Strategic resilience – the capability to recover and bounce back when confronted with changes – might be the single most valuable capability individuals, teams, and companies can cultivate to live, deal, and thrive in turbulence. It is an uncertain world, yet opportunities abound. Think of for example past technological advancements, such as digitalization, that have disrupted industries from health care and education to telecom and media. Yet, these very advancements have enabled new wealth to be created as platforms mould industries into interconnected ecosystems. Still, we can only imagine what business impact blockchain, let alone technological singularity might have or what business in a post-growth society might look like. Given these and things we can’t even yet envision, what could be more important than the capability to be anticipative and reactive toward changes, not for the sake of survival but in order to evolve?
Although many recognize the need for resilience, it is often a crisis that triggers a transformation. However, and to use the words of Liisa Välikangas, professor at Hanken School of Economics, strategic resilience should be trauma-free: transforming without a crisis, not only once but continuously. What then stands in the way of resiliency? I am sure you have met the opponents of resilience – let’s call them Mr. Denial, Ms. Strategic, and Mr. Political here.
You know Mr. Denial has settled into your company when industry-related expertise is the only expertise valued, conventional thinking dominates, and denial and dismissal are not confronted. It is Ms. Strategic that is the queen of the land of robustness: instead of focusing on rehearsing for change by remaining open toward new options, attention is merely devoted to current commitments and preservation of capabilities, functions, and routines. Finally, Mr. Political stands not only in the way of company-internal allocation of resources to new ideas and experiments, but also, it enforces the stupidity paradox, that is, the deficit of critical thinking and reflection at work.
Mr. Denial, Ms. Strategic, and Mr. Political translate to the cognitive, strategic, and political challenges related to resilience that any individual, team or company must conquer. For the company Stora Enso to confront their cognitive challenges and begin their recovery from the digital revolution, a CEO without any industry experience was hired to restructure and reform the company. In addition, the lack of diversity in gender, nationality, and expertise in the top management team of Stora Enso was made explicit. The company Fondia serves as an example on how to overcome strategic challenges: when the new CEO Salla Vainio took over, all employees were engaged to the strategy process of the company. For both of these companies, their core values – lead and do what’s right for Stora Enso and dare to create for Fondia – provide premises for smart people to think reflexively and critically (also) at work, to tackle the political challenges. Can you think of concrete practices, such as strategy processes, people and leadership development, and recruitment policy that you and your company can develop and deploy to overcome the cognitive, strategic, and political challenges? To put in other words, how is your organization learning from things yet to happen, rehearsing for changes, and fighting a lack of reflexivity and critical thinking at work to become resilient?
This blog post was inspired by a recent Hanken & SSE Executive Education event HR Business Talk, where strategic resilience was in the limelight. There, Lars Häggström from Stora Enso, Liisa Välikangas from Hanken School of Economics, and Salla Vainio from Fondia scrutinized strategic resilience from three different yet complementary perspectives. Strategic resilience is also touched upon in Hanken’s research project on renewal of manufacturing industries (RETACH), funded by Tekes. In that project, professors Frank den Hond and Liisa Välikangas together with their research team work to offer a unique perspective to renewal by addressing the innovation paradox through the underlying organizing paradox: a desire for managerial control of innovation competing with the acknowledgment of a need to reduce it.
Kati Järvi works as a Post-Doctoral Researcher at the Department of Management and Organization at Hanken School of Economics. Currently, Kati is curious about the relationship between organizing and innovation: how companies may pursue innovation and renewal through 'light' organizing. In addition to research, she has a vast experience of development and consulting projects that focus on innovation and strategic management challenges.