Creating A Resilient Organisation

Resilience – what does it mean? Bounce back, bounce forward, to recover and prosper?

For Global Resilience Group Director Mark Carrick, it is about moving forward and never giving up. “For me personally, the first thing I always seem to think of is Indiana Jones, relentlessly pursued by that enormous rolling ball in the original Raiders of the Lost Ark. His focus on not only avoiding the ball, but treating each setback as a minor inconvenience, and organisational and personal learning event, working our way through the challenge to safety! Resilience to me seems to be a pursuit undertaken by humans, something that can often be forgotten in fast-paced expanding and emerging industry that now looks to engulf singular functions of organisations globally.”

To say that there is both confusion and debate surrounding the subject of resilience would undoubtedly be an understatement. In fact, it is rare to find two practitioners that agree on more than generic principles, let alone fundamental and practical application. As Foxtel’s Business Resilience Manager Amit Bansal points out, “It is one of the interesting and frankly energising points to consider. Resilience is and should be bespoke; it is not a one-size-fits-all process and those seeking to brand, export and sell it as such will be in for quite a surprise.”

By its very nature, resilience needs to be considered or applied with a clear understanding that it will be for a certain period. One organisation deemed resilient at a set point can easily be judged as disrupted and unprepared at another. Robert Crawford, Group Manager for Security and Resilience for the Thiess Group, adds, “The principles of resilience call for unification, silo breaking, communicative business units and management support, all aligned to best prepare for and respond to disruption.”

While this aspirational goal sounds both interesting and justifiable, does it mean that global organisations are clambering to invest time, money and resources into resilience? The answer it would seem is yes and no. As an emerging industry, resilience now sits in an interesting position of having no owner, yet with many suiters.

According to Ken Simpson, Managing Consultant of the VR Group, there is still plenty of debate on where resilience sits and with whom. “For several years, the business continuity and risk management communities have played tag with adoption, likewise in recent years crisis, security and emergency management practitioners have all launched a campaign of association. In more recent times, cities, communities and infrastructure have all contributed and placed a bid for alignment if not ownership. This interest, while productive in building awareness, has not exactly embedded resilience or established it as a must have; rather, for many it is seen as a nice to have.”

So, while the world debated, a group of Australian resilience practitioners, backed by the Risk Management Institute of Australasia (RMIA), decided to put some thought into the local scene. Supported by the RMIA’s Special Interest Group (SIG), the chair of the committee, Jason Gotch, outlined how the group was formed. “It was during the 2015 RMIA National conference, I approached the RMIA President Anthony Ventura and asked if he was interested in setting up a SIG specifically focused on considering the links between risk and organisational resilience. At that stage, it was just an idea, but I felt if I could get a group of well-known practitioners together, lock them away for a year, we would be able to come up with something of interest.”

Recalling Jason’s enthusiasm for the project, Anthony Ventura says, “Jason is always convincing as he brings a high level of drive and commitment to all of the projects that he is involved in. While resilience and risk are somewhat related, just how and where the areas converge is up for debate. I felt that our members would benefit from knowing more about the subject. It is important to have a tangible benefit from these activities, so we felt that an industry-based whitepaper would be of interest and value.”

While there were plenty of volunteers interested in assisting with the project, getting them focused and in one location was not always that straightforward. Jason recalls, “I was keen to get a real mix of practitioners with varied backgrounds, many of the groups working on resilience projects are made up of all the same type of people or often come from the same background. I feel any investigation into resilience should be made up of practitioners from as many of the disciplines as possible. Resilience is not owned by business continuity, risk or security. Perhaps a cliché, but it is the parts that make the whole.”

With the group being composed of both embedded resilience staff and freelance consultants, there were often times when not all parties agreed. As Pete Gervasoni, Senior Risk Partner at Victoria’s TAC recalls, “It is all pretty competitive to be honest, with consultants and internal staff often at odds with each other over the direction of resilience. For example, I am coordinating a large program here at the TAC, it takes time and considerable energy to gain engagement and buy-in. On the other hand, consultants often work faster and to some extent in a lighter fashion, meaning they can move quickly from one organisation to another.”

This meeting of minds, while occasionally problematic, proved to be a benefit in terms of creativity. Lisa Cameron de Vries from Phoenix Resilience agrees, “It was a fantastic experience to look through both lenses, for the embedded practitioner there are challenges around management buy-in and availability of resources while working towards implementation. Initiating change in organisations in any case is a challenging and time-consuming process and certainly embedding resilience in everyday decision making can take some time. As a consultant, we are often working to very fast delivery times and set budgets, with high expectations that our work delivers industry best-practice outcomes that also strengthen the internal competencies.”

While the group felt that a whitepaper focused on the viewpoints of practitioners would be of benefit, a guiding principle was to avoid an academic approach. Phillip Wood, Head of Department, Security and Resilience, at Bucks New University explains, “I was interested in assisting with this project for the very reason that it was not an academic exercise. Those types of papers are everywhere these days, in fact there are so many of them it gets quite confusing for those people either just starting out in the industry or for those already in it.”

Jason Gotch adds, “We decided as a group that the outcome of the project would be to produce a practitioner’s view of resilience, written by those already working within the industry. Anyone who truly understands resilience will tell you that it is always relevant. Relevant to environment, to a point in time, to an organisation, the whitepaper is also an opinion piece, one based upon our own experiences. It is not designed to be a definitive guide or to be dismissive of any other research into the field. We hope that it will add to the debate on resilience and contribute to helping people understand an evolving and very exciting industry.”

Launched at the 2016 RMIA National Conference in Melbourne in November, the whitepaper has already been downloaded over 1500 times and shared widely within both Australia and globally. The 2017 SIG will commence from February, with an international committee made up of practitioners from Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, Sweden, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Singapore. Co-chair for 2017 Pete Gervasoni adds, “Jason has been able to bring together a fantastic group for this year, with a wide and varied set of skills and backgrounds. I am excited to be able to co-chair and work alongside so many great practitioners.”

Internationally renowned crisis management specialist Bob Jensen, managing director at the US-based STRAT3 consulting firm, also feels that this year’s group should be able to develop something interesting given the wide backgrounds. “I am super excited to be again joining the group. Last year was a wonderful experience. I gained a huge amount from being involved in the process and expect to learn and share plenty this year.”

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Jason Gotch works for Dynamiq, an international risk management company, as a business development manager, specialising in the areas of business resilience and travel risk management. Jason is a well-known and senior member of the Australian risk and resilience community, having formed several resilience-related associations.