Building an agile and resilient business

In a world of ever increasing pace of change and complexity it is impossible to predict what will happen in the future. Even those whose full-time job it is to predict the future fail to do so with any degree of accuracy or consistency. And, if highly experienced and knowledgable business executives can fail to adapt to the ever evolving world and lead their organisations into crisis, how can those of us running our own, smaller but still ambitious businesses fare any better?

  • How can we grow a business on a rising and falling tide?
  • How can we survive heavy blows and come back fighting stronger?
  • How can we build an agile and resilient business?

These questions were the topic of exploration for our Cog:ent meeting on 10 July 2014. What follows are the key topics and themes that were discussed during the day.

If you are interested in discussing the theme further, or, if you are interested in diagnosing how agile and resilient your business is, please contact

What do we mean by agile and resilient?

Agility is the ability to move quickly and easily. Resilience is the capacity to recover from difficulty. An agile and resilient business is able to respond quickly to the first signs of crisis, spot new opportunities and come out of the situation stronger and better. As such, an agile and resilient business is very different to a bloody-minded, stubborn and persistent one.

Agility and resilience are essential attitudes, skills and strengths to enable people to cope, bounce back from and potentially thrive, in times of adversity or pressure. Their relevance is as important to individuals as it is to teams and organisations. And of course, there is both an internal and external context to be considered.

As skills, they can be learnt. Indeed, each and every business challenge is an opportunity to develop greater agility and resilience. Each time, you face up to, reach out and overcome a crisis your “plastic shield” and social network become stronger allowing you to face and conquer ever increasing challenges.

To what extent do you have it already?

According to Diane Coutu (2002), there are three essential ingredients to resilience: the ability to face down and confront the reality and brutal facts; a deeper search for meaning and understanding of how this builds a bridge to the future; and, the ability to adapt and improvise.

So perhaps we should ask:

  • what is really happening for you, your business and the business environment?
  • how is this relevant and meaningful for the purpose of your business?
  • how can you adapt and create opportunities in a new world?

And what of this “plastic shield”? Consider it like a firewall or a flame retardant paint. It won’t stop the crisis but it will buy you time. From a business perspective this includes (amongst other things):

  • a strong brand and value proposition that provides a strong competitive advantage
  • deep and close customer relationships
  • a positive culture where people step up and take responsibility
  • a relevant position in the value chain
  • diverse sources of income
  • a flexible cost base
  • enough cash in the bank to survive a downturn in business

How can you develop your agility and resilience further?

Airline pilots train themselves to deal with the unexpected. Successful sports teams practice a wide range of game scenarios. And, they do this to increase the likelihood of being able to successfully respond to challenging and difficult circumstances.

In the world of ambitious owner-managed business, it is rare for us to find a management team doing something similar. That is why we often find ourselves in coaching, team development or strategic planning processes using scenario planning to help develop this capability.

So here we ask:

  • How are you developing agility and resilience in yourself, your team and your organisation?
  • And, are you developing your social support network in the process?

And, so what?

After participating in the day, what were some of the actions that our ambitious business owners took away?

  • “revisit my strategic plan; marry my personal objectives with my business ones”
  • “build stronger relationships with my clients; staff and building growth”
  • “align company aims throughout the business”
  • “understand resilience in different parts of the business”
  • “be more creative; allow my staff to take more responsibility”
  • “better understand staff weaknesses and see how to support them”

You can view the slides used on the day here. For those of you who are interested in reading more on the topic, a reading list is included below. The next Cog:ent meeting “Financing the growth of your business – the easy way” takes place on 9 October 2014.

Background and further reading

  • How Resilience Works, Diane L. Coutu, HBR May 2002
  • The Quest for Resilience, Gary Hamel and Liisa Välikangas, HBR Sept 2003
  • Two Routes to Resilience: rebuild your core while you reinvent your business model, Clark Gilbert, Matthew Eyring, and Richard N. Foster, HBR Dec 2002
  • Adapting in tough times: The growing resilience of UK SMEs, written by the Economist Intelligence Unit on behalf of Zurich, Nov 2012,
  • Organisational resilience: development of a conceptual framework for organisational responses, Burnard and Bhamra, International Journal of Production Research, Sept 2011
  • Engendering resilience in small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs): a case study of Demmer Corporation, Demmera, Vickeryb* and Calantoneb, International Journal of Production Research, Sept 2011

About adampscampbell
Passionate about helping ambitious business owners to create sustainable success. For information on our work with our broader client base please feel free to look at the website To connect more with our work with ambitious business owners follow me @adampscampbell or connect at

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