Should Organizational Resilience be seen as a defensive or progressive strategy?

The term ‘resilience’ is defined by The Oxford Living Dictionary as ‘the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness’. If you asked most people for a synonym of resilience, you would undoubtedly be met with terms such as ‘recover’, ‘durability’ ‘ability to last’ and ‘toughness’.

Whilst these are not intrinsically wrong, they could all be described as ‘defensive’ terms. Using this definition, an organization could be perceived as ‘resilient’ if it survived, resisted attack and recovered quickly from any setbacks.

When we consider the definition of Organizational Resilience (“the ability of an organization to anticipate, prepare for, respond and adapt to incremental change and sudden disruptions in order to survive and prosper”) we have to ask, does thinking of resilience in a defensive way suffice the requirements of a modern day organization?

Organizational Resilience can be a way to ensure continuity

At the heart of Organizational Resilience, is an inherent necessity for businesses to be able to ensure continuity now and going forward. This is why organizations must incorporate elements of a defensive strategy - responding to the environment or market in which it finds itself and being able to bounce back from setbacks.

If we look at the greatest disruptions that businesses faced in 2018, unplanned IT/telecom outages, interruption to utility supply and cyber-attack all scored particularly highly.  A traditional Business Continuity Management (BCM) point of view would highlight the importance of being able to identify, resolve and recover from these issues more efficiently1.

What we have seen in our 2018 Organizational Resilience Index, is that generally, organizations understand the value of Business Continuity, however, they are less confident in their performance in this area (8th vs 11th place). One interpretation of this, is that businesses need to focus less on reactive crisis management and more on proactive risk management and loss prevention, if they are aiming to strengthen overall resilience. One simple tip, in this regard, is that businesses should consider the weaknesses in their supply chain in the same manner as they would a weakness within their own organization.

But true Organizational Resilience involves being progressive, not just defensive

The latest academic thinking around Organizational Resilience suggests that organizations’ perceptions of resilience need to be expanded and revamped. Whilst it is vital that organizations are tough and can recover quickly from setbacks, they also need to be future-proof. For example, a lack of innovation and evolution can be as much of a threat to an organization as a traditional threat (be it competitors, weather disruptions or a cyber-attack).

This is why organization’s need to have a progressive strategy in order to deal with change. A progressive strategy is one that is dynamic and forward looking whilst also being characterized by an inclination to change, experiment and innovate.

Change shouldn’t be viewed in a negative way. Change can be seen to bring uncertainty, but it also presents numerous opportunities. Those organizations that can make bold decisions, often have the opportunity to prosper. This doesn’t always require a complete rethink of fundamental business and operating models, but can be as simple as spotting changing market trends.

Most importantly, change is inevitable, it can’t be prevented, however it can be harnessed. Companies such as Amazon, Netflix and Apple are all examples of those that have harnessed change themselves and did this, not by being reactive but by being proactive and spotting future opportunities.

21% of global leaders perceive technological change as a top strategic challenge2. Disruptive technology is unavoidable in the modern environment, therefore it is important to detect and embrace this technology as it surfaces. It’s essential that innovation, both in product and process, is placed high on the agenda, allowing organizations to protect for the future, by making changes today.

Balancing defensive adaptations with an agile approach requires strength in all areas of business and resilience. Those that embrace this are more likely to achieve sustainable growth. Those that cannot will only ever be as strong as their weakest link.


Many organizations globally, have already made the shift from focusing on continuity, to one focusing on resilience. We have even seen a shift in the last year in the understanding and performance of Organizational Resilience, as shown in our Organization Resilience Index3.

If organizations can incorporate both elements (defensive and progressive) when considering their future plans, this will stand them in great stead to build resilience within their organization. Whilst it is hugely important that an organization can react to immediate threats, this doesn’t mean it’s resilient in the long term. We have seen some huge companies, globally that have collapsed or failed because of complacency and lack of innovation. To be truly resilient, it is vital to always be looking forward and to ensure you’re being proactive, not reactive, to changing market forces. 


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Author: Chris Sumner-Smith,

Content Marketing Executive, BSI UK







1: BCI Horizon Scan Report:

2 2018 Organization Resilience Index, Page 6:

3 Figure 1a