In the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, we have become painfully aware of the fragility of supply chains, health care, and other critical systems. Many leaders have announced the intention to build back their businesses more resiliently, but not many know how to do so. Few business schools teach resilience, and today’s managerial toolkit is dominated by financial performance management. As a result, very few companies are able to explicitly design for, measure, and manage resilience.
Why Resilience Is Important
We can usefully define resilience as a company’s capacity to absorb stress, recover critical functionality, and thrive in altered circumstances.
Resilience is especially important today because the business environment is becoming more dynamic and unpredictable. This is a result of several enduring forces stressing and stretching business systems — from accelerated technological evolution to a greater interconnectedness of the global economy to broader issues such as rising inequality, species depletion, and climate change.
There is no better example of system stress than the coronavirus crisis. Humans impinging on the natural environment have enhanced the risk of cross-species infections. Dense urban populations facilitated the rapid initial outbreak of the disease. International travel facilitated its global spread. Extended global supply chains have broken down. Economic activity has been massively disrupted, and inequalities and social tensions have been exacerbated.
And Covid-19 is not a one-off. SARS, MERS, and Ebola forewarned an inevitable global pandemic, and there is every reason to expect that we will see others in the future. Furthermore, the same circumstances are also conducive to the spread of a cyber-virus and to economic instability that could result from climate change or social tensions.