Mastering Organizational Resilience; a constant praxis of Excellence
There is a saying: “A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for”.
A ship is equipped with the necessary attributes to conqueror the threats of the open seas and operates in a safe and effective manner along with its competent, well trained and skillful crew like a resilient lighthouse standing up to crashing waves during a storm. However, a shipping company as a vital organization should look towards a more holistic view in order to grow and develop in a healthy and vigorous way and more importantly to synchronise in a world that is constantly changing.
Defining and exploring Organizational Resilience
In recent months, large oil majors have been promoting the idea of developing resilience as a new approach model that will encourage an organization not only to survive over the long term, but also to flourish and thrive over time.
Organisational resilience is often described as a positive ability of the company to adapt to the consequences of contiguous changes, whether these changes are driven by the market, the great technological achievements and the innovations within digital era or simply even by natural disasters.
Organizational Resilience is the capability of an organization to anticipate, to respond, to adapt and to evolve in cases of incremental changes in market dynamics or natural disasters and sudden disruptions in order to shape itself to survive, to respond to long-term challenges and to leap to one step further, to prosper and excel. Both prosperity and excellence have become strategic imperatives for an organization in today’s dynamic, interconnected world. Therefore resilience is no longer a one-off exercise, but a capacity practised over time and for the long-term. Mastering organizational resilience requires the adoption of excellent habits and best practice to deliver business improvement by building competence and capability across all aspects of an organization. This allows leaders to take measured risks with confidence, making the most of opportunities that present themselves.
What a resilient organization looks like and how it benefits
A resilient organization will demonstrate certain key traits in the way that it operates:
- Proactive approach –Willing and prepared to adapt before being forced to do so
- Dynamic leadership – Full support from the top of organization down to embed process
- Responsiveness to change – Able to listen to market and industry needs
- Strong corporate culture – Include and recognize everyone’s responsibility and contribution to the business
- Keeping focused with a distinctive identity, a clear vision and imperial mission
- Long-term view on essential elements such as human behaviour and employees’ performance, process reliability and achieving excellence
Cultivating organizational resilience requires fundamental principles
Critical situations do not fit into specific and elegant boxes with a neat beginning and end. Resilient cultures are detected within organisations that are coping well with changes or the unexpected and can prevent unpleasant surprises. But they also understand that resilience requires both an organisational and employee approach.
Principle 1 – Employee accountability
Despite the fact that shipping companies have distinct departments it doesn’t change the fact that all employees should be accountable and committed towards overall corporate performance. This principle should at all times serve as an overriding principle. Every employee and department has a role to play and is therefore accountable. However, the goal of having effective and safe operations is better achieved when job description boundaries are exceeded and employees look up from their workplace and realise how their decisions and work can impact other areas of the business.
Principle 2 – Integrate risk management by adopting the ‘as-early-as- possible’ mentality
It is easy to understand why crew on board vessels have to carry out risk management but among many shipping companies is it is still difficult to understand how office staff can contribute. All employees – regardless of position and rank – make decisions that can have an impact on safety. All departments have work processes and play an active part of the organisation’s value chain. To varying degrees they all influence the final safety performance – but not all departments fully understand or are aware of how, when, where and what they influence. We focus on the seafarers and their ability to work safely. But in many cases the resilience thinking begins long before the involvement of the seafarers. The principle is called ‘As early as possible’ and can best be described through specific examples integrating Risk Management into the equation, hence every department should ask themselves a number of questions during their tasks that represent their safety role.
Principle 3 Question-Assess – Act- Correct- Improve
Having accurate knowledge and understanding is by many philosophers described as a function of a person’s belief and justification of this belief. The downside of this function is, though, that many people have strong beliefs but with a poor justification of facts. They claim to have a clear understanding/knowledge of what is true but when you start digging their knowledge and understanding turns out to be questionable and doubtful. Continuous questioning, assessment and reflection of the organizational performance is a prerequisite to ensure a resilient culture. The keyword is performance debriefs and evaluations stimulating a process that will make people continuously discuss their performance and making both corrections and improvements if assessed necessary.
Principle 4 – Boost the good but manage the bad
People should focus, discuss and highlight what goes well rather than solely waiting to discuss the things that go wrong in order to find the positives and reinforce them during work. The ability to respond quickly, decisively and effectively to unforeseen and unpredictable forces is now an enterprise imperative.
Initiation to resilience: resilient people generate resilient organizations
Shipping companies have clever and well qualified people; however, as organisations can still be dysfunctional, weak and inflexible. The Shipping industry continues to have sporadic catastrophic accidents, which are often classified as beyond design basis accidents (BDBA) simply because they are beyond the parameters that the system was designed to cope with. Human error is inevitable and the organization must create a working environment that supports proactive training methods of managing and developing people. Professional seafarers are educated in hard (technical) skills; yet this is not enough to become resilient. Shipping organizations could look at delivering learning & development training workshops based on the human element (i.e. leadership, team building, crisis management) possibly embedding it into STCW through IMO. However, we don’t necessarily need this to happen as a prerequisite for the industry to address human element issues itself.
We should not restrict our mind on ways to cope with cultivating resilience provisionally such as designing impressive campaigns, well-written documentations and presentations praising resilience. All procedures in company manuals are valid under a certain condition; not to be treated as static documents but as a dynamic way of doing business effectively and efficiently. It is not as important to have a Safety Management System as it is to see what people on a leading role ashore and afloat can do with a Safety Management System.
Commitment to resilience
It is important for company leadership to show commitment to resilience through their decisions and actions. Everything starts within the organization and orienting people to resilience requires vigorous actions. It is more of an ethical responsibility of the shipping operating companies to perform resiliently. Therefore, organizations should initiate their people to resilience by creating the means, incentives and imperatives to share information about risks, incidents, near misses, vulnerabilities and opportunities, across the organization. This enables a 360-degree connected capability to better detect, mitigate, respond, recover, learn and adapt to any disruptive challenge that might impact every level in the organization.
Resilience moves the organization from a collection of passive departments and inactive resources towards the integration of key disciplines; a transmutation that will inspire people to a constant praxis of Excellence