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Building organisational resilience

Every business leader wants their organisation to be resilient.

They want businesses to withstand economic headwinds and thrive, despite the pressures of competitors. They want staff to be capable of leading teams through unexpected challenges. 

But understanding the specific elements that equip an organisation and its people to endure prolonged stress or recover from shock events is less straightforward. 

Does it take a sudden shock such as a pandemic to toughen up a business? Are there tools that they should consider? Is resilience simply a mindset, or are there consistent elements seen in resilient businesses that can be adopted? 

Pitcher Partners’ latest Business Radar survey uncovered some of the most valued assets and attributes recognised by mid-market organisations for making their business durable in the face of disruptions. 

Among the most common responses was people-focused assets – a strong customer base, which was most prized by 35% of those surveyed, followed by a skilled workforce (32%). One in four then nominated diverse revenue streams as being critical to resilience, ahead of a strong brand and reputation (24%). 

Effective debt management featured among 23%, with respondents noting that manageable debt had the effect of freeing up the business to focus on areas that set them up for future success. 

This factor is particularly prominent among smaller mid-market businesses, with 44% citing debt and repayment as a downturn concern, behind only supplier price rises (47%) and declining revenue and cashflow (47%).

Mindset may indeed play a role, both in sparking leadership into taking actions that better prepares the business for tough times and for staff to handle disruptions quickly and effectively.

While 45% of respondents believe their organisation is at least mostly prepared for challenging situations, that number jumps to 64% among businesses with high confidence of success. 

Experience with difficult markets or operational challenges is also a key driver – of those who felt prepared, middle-aged respondents who have been through it all before are more resilient than their younger counterparts. 

Respondents from Victoria also felt better prepared. Following more than two years of upheaval during the pandemic, with the heaviest lockdowns, more Victorian-based businesses are actively engaged in strategic planning to ensure they are better prepared for the next challenge.  

Conversely, factors seen as holding resilience back included having to rebuild a customer base, and recruitment and training of new people.

By channelling their creativity and innovation efforts into areas that will have the greatest impact, a business can stand out in the market and withstand the challenges.  

Some of the key takeaways from the Radar report that can help build resilience include:

Double down on customer experience: Actively engaging with customers delivers a greater chance of retention and attracting new business. What are their pain points? What do they most value?

Broaden your offering: Consider extra products or services that are low cost or have a low barrier to implement but would be considered a great value-add by customers. 

Negotiate more favourable terms: Look critically at your suppliers and financiers, and start conversations with them about cost or value, or consider alternative providers.

Review team responsibilities: Reframe a downturn problem – can you instead make better use of your people? Upskilling or reorganising teams can yield a better result than reducing head count and allows you to respond as the market builds again.

Investigate technology options: Reliable technology can help build resilience. Understand what is available in the marketplace, and how technology can optimise your business systems and processes.

Resilience is not just the realm of hard-bitten organisations still standing despite taking a beating – but insights from those who have been down that path before and can offer clues as to how they made it through the tough times.

Some mid-market businesses take a slightly happy-go-lucky approach to resilience, hoping either that Australia avoids economic downturn or that they’ll get through with a strong customer base and skilled workforce.

But there are traits that turn up consistently in businesses that can consistently weather storms, and business leaders can learn and adapt to prepare their organisation for facing adverse conditions.

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