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Resilient businesses – dealing with change and continuing to develop

During the lockdown it’s been really heartening to see lots of small local businesses able to find ways to continue operating and even to strengthen their brand and reputation. I hope they can continue to be creative and successful once the restrictions ease. I also hope they can be a source of inspiration for other businesses.

What is it about those businesses that has enabled them to continue? “Belief, desire, determination” (BDD) is what a boss of mine from many years ago might have said. We need conviction that we are capable of making the sale or finishing the project or getting out of the hole; we must want to; and we have to be dogged in going about it. This certainly seems one valid way to describe personal resilience, which is an invaluable attribute for leaders and employees alike. But is there anything more that can be said about business resilience?

The Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) has some excellent resources on “how interacting systems of people and nature can best be managed”, and describes seven principles for building resilience into “social-ecological systems”. I’m going to see if I can apply these principles to the narrower problem of how to build and maintain a resilient business.

1. Maintain diversity and redundancy. Have access to a broad set of skills and viewpoints, of products and services. Have a “balanced portfolio”, to use investment terminology.

2. Manage connectivity. Have a large network of business contacts and lots of supply chain options.

3. Manage slow variables and feedbacks. Monitor the wider picture and don’t let initially small problems grow out of control. Take proactive advantage of emerging opportunities.

4. Foster complex adaptive systems thinking. Expect and allow the parameters of your business to flex. Be aware of, but don’t try to control, the wide range of influencing factors. Anticipate unpredictable events and outcomes.

5. Encourage learning. Keep developing staff and collaborate regularly with your networks. Try out new things.

6. Broaden participation. Understand your market and engage with a wide set of stakeholders. Try to get them actively involved in helping to shape your business.

7. Promote polycentric governance. Don’t make all the decisions yourself – allow other trusted parties and stakeholders in your network to say what would work best from their perspective, and be prepared to make trade-offs.

There are no guarantees in business, as I’m sure you’re aware. These principles do seem as though they could help, but as the SRC cautions – “use these principles as guidelines but add some common sense too”!

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