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In a World of Change, Resilience is Key

January 13, 2017

When a potential change looms on the horizon, how prepared is your organization to respond?

Does your leadership team demonstrate the capacity to rebound from challenging conditions or respond to new opportunities? So much of the money available to address social needs is used to maintain the status quo because organizations are often wedded to their current solutions, delivery models, and recipients. How often we hear that “we are doing it that way since we’ve always done it that way.” Change is so scary!

One of the most important aspects of organizational life is to recognize that change is a constant. Good leaders have the vision and detail focus to execute on the organization’s growth and sustainability. It is important to be aware that as the environment continues to change, resources will become either more abundant or scarce, needs will evolve, and similar organizations will develop with whom you can partner, merge, compete, or ignore.

There has been less urgency to act in relatively stable times when the stresses are accustomed and the shocks are small and manageable. It is difficult for us as individuals, and as groups, to focus on preparing for dire things that might happen, when it seems, at the moment, that things are going pretty well. Taking action before a disruption occurs is essential to resilience building. Otherwise, we will always be in a reactive mode – acting only after things have gone wrong.

2017 will have many new challenges for the public sector - so there is no time to waste. Resilience is the continuing ability to use internal and external resources successfully to resolve new issues and rebound from adversity strengthened and more resourceful. The responsibility of every organization is to be prepared for change through a realistic and timely assessment of where it stands now, where it wants to be in the future, and the steps it will take to close that gap. Such long-term thinking is often overshadowed by short-term concerns. Organizations should ask themselves:

  • How often do we assess the effectiveness of routine processes that transform the organization’s resources into value?
  • How is performance monitored for key members of the organization, and does that assessment adequately support the goals of the organization? 
  • How are board members engaged in conversations about the challenges and opportunities around innovation and change? 
  • How are succession planning and talent management integrated into the organization’s strategic plan?

Resilience is ultimately about funneling game-changing, curve-bending surprises into opportunities for greater impact through vision, adaptation, and a serious commitment to collaboration. Innovation manifests in many ways, whether we call it disruptive, adaptive, or evolutionary.

The patterns of interaction, coordination, communication, and decision making, through which nonprofit and social enterprise organizations accomplish transformations and fulfill their mission, are processes. It is through the integration of these processes that an organization defines its culture and determines how it can create impact.

Having a goal-focused organization leads to these categories of clear benefit:

  • Enables distributed decision making with clarity of purpose – employees throughout the organization are empowered to be autonomous and innovative and to make good goal-focused decisions.
  • Aligns resources with what matters most – and free resources from what does not.
  • Inspires people and unifies your culture in service of what they care about most.
  • Measures what matters most – customer/client progress, employee contributions, and community impact.

There is so much potential out there to dramatically move the needle on entrenched social issues and drive impact. We have nonprofits engaged in vital work, but they don’t apply their resources internally to challenge their organizational patterns of interaction, coordination, communication, and decision-making. Seizing opportunities to grow professional and volunteer talent would help nonprofits better manage the business functions of their enterprise, concurrently promote resilience and innovation, and enable organizations’ maximum impact. It is time to shake things up…

Resilience is about the preparation to transform the next challenge into an opportunity.

Contact Information

Fels Institute of Government
University of Pennsylvania
3814 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Phone: (215) 898-2600
Fax: (215) 746-2829

felsinstitute@sas.upenn.edu