of a gap in the literature.  No information could be located to understand the aims of a ‘Resilience’ business unit and the changes, if any, to business continuity functions that have changed their name or been subsumed into a ‘Resilience’ department.

The concept of business continuity while, to some extent identifying and encouraging the mitigation of risk prior to an event requiring a business continuity response, remains focused on managing situations and returning to business-as-usual.   As depicted in Figure 1a, this means most business continuity planning is focused on the potential event and the response after the event – or “right of bang”.

Figure 1a: The Crisis Continuum (after Burnett, 1998)


The crisis continuum approach (Burnett, 1998) highlights that an event causing disruption, or a negative impact, may begin long before an recognisable event occurs.  This may encourage consideration of creeping or slow burn ‘events’ that may negatively impact the organisation, but not be noticed by business continuity or crisis management planning.

The crisis continuum concept makes it easier to identify that work done to the ‘left of bang’ may alter the continuum to minimise or prevent crises.  Academics such as Valikangas (2010) refer to this as resilience building.

This amended concept of crisis – from the beginning of circumstances to the commencement of a negative impact – allows us to consider a wider range of issues than business continuity allows.  As well as traditional business continuity concerns such as fire, flood, terrorism, security and supply chain the continuum view encourages a more holistic approach (Burnett, 1998).  It may encourage effort “left of bang” that eradicates the “bang” altogether.  Examples where a systematic resilience approach may have offered a better outcome than business continuity arrangements may have included:

  • A CD manufacturer learning of the invention of electronic music files (years before the before the CD-less iPod was launched) considers how this might impact their product offering over the next decade and adapts long before they become obsolete
  • A boarding school learning that the government plans MOD spending cuts (long before it was announced residential places for military children would no longer be subsidised) seeks new pupil sources or revenue streams for its assets

While business continuity and risk management are functional concepts, the emerging concept of organisational resilience building is holistic and strategic (Valikangas, 2010) implying that the decisions required to achieve it are most likely to be made by an organisation’s leaders.   However, while a substantial body of work exists to equip academics and executives with the information to improve “right of bang” activities, “left of bang” (organisational resilience) material is scarcer and contains fewer consensuses, as the discipline of resilience emerges.   Key hypotheses of this study, therefore, are that:

  • While there’s little consensus on how to achieve organisational resilience at a strategic or total-organisation level, some material does exist and consensus may be identified
  • If a consensus is identified, it may be possible to isolate factors that contribute to an organisation’s resilience capabilities
  • If the factors can be isolated, it may be possible to indicate an individual leader’s propensity for resilient behaviour (PRB) by examining their personal propensity to contribute to each factor
  • If an individual’s PRB can be indicated by a measure, it may be possible to identify circumstances in which an individual is likely to have a higher or lower PRB, granting the possibility of being able to predict PRB for a given individuals

1.2 Research Focus

The aim of this study is to provide organisational leaders with an understanding of the term “organisational resilience” and how it is achieved.  Furthermore it aims to offer insights to equip leaders to understand their own PRB and to be able to predict the likely PRB of others.  In this way, those seeking to increase organisational resilience may be able to select individuals best suited to make decisions that increase – or at least do not diminish – resilience when desired.[2]

The scope of this study is significant and resources limited; therefore this work seeks only to identify indicative first findings that would merit further research:

The following objectives were identified in helping achieve the aforementioned aim:

1.     Clarification of the term “organisational resilience”

2.     Critical assessment of the current “how to” literature to determine how organisational resilience is achieved

3.     Determine whether organisational resilience can be measured

4.     Determine whether a leader’s individual propensity for resilient behaviours (PRB) can be measured

5.     Establish organisational leaders’ understanding of the term organisation resilience

6.     Identify circumstances in which a leader’s PRB might be predicted or improved

During this study, carried out from April-December 2011, the discipline of ‘resilience’ was emerging in a business context almost at the same speed that it was being examined and considered in the academic realm.  This meant that while it was timely to examine the concept, and a contribution such as the one intended by this study was a timely commodity, the literature available was something of a moving feast.   A cut-off date for research papers was therefore set at 31 September 2011.  A key paper referenced in this study, a then not-yet-published paper from the New Zealand government funded Resilient Organisations Research Group[3], was kindly offered to this study in email at final draft stage: the published version is referenced herein.


1.3 Approach

The research approach taken for this study is shown in Figure 1b:

Figure 1b: Sources and use of data for this study


This study began with the analysis of relevant literature (secondary data):

  • Academic literature included books, papers from journals and conference proceedings
  • Including best practice guidelines and standards – professional literature – was important to ensure the study considered current practice and guidance

The findings of the secondary data were used to generate useful lines of enquiry to inform this study’s response to gaps in the literature:

  • Lines of enquiry for organisational leaders were followed using a questionnaire served by online survey provider, Survey Monkey[4]
  • Lines of enquiry for individuals working in a department called “Resilience” were also followed using a questionnaire by the same provider

1.4 Structure

The study is laid out over five chapters, including this introduction:

  • Chapter 1 offers background information and an overview of the study and it is findings.
  • Chapter 2 discusses the issues and reviews related literature.  It defines organisational resilience and identifies key attributes.  It also highlights gaps in the literature that that became lines of enquiry for primary research. The numbering of these lines below acknowledges that objectives 5 and 6 (see page 13) were not answered in the literature review:
  • 5.           Establish organisational leaders’ understanding of the term organisation resilience
  • 6.           Identify circumstances in which a leader’s PRB might be predicted or improved
  • 7.           Do organisations understand the concept of resilience to be a strategic capability or a functional business interruption management system?
  • 8.           What are the scope and responsibilities of business units called “Resilience”?
  • 9.           Are organisations with significant ‘moral purposes’ (e.g. charities and not-for-profit) led by people with higher PRBs?
  • 10.        Do leaders who believe that accepting constraints to organisational values, strategy, financial and cultural risks is likely to increase resilience have higher PRBs?
  • 11.        Does the presence of realistic optimism in the leaders of an organisation impact the propensity for behaviours that contribute to organisational resilience?
  • 12.        Are “Resilience” units assisting with the more difficult aspects of enhancing the resilience capability?
  • Chapter 3 explains how the findings from the literature review were developed into lines of enquiry that were followed by obtaining primary data.  It provides the complete research methodology.  Copies of the online survey questionnaires deployed for primary research can be found as Appendices 2 and 3.
  • Chapter 4 sets out the key findings from the primary research.  Graphs and statistical analysis are offered where appropriate.  The data is considered in light of the literature and issue review.
  • Chapter 5 offers conclusions.  The final chapter concisely summarises the answers provided by this study to each research question.  It also offers concluding thoughts for organisational leaders and academics considering further research.

[2] Regarding anti-plagiarism software advice: please note this paragraph was published on the internet by myself on, the blog that accompanies this study.

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