Organisational Resilience Blog


16/06/21 - Understanding the Emotional Impact of the Pandemic on the Workforce


Working with internally recognised colleagues, SQUARED APPLES is seeking to promote the need to build greater awareness of the emotional impact of the Covid 19 pandemic. Recent research through the mental health research groups MIND and HEADSPACE have shown that in the last 12 months there has been a significant rise in poor mental health issues, yet the evidence also shows that when employees ask for help, their employers retract away from them.


The research has also shown that while building a positive mental health is important to build for employees, there is a limited level of engagement or understanding by employers about how great a threat poor mental health can be to productivity and retention. Employees reported that over the last 12 months, priorities shifted from work to maintaining a healthy balance, while many employees reported that work placed stress was on the increase, due to poor agile working practices and understanding by their employers.


Building on this initial research, SQUARED APPLES is aiming to build greater understanding and awareness of the emotional impact of the pandemic. If you wish to partake in the research programme, please follow the link to complete the short survey.


Emotional impact survey


If you wish to obtain a softy copy of the final research paper when it is completed, please contact us below and indicate that you would like a soft copy of the final research report when it is completed.


Contact us


17/06/21 - Failing to Lead: Did Britain Get the Covid Response Wrong?



As the global business world struggles to manage the massive impact of the recent Covid-19 pandemic, it is important to start considering how do the leadership team of organisations, no matter their size, manage the impact of disruptive events. The Covid-19 situation has shown that the trouble with environmentally or human based organisational threats is that they know no boundaries, therefore are able to cause damaging impacts across several major and minor elements of the business.  The UK Risk Register notes that pandemics, extreme weather, man-made incidents, environmental issues and infrastructure failures are all clear risks that can lead to loss of performance, resources and capability, requiring leaders who are adaptive, agile in their thinking and effective in their decision-making (Cabinet Office, 2020)[i].  These events may appear as one off, large scale unseen entities, such as a terrorist event or extreme weather, or they could exist as slow, unfolding matters that build steadily, gaining mass until the impact is unavoidable and the damage is widespread, such as the recent experience of the UK with Covid-19. In either case, the key to building organisational resilience and maintaining staff capability is through being able to identify and track potential risks and hazards, understanding and testing various scenarios, and enabling a co-ordinated and well-resourced response before they create an unpalatable situation for the senior leadership team.  Through understanding the threat that a risk proposes, the impact it may cause and the various areas within the business it may reach out to, the correct action, within the right timeframe and with enough resources, can be deployed to address the issue accordingly.


However, As Britain walks its way tentatively through 2021, it has already faced the appearance of several new versions of the Covid virus that have rapidly spread across the UK These forced the Government to declare that the nation to abandon the flawed tiered system and entered into a second full lockdown from December 2020 until March 2021. Revelations from Dominic Cummins in May 2021 noted that there was a strategic failure to understand and address the threat early on[ii]. Looking at the situation, the real question that needs to be asked is “Did the UK Government fail to understand the threat, and therefore got their approach to Covid totally wrong?


Leadership, or Leaderless?

Disruptive events are situations that cause a deviation from the business norm; they may be caused by positive or negative factors, resulting in a minor or major impact to the organisation. A burst water pipe within the basement is a minor event, which can be addressed by turning off the water flow and repair the damaged pipe. If the event happens over the weekend, or at 01:00 hrs, with water flowing direct into the onsite servers, then it can cause a major incident to the business, causing potential long term data loss and reputational damage. Similarly, a business product may sell exponentially, resulting in stocks being stripped sooner than planned for. This positive event can result in a negative long-term impact, with profit loss and reputational damage.  The issue with disruptive events within an organisation is that they may impact over several connected systems, thus causing a wider impact than the initial situation would indicate. 


When it comes to severe disruptive events, these situations are complex in nature, requiring a holistic approach to respond and treat the situation. Complex situations can be difficult to manage and create an understanding as the interaction between multiple factors are cause of the disruption; as you try to address one issue on its own it will have an adaptive effect to the situation, with the event morphing due to the dynamic characteristics of the event. The situation itself has a characteristic of its own; the whole has properties that cannot be found within the individual strands.  Before long, crisis management teams can find themselves trying to contend with a Gordian Knot, with no apparent solution to the problem that they face. These types of problems, known as complex or “Wicked” problems (Conklin, 2005) require an individual response to each element of the situation; there is no quick win or easy solution when faced with such an issue[iii]. The current Covid-19 situation experienced within the UK, or the 2019 government shut-down in the US, are two key examples of Wicked problems.  While both events may seem a one-off national crisis, there were several indications that a Wicked Problem was unfolding, with multiple opportunities and lessons from other similar events missed on the journey to the crisis.


The world is observing UK politics at its worst, with a stalemate within Parliament, the UK leaving Europe without a clear roadmap for post Brexit growth resulting in Northern Ireland being subjected to EU importation laws, the destabilisation within the local political landscape, and the real threat of the Northern Ireland Executive invoking Section 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol (HM Government, 2020)[iv]. The exit plan also fails to address the numerous community schisms that have occurred across UK communities, or the impact to the lives of individuals caught up in the turmoil of Brexit, and the subsequent pandemic. What has been noticeably clear as the situation has unfolded is that the strategic leadership of the UK failed to clearly understand the complexity of the problem, the various strands of the Gordian Knot and how the situation could deteriorate. The failure to consider how the situation may, and has, changed is one of the catastrophic failings of the UK government during the Brexit negotiations. There has been no clear strategic understanding demonstrated at the political level on how to manage the complex problem and the shifting sands of the political arena. This has resulted in the effective shutdown of the UK Government in all but name, as it struggled to come to terms with the situation that it is faced with. However, Brexit was a minor political crisis compared to what was to come.


As Westminster sought to grapple with the fallout of Brexit, it turned a blind eye to the larger storm that was building in mainland Europe. According to the science community, which saw this threat as early as March and April 2020, the Government’s delay to respond to the early warning signs in February and March 2020 led to the initial lockdown. Professor Neil Fergusson, who previously advised the political leadership, indicated that lessons identified from the first lockdown were ignored by the political leadership, resulting in the current situation that has unfolded (Hard Talk 2021)[v]. Watching from across the English Channel, several European nations, who had often regarded the UK as the “sick man of Europe” reacted quickly and shut their borders, preventing travel from the UK. After having spent years on the receiving end of the UK’s bluster around Brexit talks, the sheer feeling of schadenfreude was almost tangible (Henley, 2020)[vi]. The UK Government, which had often promoted its level of preparation for a pandemic response and legislation, was proven to extremely fallible when it came to the actual delivery of an effective response.  


As leaders, either of organisations or a nation, there is the need for effective risk management and coherent contingency planning, based on potential harmful scenarios. In late 2019 and early 2020, there was a strategic failure to lead when the situation required clear guidance, response and critical decision-making. When the die was cast, Westminster was found to be acutely ineffective at understanding the risks it faced and the mitigation actions required.


Preparedness, or self-delusion?

The threat of a global pandemic, focussed on influenza, has regularly appeared on the UK national risk register (Cabinet Office, 2020)[vii], and it was common practice for a business to have the impact of a pandemic mentioned on its risk register. Discussions with individuals within industry and academia by the author noted that the risk would normally sit within the “Black Swan” domain – high impact but very low probability of occurring. This was despite recent situations such as Foot and Mouth disease and SARS. Late 2019 that risk landscaped changed overnight. Academic research posits that the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic is the greatest challenge the world has faced since World War Two (Omer et al, 2020)[viii], due to its ability to rapidly spread across continents, and remain hidden in asymptomatic carriers, which increases it ability to spread. Recent mutations of the virus have increased its transmission rate, leading to greater infection and death rates globally.


The UK was ranked 2nd in the world in 2019 security index to manage a pandemic, far higher rated than Singapore (24th), South Korea (9th) and New Zealand (35th) (GHS, 2019)[ix]. The fact has shown that rather than relying on the good faith of the population and localized activities, staggered approaches and a slow burn to crisis response, Singapore, New Zealand and South Korea reacted quickly, instigating a rapid, full scale track and trace program, supported by widespread testing, and testing every individual entering the country. Within these nations there has been a fraction of the deaths and infections, while in the UK on the 6 Jan there were over 60,000 infections and 1041 deaths (UK Government, 2021)[x]. This had rapidly climbed to over 84,000 deaths by the 13 Jan 21, with over 3.2 million identified cases across the United Kingdom. By 27 May 21 this had risen to 152000 deaths and over 4.4 million cases (Cabinet Office, 2021)[xi] .


Rather than listening to the science and accepting the modelling was demonstrating what was about to occur, Professor Fergusson, who urged a lockdown and going against government direction, remarks that the failure of the Government to act when advised, and instead forcing schools and universities to remain open led to thousands of unnecessary deaths. There has been a clear failure of the political class to act as leaders, and, in Professor Fergusson’s opinion, the government was more focused in placating the population’s desire to have a Christmas holiday rather than understanding the true risk of failing to act. Henley notes in his article that Germany’s newspaper Die Welt commented that the UK Government’s approach demonstrated a “yawning gulf between airy promises and the real world”[xii].


The most recent lockdown placed the UK into a far worse position than it was in Mar 2020, due to the new variant that is 50-70% more transmissible, and recent figures indicate that 1:50 members of the UK population were being infected daily (Kirby 2021)[xiii]. Early in 2020 SAGE advisors noted that the failure to act quickly would enable the virus to obtain a foothold; it was similar in Sep 2020 when they indicated that a failure to act would enable the new variant to gain a rapid foothold across the UK; twice the UK government failed to move quick enough, and when compared with other European nations that moved quicker, the infection and death rates have been significantly lower. The result was that there were several UK hospitals that have been forced to initiate a “Major Incident” situation as they become over-run with seriously ill individuals suffering from Covid. A review of the government’s approach in the Lancet in December 2020 noted that its failure to react quickly enough reduced the impact of the second lockdown period (Nov 2020) significantly (Davies et al, 2020)[xiv]. Their work clearly noted that an effective lockdown performs far more successfully than the other less stringent actions that the UK government implemented, which has resulted in the explosion of virus infections and a rapidly increasing death rate across the nation.


This difference in the approach between the UK and Far East nations, and the subsequent results, demonstrates the clear importance of operating quickly in a crisis, reacting to available intelligence, clear communication, and the need for effective leadership, willing to make the difficult calls early, and resist the desire to try and earn the favour of the population. The failure to act has now resulted in a significant drop in the trust in Government, with recent polls shows a major drop-in support for the Government; 55% of individuals asked thought they had poorly managed the pandemic, while only 38% of the population believing the Prime Minister will tell the truth (YouGov. 2021)[xv]. There is also a naive approach being pushed by the government that the vaccine will provide a clear way out of the current situation; this approach is challenged by the medical experts in The Lancet, who note that there are several areas of concern around the implications of the vaccine on certain elements of society (Covid Vaccines, 2021)[xvi].


Failure to identify and learn lessons.

Writing in May 2020, Omer et al identified several lessons from the impact of Covid-19 in Italy, and the effectiveness of the Italian response to the rapidly spreading virus. They noted that a limited response and initial understanding of the virus transmissible capability resulted in the virus being able to obtain a firm hold across the country. The first reported case was 31 Jan 20, by the beginning of Mar 20 it was present in all regions across the country (Omer et al 2020)[xvii].


Research into preparation for the impact of a global pandemic identified that there were several individuals and organisations that discussed the implication and probability of future trends for the next 20 -30 years, though few identified the risk of a global pandemic based on a unknown virus. The UK national risk register noted that there was a high risk of a global influenza pandemic, though vaccines and procedures were in place to respond to it. The MoD Global Strategic Trends programme, looking out to 2050 did not identify the risk of an unknown virus pandemic (MoD, 2018)[xviii].


It is important that there is an open investigation into the UK response to the Corona virus, the decision-making process at the political level, and why there has been such a failure of the UK to respond in a way it was expected to in 2019. There is also a need for investigation into UK legislation, including the failure of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 (CCA 2004), which allowed many local councils to be in a position of not having a Business Continuity strategy in place when the pandemic erupted, even though it was a legal requirement. The current approach within the UK of a decentralized approach to emergency preparedness, response and recovery has failed within the Covid pandemic. Discussions with senior emergency services staff indicated that several local councils in the North West were still developing the contingency plans and operational priorities in Mar 20, while the rest of the country was entering lockdown. This failure of a category one responder to have a clearly defined and embedded business continuity framework was in direct contradiction to the requirements laid out in CCA 2004.


It is very apparent that the UK Government has failed to learn lessons on several occasions; there was the option to learn initial lessons from the outbreak in China, then the impact that the virus had in Italy, then Spain and then how it was impacting the US. Then there was the chance to learn lessons from the first lock-down and how resources, military capability and the behaviour of the population impacted the spread. Then, as other nations, such as South Korea and New Zealand, took control of the virus spread through tough measures and effective messaging. Finally, there was the option to act quickly when the appearance of the new variant appeared in September 2020. Unfortunately, these opportunities were ignored, resulting in the UK being placed into another lockdown, while Singapore and South Korea maintained a far better level of social mobility, a higher functioning society, and a continued level of control of the virus through effective social distancing, test, track and trace, financial punishments and population support. At the time of writing, the UK is now experiencing the threat of the resurgence of the ”Indian” variant, which is believed to be highly transmissible.



The development and implementation of resilience across an organization requires the creation of a strong, open and adaptive culture, driven by effective, transparent senior leadership, which understands the importance of setting out a clear vison, objectives and strategy. The impacts of disruptive events can cause staff and elements of the organization to experience discomfort, loss, and dislocation; the more effective the leadership, the more assured the staff and organization are that they will survive that impact. The collision of two major disruptive events, Brexit and Covid-19, presented the UK Government with a Wicked Problem that is was incapable of effectively managing. As the situation unfolded, planning assumptions and frameworks were shown to be inadequate. The Brexit planning was flawed, as Operation Stack was a failure, while the planning frameworks and supply chain to maintain availability of NHS facilities, staff and protective equipment was shown to be flawed.


What was very apparent with the UK’s initial response to the pandemic was that the senior leadership within the government had no clear understanding of the threat they faced, or the impact it could bring to the nation, the population and the economy. Several early warning indicators were ignored, and the culture of ignorance and apathy within the UK government was very clear. They had become focused on delivering Brexit and were to operationally focused on delivering a failing plan, rather than being aware of the threat that was expanding across Europe. Medical professionals observing the Government’s initial approach were highly critical of the cavalier approach, while in Italy doctors sought to warn the senior leadership of UK hospitals of the real threat they were about to face.


As the UK gradually returns to normal, there is the need for a detailed review of the CCA 2004 legislation, the information management at strategic level, and a lessons learned review of the UK’s approach. Further understanding of the decision-making at both Government and organizational level is key in helping develop the ongoing national resilience of the UK; both Brexit and Covid 19 demonstrated across the UK that at business and government level, the understanding of building and managing resilience effectively was questionable.


Both Brexit And the Coronavirus pandemic has shown major failings in the UK’s intelligence gathering mechanisms, the UK’s response framework, and the political decision-making effectiveness when faced with complex crises of increasing severity. The pandemic was a Black Swan event requiring effective, timely decisions and clear communication; there was a failure of both from the UK Government, resulting in many unnecessary deaths, the UK suffering the highest Covid-19 death rate in Europe, and financial implications for multiple UK businesses. The failure to understand the political and strategic planning implications of Brexit has resulted in the destabilizing of the political landscape within Northern Ireland, and over 50% of all surveyed UK businesses have suffered disruption since Brexit came into force on 01 January 2021 (Smith,2021)[xix]. As both these major events have demonstrated, failure to prepare properly can lead to disastrous consequences.







[ii]BBC News (May 2021), Dominic Cummings Revelations, accessed 27 May 2921. Available at

[iii]Conklin, J., (2005), Wicked Problems and Social Complexity, Cognexus, Available at (accessed on 22 Feb 2021).

[iv]HM Government, (2020), The Northern Ireland Protocol, Cabinet Office, Crown Copyright, accessed 10 May 21. Available at

[v] Hard Talk, (2021), BBC News Channel, 6 January 2021.

[vi] Henley, J., (2020) `World's media ask how it went so wrong for 'Plague Island' Britain`, The Guardian, 22 December. Available at, accessed 6 January 2021.

[viii] Omer, EOM, Almisalam WA, Al Moaigel SM, Gibreel MSM and Albagami FM, `Case study of Covid-19 epidemic the lesson world learns from Italy’, International Journal of Multidisciplinary Research and Development, Volume 7; Issue 6; 2020; pp. 01-04, available from, accessed on 16 January 2021.

[ix] Cameron, E.E., Nuzzo J.B., and Bell, J.A., (2019), 2019 Global Health Security Index, John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Nuclear Threat Initiative. Available at, accessed on 20 December 2020.

[x] UK Government, (2021), UK Daily Corona Virus Summary, 06 January, available at Accessed on 06 January 2021.

[xi]HM Government, (2021) Coronavirus statistics, Cabinet Office, accessed 27 May 21. Available at

[xii] Henley, J., (2020) `World's media ask how it went so wrong for 'Plague Island' Britain`, The Guardian, 22 December. Available at, accessed 6 Jan 2021.

[xiii] Kirby T., (2021), `New variant of SARS-CoV-2 in UK causes surge of COVID-19’, The Lancet, 05 January, available at, accessed on 6th January 2021.

[xiv] Davies, NG et al, `Association of tiered restrictions and a second lockdown with COVID-19 deaths and hospital admissions in England: a modelling study,’ (2020), The Lancet, 23 December 2020, available at, accessed on 6th January 2021.

[xv]YouGov Time Survey, (May 21), accessed 26 May 2021. Available at

[xvi]Editorial, `Covid-19 vaccines: the pandemic will not end overnight`, (2020) The Lancet, 18 December 2020, available at, accessed on 6 January 2021.

[xvii] Omer, EOM, Almisalam WA, Al Moaigel SM, Gibreel MSM and Albagami FM, (2020) `Case study of Covid-19 epidemic the lesson world learns from Italy’, International Journal of Multidisciplinary Research and Development, Volume 7; Issue 6; p. 01, available from, accessed on 16 January 2021.

[xviii]Ministry of Defence, Global Strategic Trends: The Future Starts Today, Sixth Edition, Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre, Shrivenham, 2018. Available at 

[xix]Smith, H, `More than half of UK firms have faced disruption due to Brexit, poll finds’, Sky News, accessed on 27 May 21. Available at

20/05/21 - Building an organisational understanding approach to people focus



Within the 21st Century, seen as the Information era, modern organisations are forced to operate within the VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world, understanding risk to enable the leadership to build a coherent and holistic approach to managing risk. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism, greater instability in the Middle East, the Ukraine crisis, ongoing cyber-attacks and the impact of pandemics has made the world more unstable1. Research in the first decade of the 21st Century identified serious concerns over the resilience capability of the UK at a strategic level, with government and industry organisations failing to respond effectively to natural and man-made crises2


If approached properly, businesses can prevent the onset of a crisis through the creation of a powerful risk culture without turning the organisation upside down. Given the implications that risks can have on organisations, most executive leadership teams will take the management of risk, and the development of an effective risk culture, seriously, as an unmanaged risk can result in financial, reputational and performance damage; in the worst cases it may bring the business down completely. Over the last decade many organisations within the UK, suffering from the fallout of the 2008 financial crisis and follow on recession, sought to put in place a more thorough approach to implementing risk-related processes and management oversight activities to identify potential fraud, operational situations and safety breaches, enabling the leadership team to react long before the risk materialises. Effective early warning processes and robust response mechanisms can prevent a potential risk escalating into an issue which may grow into a full-blown crisis. 



Impact of failure to understand risk effectively 

Building an organisation’s capacity through the active involvement of the leadership team can create confidence and pave the way for collective and continuous development in strengthening resilience through organisational learning and development. Yet having well defined processes and management oversight structures established within the organisation are only parts of the framework to build an effective approach. A reliance on bespoke specialists within an organisation creates a resilience paradox, with the risk of losing the capability if specialists are unavailable or unable to react to an unfolding situation. Despite progress at the global level for greater commitment for more holistic ways of working, 3 there are still considerable gaps between what has been agreed in principle and how policies can be mainstreamed into government practice4.  Failure to implement effective risk management frameworks, focused across the organisation at all levels and woven into a holistic approach to building organisational resilience can have devastating effects, resulting in wide reaching impacts. The collapse of large retail and department stores within the UK over the last decade demonstrate the social impact of poor organisational resilience, poor management of strategic risk and a failure at the strategic leadership level .



(Table 1)- Social impact of business failure5

 Organisation                      Impact – Job losses 

 Blockbusters                        2000 jobs 

 British Home Stores7             11000 jobs 

 Austin Reed8                          1000 jobs 

Woolworths9                            30000 jobs 

Carillion10                                20000 jobs 


Although the organisations shown in the table all had certain structures in place to manage risk, the various investigations and case studies into their collapse noted failures to identify or respond to certain risks that where allowed to materialise into issues, that then escalated into a business wide crisis. These organisations realised, often too late, that crises can continue to merge when the leadership team neglect to manage attitudes and behaviours within the organisation, at all levels, which would normally act as an initial front line layer of protection against risk.


For example, The collapse of Carillion highlighted the predatory aspect of the financial assurance community, with the Government investigation singling out the large firms of KPMG, Deloitte, Ernst Young and PwC as having created a monopoly and not providing an effective assurance framework for UK industry. The report highlighted that the drive for profits had impacted negatively on the ability for the companies to act independently of its customers, calling into question the reliability of the accounting and assurance industry and the fact that "The Big Four" had set out to create a natural monopoly, barring access to competitors11 . Rather than the Carillion leadership raising concerns around certain practices and behaviours, the report identified that the senior leadership were complicit in creating a permissive environment for those behaviours to continue. The report noted that two-thirds of Chief Financial Officers of large listed and private companies were the alumni of the “Big Four” 12, raising concerns over the independence and audit quality of the services provided by the “Big Four” organisations. The failure of the executive leadership of Carillion to hold the various financial assurance organisations to account for their activities resulted in higher prices, lower quality and less innovation being provided by the “Big Four” 13, contributing to Carilion’s eventual collapse. 


Building an effective approach to risk management 

This demonstrates the impact of a poor understanding of risk, and the risk culture within an organisation. A risk culture defines how the employees within an organisation will react when it comes to making decisions; it may mean the difference between avoiding a crisis and having to respond to it. However, having a strong risk culture does not mean that an organisation will take less risk; sometimes it may be the exact opposite. 


For example, a military commander on the ground will seek to fully understand the risks that they face, the balance of probability of success, the effectiveness of the opponent and the environment they are operating within. That commander, armed with all the knowledge from these factors may still commit to the task, knowing there is a strong risk of casualties, but also a strong opportunity of success. The fact is that the individual, through the strong risk culture, is risk aware, and thereby able to make an informed decision on the activities to take. 


The same approach can be seen in business, where well informed organisations with a strong and well established risk culture may take seemingly reckless risks, yet always seem to be successful; conversely, those organisations without a strong risk culture may be reacting too late, failing to spot opportunities because they are risk averse, rather than risk aware. This approach of developing a risk culture enables the development of certain traits and characteristics within managers which enable them to react quickly to situations, either preventing a crisis or seizing an opportunity. It is impossible for any organisation to build a framework to protect itself from all disruptive events, it is more important to develop the capacity for adaptive thinking, and to understand the root causes of the disruptive event, identify lessons and plan dynamically. This will help to optimise the utilisation of the resources, finances and time available to minimise the influence and impact, while simultaneously maximising opportunities as competitors struggle to recover14


The development and embedding of a well defined risk culture is key within an organisation to build its resilience; the majority of research into Organisational Resilience has identified that the majority of available literature focusses on building Organisational Resilience to disruptive events such as risks or crises, which are events that are a threat to business goals, caused by the reduction of capability, managing the environment, or acting in constrained performance and / or timeframes caused by a negative atypical shock15. These disruptive events may compromise performance, resources, employee well-being, customers, operating community, or threaten organisational reputation. Additionally, like the Covid-19 pandemic, these events are often portrayed as unique, significant, and widespread situations that create highly adverse results. 


The development of a strong risk culture will also help you develop more effective processes and procedures, greater education and better preparation to manage risk within the organisation. Being able to understand the difference between systemic risk and idiosyncratic risk may be the difference from recovering from a shock and going permanently out of business. The level of understanding across the organisation is critical, helping the leadership clearly understand the implications of risks being allowed to materialise. However, to initially recognise a risk takes a level of confidence within the individual and the leadership team, taking the responsibility to make that judgement call to react and raise the concern, even if it may impact on operations or shareholder profits. The organisation needs to breed a culture of acceptance and openness when it comes to discussing potential catastrophic risk, trusting in the policies and guidelines of the business, though individuals need to feel empowered to challenge these if it is clear the documents are unfit for purpose. 




Building an effective approach to risk starts with empowering and educating the workforce and encouraging transparency of working practices and decision-making across the organisation. A business that encourages this promotes early engagement, discussions and the building of awareness and trust among the employees of the organisation at all level. Time needs to be allocated to allow education and learning solutions the opportunity to permeate throughout the workforce, supported through effective policies and direction from the leadership team. Members of the organisation, at all levels, need to be supported if they raise potential concerns and issues; it is better to have an investigation into a wild miss than have to address the impact of an unseen hit. Education, learning solutions, policies, programs and leadership direction can only do so much to develop the risk culture and risk capability within the business. The organisation needs to also create and sustain the permissible atmosphere to allow the learning transfer to occur across the business, enabling it to grow and learn from these close calls and near misses. The more open and transparent the reporting culture, the more potential small risks are identified and prevented, thus assisting in preventing the catastrophic risk from occurring. The development of that atmosphere sits within the responsibility of the senior leadership team, who are charged with protecting the organisation. 


On the other hand, the business that discourages the lower levels of the workforce to look for potential risks and empower them to raise issues to the leadership creates an atmosphere of fear and overconfidence, which leads to denial of risk and failure to observe triggers until the risk has materialised, resulting in serious financial, reputational or performance impact; most of the time it is all three. This level of leadership creates a toxic environment, which prevents learning, hinders growth and promotes the generation of risk and places the organisation squarely in harm’s way. 



1 Cameron, D., NSS and SDSR 2015, Government, OGL, London, 2015, p.5 

2 Cole, J., Securing Our future: Resilience in the Twenty-First Century, The RUSI Journal, The Royal United Services Institute, Routledge, London, Volume 155 Issue 2, 2010, pp 46-51. 

3 UNISDR Hyogo (2005 – 2015) and Sendai (2015 – 2030) frameworks. See for more details. 

4 Thompson, E., Smart Power, Kokoda Papers Number 12, April 2010, Kokoda Foundation, Kingston, p.2.

5 Gracey, A., `A Collaborative and Co-ordinated Approach to Success – How can the rail industry learn from the recent military campaigns (2001 – 2015) for the development of Strategic Resilience Management Leadership?’, PhD Thesis, Wolverhampton University, Wolverhampton, 2020, p.5. 

6 Ruddick, G., `Blockbuster Collapse to Cost Taxpayer £7m`, The Telegraph, reported 21 Dec 2013, available from accessed 10 Mar 2016). 

7 Sheffield, H., `BHS Collapse: Sir Philip Green Called to answer Questions`, The Independent, reported 26 April 2016, available from (accessed 10 Mar 2016). 

8 BBC Business, `Austin Reed Collapse to Cost 1000 jobs`, reported 31 May 2016, available from (accessed 10 Mar 2016). 

9 Hall, J., `Woolworths: The Failed Struggle to Save a Retail Giant`, The Telegraph, reported 14 Nov 2009, available from (accessed 8 Mar 2016). 

10 Mor F., Conway L., Thurley D. and Booth L., `The Collapse of Carillion', House of Commons Briefing Paper Series, Number 8206, House of Commons Library, Whitehall, London, 2018. 

11 House of Commons, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Work and Pensions Committees, Carillion, Joint report (Second Joint report from the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Work and Pensions Committees of Session 2017– 19), Government, Open Government Licence, London, 2018, p.79; HoC, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Work and Pensions Committees, Carillion, Joint report, Government, OGL, London, 2018, pp.79 - 86. 

12 HoC, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Work and Pensions Committees, Carillion, Joint report, Government, OGL, London, 2018, p.79.

13 HoC, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Work and Pensions Committees, Carillion, Joint report, Government, OGL, London, 2018, p.80. 

14 Gracey, A., `Building An Organisational Resilience Maturity Framework` Journal Of Business Continuity & Emergency Planning, Henry Stewart Publications, Vol 13, No.4, 2020, p.2. 

15 Gracey, A., `Building An Organisational Resilience Maturity Framework` Journal Of Business Continuity & Emergency Planning, Henry Stewart Publications, Vol 13, No.4, 2020; McManus, S. T., `Organisational Resilience in New Zealand', PhD Research Thesis, Canterbury University, New Zealand, 2008; Stephenson, A. `Benchmarking the Resilience of Organisations,’ PhD Thesis, Civil and Natural Resources Engineering Department, Canterbury University, New Zealand, 2010, p.5. Available at 




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10/10/20 - The Need to Think Our Way to Building Effective Organisational Resilience 


There is increasing recognition post the Covid-19 pandemic that emergency and disaster preparedness will not be effective without the engagement of other ‘vulnerable’ communities within an organisation which have traditionally not be considered part of the “Resilience” spectrum of activities. Given the scale and severity of the recent Covid-19 situation, coupled with the ongoing health care issues that this will cause for nations downstream, this means that most organisations can be regarded as vulnerable when it comes to access to staff capability, especially when the communities are forced into lockdown or widespread limitation of movement. 


Building an organisation’s capacity through active involvement can create confidence and pave the way for collective and continuous development in strengthening resilience through organisational learning and development. While this may require a greater focus on understanding issues and root causes, building effective 360-degree communication channels, and empowering the workforce through a more adaptive leadership approach, these alone will not build and sustain an organisation’s resilience capability. Rather, the concern is to reflect the lack of accountability of the C-suite in building and sustaining Organisational Resilience, and the level of vulnerability that this can create. This discussion may help light the touch paper for experts and lay-people to start driving the need for C-suite accountability for developing and funding Organisational Resilience activities, including the creation of staff capability. 


What is Organisational Resilience? 


Research in the last twenty years into the development of Organisational Resilience (McManus 2008; Stephenson 2010; McAslan 2012; Carden 2018; Gracey 2020) has identified that the majority of available literature focusses on building Organisational Resilience to disruptive events such as risks or crises, which are events that are a threat to business goals, caused by the reduction of capability, managing the environment, or acting in constrained performance and / or timeframes caused by a negative atypical shock. These disruptive events may compromise performance, resources, employee well-being, customers, operating community, or threaten organisational reputation. Additionally, like the Covid-19 pandemic, these events are often portrayed as unique, significant, and widespread situations that create highly adverse results.


However, little is known about what happens when a company encounters an adverse event that seems to be never-ending and threatens the viability of the firm (Carden 2018:25). Resilience is promoted as being an output of activities, or key to maintaining the bottom line, or recently promoted as building

“Organisational Power”. This promotion of Organisational Resilience in such a way demonstrates a lack of understanding of the topic at a conceptual level. Organisational Resilience is the outcome of an effective strategic approach across the organisation, holistically managing all elements and departments to create operational excellence, which in turn creates an effective running organisation and building a learning and adaptive business.


However, many organisations focus on the disruptive event, or adverse impact of continual negative situation caused by the ineffective approach by the organisation due to a failure to invest in its resilience capability, or its inability to respond because of the size, tempo or complexity of the event. Organisations and communities are experiencing increasing numbers of disruptive events (UNISDR, 2015). Though the concept of resilience has now been around for over 30 years, there is still no clear consensus on what the concepts and components of resilience are (Darkow 2018) and few measurement mechanisms exist. This raises the question that rather than just building resilience to manage the immediate outcome of crises and major disruptive events, organisations need to also build resilience to change; however, this will require a completely different approach from the C-Suite to maintain effective capability in a never-ending changing environment. This creates a dynamic tension within the organisation for funding, resources and developing an organisational learning culture, enabling the embedding of a continuous improvement and development framework. It also moves the focus of Organisational Resilience away from traditional “Corporate Security” activities (risk management, Incident Response and Business Continuity) and more towards staff development, research and innovation and building a proactive Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Research into the fast food industry (Carden 2018) noted the inclusion of CSR to drive certain activities that promoted the development of Organisational Resilience.


Carden observed that Organisational Resilience was an output of the activities; I would contest this, as Organisational Resilience is the outcome, rather than output, of several disciplines working together. 


Resilience Through Learning 


This now raises a second area for consideration. The current baseline for Organisational Resilience is based on the premise set by Holling’s work in the 1970s, or the concept of resilience within engineering. However, these concepts are set within a closed system concept, which seeks to apply resilience in a linear fashion (Davoudi 2012: 301), and do not reflect the complex, non-linear systems that have been created in the 21stCentury through global networks, pan-national organisations or dispersed communities that span national borders. Unlike the prescribed, linear concepts that underline the thinking around current Organisational Resilience practices, the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world of today is discontinuous, non-linear and inherently unpredictable (Davoudi 2018:4).


Rather than seeking to “bounce back” to the previous condition prior to the disruptive event, in reality the organisation seeks to adapt and break away from the current “new normal” that has become an undesirable situation and re-develop its environment to thrive and excel. This can only be achieved if the organisation, and those within it, are able to learn and transform.


Research into the concept of Organisational Learning (Senge 1990) examined how to move the institution from reactive thinking to becoming more adept at critical thinking and learning lessons to enhance performance and capability. Senge challenges that the modern organisation needs to enable all members to learn and feed into the development of the organisation; the time of the “grand strategist” directing figuring out the problem and everyone else following suit is gone. Senge’s approach to building an effective Learning Organisation is the implementation of his framework, based on five key elements. 


These are:


  • Shared Vision
  • Systems Thinking
  • Mental Models
  • Team Learning
  • Personal Mastery 


These five components focus on developing and communicating a shared vision for all involved, a systems-thinking approach across the organisation and the development of mental models to help individuals and the organisation understand the various elements. The framework builds the organisation through the implementation of team focussed learning, as well as building individual expertise through personal mastery of an individual’s role. Collectively these build a Learning Organisation.




Organisational learning does not require an organisation to experience a crisis or disruptive event in order to learn. The most effective way of learning is observing how others handle crises, what worked and what didn’t, and then for organisations to take away those lessons (Fink 2002:90). By noting how and where competitors were vulnerable provides two options of learning; where an organisation may be weak and therefore address the gaps, or where it may be able to target its resources against its competitors to obtain part of their market share. This approach offers a double impact of greater awareness of potential vulnerabilities within the organisation, as well as potential areas of exploitation of the competition’s weaknesses. While learning is critical to how an organisation adapts to change, it is often a by-product of the performance tasks that are carried out for other purposes (Lines 2005). Organisational learning is rarely a defined and bespoke programme, therefore understanding the relationship between the structures, processes and procedures is key to being able to understand how the organisation is identifying and absorbing lessons. Lines used strategic change as the concept of his research as multiple researchers had noted close links between strategy, change and the subsequent learning that occurs.


Therefore, there is a relationship between how an organisation invests and builds its resilience capability and its cultural approach to organisation learning. Without support and engagement from the C-suite into building and sustaining a learning culture, the organisation itself will be unable to develop its Organisational Resilience effectively to build not just an ability to react to disruptive events, but also to manage operating successfully in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous new normal, where change is the only constant.




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10/08/19 - Building Organisational Resilience – Understanding Your Environment


The UK landscape provides multiple challenges for business large and small, with many organisations having to operate within a highly dynamic environment, with many impacts being outside of their direct control. This severely impacts on the ability to conduct long-term planning as they are fighting the complex, changing environment of today, unable to direct any resources to the potential threats and opportunities of tomorrow. On the wider scale, several natural monopolies manage, maintain and operate supporting elements for the multitude of UK businesses, which contributes to the strategic running of the UK society, such as the rail and road networks, the National Power Grid and the communications networks. The ability of any one of these organisations to respond, recover and adapt to a major disruptive event is vital to the successful management of essential services which provide power, manpower or capability to UK industry; the collapse of any one of these can have a major impact across the various businesses and industries that rely on their services. Enhancing the level of organisational resilience within UK business, and its dispersed supply chain, is a critical step in the move to develop more resilience within the wider community and the UK as a nation, in line with the National Security Strategy[1].


The world in which organisations operate within is more technologically advanced, with globalisation making businesses and supply chains becoming more interdependent. Disruptive events and their impacts are becoming increasingly felt across operational, tactical and strategic operating levels and in some cases,  they can cause national and international crises. Simultaneously, organisations are being forced to diversify and innovate in order to maintain their share of the global or local markets, thus inviting risk into the daily operating model.  These organisations maintain the foundation of society by building the economy; they provide employment, wealth generation, material, services and a spirit of community. If a large organisation collapses, invariably the community within which it operates in will also feel the impact. It is impossible for any organisation to build a framework to protect it from all disruptive events; the capability is not possible, no matter the size or resource of the organisation. It is also impossible to plan for every eventuality. The skill is being able to develop the capability to adaptively think, understand the root causes of the disruptive event and dynamically plan accordingly, utilising the resources, finances and time available to minimise the impact and maximise the potential growth opportunity as competitors struggle to recover. This is the concept of organisational resilience; delivering a holistic approach to enable an organisation to dynamically respond, recover and grow in the face of disruption.


Development of resilience within organisations will build strength within communities; organisations that provide employment and purpose to communities can provide catalysts to address the negative downturn of the local community. The social decline of the communities built around the UK coal mines provide recent evidence of the impact of poor organisational resilience and the community impact at the end of the 20th Century. In the first two decades of the 21st Century the decline had spread from UK heavy industry to the more commercial aspects of UK businesses. The UK witnessed the collapse of large high street retail and department stores, such as Blockbusters[2] (2000 jobs), British Home Stores[3] (11000 jobs), Austin Reed[4] (1000 jobs), Woolworths[5] (30000 jobs), as well as the public collapse of Carillion (20000 UK jobs). These events brought to light the complexity of managing businesses in the 21st Century, highlighting the importance of organisational resilience over the more tactical activities such as risk management, business continuity and emergency planning. These events also demonstrated the social impact of poor organisational resilience, poor management of strategic risk and a failure at the strategic leadership level.


The collapse of Carillion brought to light another concern about certain operating models within the methods used to provide objective assurance to the decision-makers of large national and international organisations. Investigations conducted into the reasons for Carillion’s collapse, the decision-making and objective advice received identified the predatory aspect of the financial assurance community, with the Government investigation singling out the large firms of KPMG, Deloitte, EY and PwC as having created a monopoly and not providing an effective assurance framework for UK industry. The report highlighted that the drive for profits had impacted negatively on the ability for the companies to act independently of its customers[6], calling into question the reliability of the assurance industry and the fact that "The Big Four" had set out to create a natural monopoly, barring access to competitors[7]. This raises concerns for the quality of support and guidance given to UK industry by the same "Big Four" agencies, as these agencies advice and are woven into multiple commercial and industrial companies. The government report has raised several issues around the quality and performance around the business models and advice that these organisations have delivered to multiple companies, as well as their operating methodologies to maintain a closed market to competition. Detailed research analysis conducted in 2018 / 19 identified several trends that may impact on the UK and its commercial interests, resulting in a strategic deterioration of the UK’s influence and power across the globe and within its borders. These trends are touched upon below:


Demographic Change

Over the next 25 – 30 years the population of the globe is predicted to continue growing, reaching between 8 – 10.5 bn individuals, depending on the research document that is reviewed. This will be primarily driven by the increase in capability of medicines and health provision, which will reduce infant mortality and increase life expectancy within the older generations. It will also be fuelled by continuing high birth rates within developing nations, which will result in an increase in population migration as employment becomes more focussed within urbanised centres. The growth rates are likely to become imbalanced, with developed nations seeing a slowdown and potentially a decrease in their population due to reducing birth rates.


This may produce several areas of tension, as developing nations population seek to move out into areas of available work; with reducing working age populations, the developed nations may become reliant on migration workers, but their societies may not be tolerant of large diaspora communities. Rapid growth in developing countries may challenge the stability of weak national government or the ability of the state to provide the required resources; this may lead to conflict, exacerbated by age, gender and poverty. There is a risk this could overspill into diaspora communities within the developed nations. Within the UK, with the extraction of the Nation from the EU, the UK workforce may consist of more non-EU nationals, with the development of multi-cultural society hubs across the country. This may lead to tensions between UK borne and diaspora population, especially in areas of social depravation and high levels of unemployment. With the potential extraction of EU based industry from the UK, there may be a greater increase of Middle / Far East businesses operating within the UK borders; this may bring a clash of cultures and financial implications, with international cooperatives operating outside of UK legal frameworks, which may impact on local UK businesses and industry’s ability to recruit and retain experienced personnel.



As touched upon within the Demographic Change paragraph, there is the indication through research and analysis that up to 7bn individuals will live within urbanised centres within the next 25 – 30 years, placing extreme pressure on governments / states to conduct and manage proper city planning and critical services management. Urbanisation will rapidly increase within the developing nations, as the population demographic is leaned more towards individuals of a working age seeking not to work within agriculture, but more within commerce, industry or the technology sectors. While urbanisation may increase the output capability of a nation, enhancing economic growth and social development, if left unchecked with proper mitigation and control measures, it may result in widespread ecological / environmental damage which impacts negatively on the urbanised population. An predominately urbanised population will also demand extensive levels of infrastructure and power generation, again potentially out-stripping the capability of a developing nation. This in turn could lead to social depravation, increase in corruption and crime, conflict and potential break-down of social order.


Worst case, the rapid, uncontrolled urbanisation of developing nations may lead to the triggering of large-scale infection and disease outbreaks, new strands of drug resistant bacteria, and an increase in the number and size of humanitarian crises. If historic trends are replicated, large urban centres will be located near extensive water course ways or the coast; this places them in an increased risk of flooding, especially with the impact of environmental change of the next 25 – 30 years. Within the UK, the continued urbanisation of the population will bring increased political challenges around the destruction of the green belt, national parts and coastal land reclamation projects. The increase of urbanisation will demand enhanced transport links, power generation, health facilities and social infrastructure. Pressure will be placed onto local councils to manage an increasingly complex constituency with dwindling resources. Proposed plans for urban expansion may lead to increased social tension, public disorder and the disruption of vital services to UK businesses. The UK may need to seek the procurement of power from the EU, with tariffs / financial agreements in place due to Britain’s exit from the EU.



With the changing of demographics across the globe over the next 25 – 30 years, there is the real threat that certain areas will experience a lack of critical resources, which may fuel resource conflict, large scale demographic moves, failing nations and instability on a large scale. As the population increases, there will be a greater demand for food, yet food production may decrease due to the move towards urbanised centres, climate change, large-scale conflict and population age distribution changes. Water shortages and carbon-based fuels are likely to remain the most critical resources, though developed nations may seek a large increase in renewable energy and nuclear power being inputted into their national power grids. Within the UK there is the risk of large-scale ecological impact through the promotion of fracking, while the exploitation of large oil reserves in The Falkland Islands may lead to an increase in tensions with Argentina. There will be an increase in the levels of renewable energy sources utilised, but there may also be political and social tensions created by the introduction of more nuclear power stations and the experiencing of “brown outs” as the drive to increase the electrification of transport networks continues.


For UK based industries, those involved in the development of sustainable power production may experience a large increase in opportunity and market size, long with the nuclear sector. However, the need for resources and workforce to construct these potential opportunities, along with the technological skills, may be in limited supply as the UK experiences a reducing home-based workforce. For organisations involved in resource heavy, industrial production, there is the risk of a decline in requirement, as developing worlds will seek to obtain more of a market share to help develop their economies, under-cutting UK industry rates. Potential impacts from the UK leaving the European Union may also see an extraction of European businesses due to increased operating costs for their UK based sites, resulting in a loss of skilled workforce from the UK, or an increase in unemployment within lower skilled personnel.


The Environment

Over the nett 25 – 30 years, there is going to be an increasing demand on the natural resources and food production across the globe. A growing population will demand more food and water, power, shelter and employment opportunities, increasing the strain on the environment. Within the developing world large industrial centres will develop to create economic growth, providing the resource to change raw materials into processed goods which will then be exported to the developed nations, thus bringing financial wealth into the developing nations, while increasing the supply chain risks, issues and opportunities to the developed nations. To fuel these, centres of population will cluster around these centres, or, as climate change continues to increase the temperature of the Earth, in vulnerable areas such as coastal regions, to access increasingly scarce vital resources such as water, food, timber and arable land.


Based on current trends, the consequences of adverse weather are highly likely to be felt more keenly, with increases in highly damaging tropical storms, increased temperature fluctuations and longer winters, impacting on the localised climate. Within 30 years, climate change is likely to have more noticeable effects., with coastal populations at risk of rising sea levels, which will increase the risk of coastal flooding, particularly in regions affected by tropical cyclones. We have already seen the potential damage these events can cause in the US, the Pacific and in Bangladesh. In the more centralised, land-based regions, droughts and heatwaves are also likely to increase in intensity, duration and frequency, placing populations at risk, similar to the heatwaves that swept across Europe in 2003 and 2019, resulting in multiple deaths.


For UK industry, the next 25 – 30 years will offer some major challenges as the environment experiences changes caused by man-made and natural activities. Some of these environmental events could precipitate natural disasters which, because of the interdependencies enabled by globalisation and extended supply chain, may have consequences far beyond the site where the disaster occurs. Within the UK, there may be more extreme variations in temperature, resulting in impact to working conditions, transport link reliability and increase in flooding / severe weather events, which in turn may damage / destroy critical national infrastructure nodes. We may see more coastal and inland flooding, risk to critical national infrastructure, such as dams and power lines, or the requirement to re-design road and rail infrastructure to cope with environmental changes. This may increase cost of transporting goods, commuting rates and business taxes to cover the strategic planning and re-development. It may also result in increasing damage to ports through flooding risks or increased land erosion, forcing new structures to be built. Within river-based cities, increased flooding risk may render current business hubs unusable, or raise the rates of business insurance to cover such eventualities.


[1] D Cameron, National Security Strategy (NSS) and Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) 2015, HM Government, Open Government Licence (OGL), London, 2015, p.5.

[2] G Ruddick, `Blockbuster Collapse to Cost Taxpayer £7m`, The Telegraph, reported 21 Dec 2013, available from (accessed 10 Mar 2016).

[3] H Sheffield, `BHS Collapse: Sir Philip Green Called to answer Questions`, The Independent, reported 26 April 2016, available from (accessed 10 Mar 2016).

[4] BBC Business, `Austin Reed Collapse to Cost 1000 jobs`, reported 31 May 2016, available from (accessed 10 Mar 2016).

[5] J Hall, `Woolworths: The Failed Struggle to Save a Retail Giant`, The Telegraph, reported 14 Nov 2009, available from (accessed 8 Mar 2016).

[6]House of Commons, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Work and Pensions Committees, Carillion, Joint report (Second Joint report from the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Work and Pensions Committees of Session 2017–19), HM Government, Open Government Licence, London, 2018, p.79.

[7] HoC, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Work and Pensions Committees, Carillion, Joint report, HM Government, OGL, London, 2018, pp.79 - 86.



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30/07/19 - Combating Illicit Organisations Through Building a Better Understanding of Organisational Resilience



In a complex contemporary environment, the blurring of the battlefield and the financial markets has become increasingly common, with military personnel being taught how to identify and correctly collect financial documents, credit cards and signs of financial transactions during searches within hostile areas. Due to the amorphous nature of the current threat within the contemporary arena, the UK Armed Forces and business establishments are more likely to face a simultaneous amalgam of regular and irregular opponents than a clearly defined and identifiable threat[1].


Observations of military units operating within the failing states of Iraq and Afghanistan, and, to a lesser state, Northern Ireland during the late 20th century, highlighted that there were multiple lessons identified on the capabilities of the illegal groups acting within the local societies. Though the situation created by the various conflicts was fraught with risk, there were numerous illicit organisations operating within this complex environment, either criminal or insurgency focussed, seeking to exploit the population, or destabilise the political framework, for their own advantage. To survive and thrive within this type of complex, constrained and often confined operating space, these groups have developed a high level of internal resilience, utilising a networked framework to prevent the authorities or security forces from being able to disrupt their leadership hierarchy.  This internal resilience enables them to quickly gather intelligence and adapt to changes within the population’s tolerances, political policies, potential market expansions (legal or illegal) and the introduction of security forces with new technologies, procedures or capabilities.


Understanding the resilience capability of illicit groups is more than a societal research piece; by understanding how these organisations are able to build and sustain their resilience capability, it offers a chance of being able to target security and policing efforts to break the links across the organisation, stripping away its ability to function coherently as its resilience levels drop. Resilience is no longer just an academic concept or the speciality of business; it offers an opportunity for criminal specialists or military planners to understand the key resilience capabilities, develop a means to interdict them and attack and dismantle these illicit organisations at a strategic and tactical level. This level of research, drawn from operational experiences in Northern Ireland, the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan, supported by academic research into the topic of resilience and conflict.

Understanding the Threat

Illicit organisations may also be adapt at identifying and managing change on a rapid and effective scale, morphing, expanding or contracting depending on the situation at the time. In Iraq, criminal elements would quickly switch operating bases depending on the patrol patterns of the UK units. In Basra, Iraq and the surrounding areas, insurgent teams would seek to adapt their approaches depending on what coalition member was conducting protective operations, switching between population coercion, direct attacks on security forces, or remote attacks through rockets and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The same was witnessed in Afghanistan, with illicit elements conducting lessons learned activities and, at times, sharing experiences, technologies or capabilities. There was also a level of internal change capability, with these organisations having to manage dynamic internal change due to operational casualties, elements being captured, splintering of teams, amalgamation of multiple groups to create greater capability to face a larger threat.


A number of these illicit organisations have been identified to also be recruiting from disaffected communities from the UK, seeking to build an international framework for the purpose of securing a global market, or, in a more threatening situation, increase the capability of conducting a terrorist attack within the UK. These organisations increase the risk of tensions over-spilling into UK communities, affecting the stability of the nation. The range of tasks the military can expect to undertake also continues to increase[2], with concern over UK organisations funding illegal activity unknowingly, funding different warring entities, or their vulnerability to cyber-attack, such as the attack against TalkTalk telecommunications company, which resulted in 157,000 customers having their data hacked into, with 15000 losing financial data[3], costing the organisation up to £35 million immediately after the event.[4] Recent operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya confirm this trend of increasing complexity[5]. The military and government security and intelligence gathering agencies must increasingly work with civilian organisations to build a greater national resilience against the illicit organisations that are building their own resilience capability. This proposed inclusive approach is not just cross-governmental; it is an alliance between all those that have a stake within the complex battle-sphere that now reaches from the combat zone back to the industrial and societal base. Therefore the ability for the military, business sectors, law enforcement agencies and Government Departments to work together to develop National Resilience through the creation of Organisational Resilience is critical to combatting irregular activity which seeks to cause a detrimental impact to the UK, from within and without.

Building Resilience Through Leadership and Awareness

Resilience is not about “bouncing back” or “bouncing forward”, rather it is about negotiating disruptive events and thriving on uncertainty, focussing on the development of the entity against an infinite timeline.[6] It is not about the resources, the financial capability or the relevant structures in place, though these all assist the process. Resilience is not something that can be achieved by any one organisation acting in isolation[7], there is a need to understand the supply chain and the customer focus. In essence it needs to by dynamically aware of Porter’s five forces and adjust accordingly to maintain its survival. Resilience is holistic[8] and those tasked to develop the resilience of the organisation must be able to influence all activity at strategic and operational levels, providing an active voice in the organisation’s direction.[9] Only by understanding fully the dynamics of any particular situation or crisis can the appropriate range of activities be planned, orchestrated[10], reviewed and evaluated. The term itself was initially mentioned in the early 1960s by CS Holling on his work within the ecological concept of the topic; in the 21st century resilience has become a “hot” topic due to the fear of climate change, risk to the global fuel reserves, and the ongoing threat of over-population of some areas, risking pandemic situations of lethal pathogens. The key component of resilience is that it does not focus on one area; it is based on the capability of the system, or system of systems, to identify, respond adapt, recover and learn from a disruptive event. Holling looked at this from the point of an eco-system, how it adapted to the various situations around it, how it shrank or grew depending on the space available to it. He also analysed how the various components worked together to maintain a balance that benefitted the eco-system.


For organisations, the capability of the leadership staff to manage a complex, dynamic situation with limited information under an intense time pressure through cognitive adaptability is critical to success. The ability for an organisation to develop its own Organisational Resilience is dependent on the internal agility of the entity, the culture that is embedded within it, and the direction and guidance of its leadership function. Organisational agility is itself built upon six pillars (components) as identified by David Alberts.[11]  The six components are Responsiveness, Robustness, Flexibility, Resilience (though in his concept it may be argued that it is component resilience rather than organisational resilience that he refers to), Innovativeness and Adaptability. Just as Organisational Resilience relies on the personal resilience of the staff within the business, the agility of an organisation relies on the ability of the staff to link their resilience with actions, strength and understanding to develop the agility to support the creation of an Organisational Resilience capability.


This capability is how the organisation will approach the situation through its ways, ends and means[12]. It needs to have three key elements to enable the successful development of resilience; an understanding of where the organisation wishes to head towards (The Endstate), the journey, or strategy, the company is going to take to develop its resilience (The Ways) and finally how it is going to resource the journey (The Means). By building the information gathering and subsequent analysis capabilities, supported through effective change management and organisational leadership structures, of an organisation, the ability to identify, prepare, react and adapt will be increased, providing a higher level of resilience to manage and recover from disruptive events. Similar to business, the outlook of the Armed Forces is to see that as a nation the UK is increasingly in a state of permanent international competition, competition that can occasionally risk becoming confrontation or conflict.”[13] The similarities for the need to develop strategic influence and vision is also key for both the Armed Forces and business, to align to the direction that the UK Government is setting for the UK Home and Foreign Policies are also quite clear. Clausewitz viewed war as “nothing more than a duel on a larger scale. Countless duels go to make up a war, but a picture of it as a whole can be formed by imagining a pair of wrestlers[14].”  

Resilience and Illicit Organisations

The first issue with this consideration is that there is still not a large amount of detailed research in existence around Organisational Resilience; there is still a level of incompleteness around what it is made up of, how it should be managed and what practices need to be implemented. This leads onto the second issue; the majority of the research has been in the legal operating sphere – few articles have considered how to build a resilience model for an illicit organisation, then how to unpick it to destroy that model that was developed. If the collaborative understanding of resilience within the legitimate business world in fragmented, the level of knowledge around the illicit business world is very limited.


Consider applying all that has been identified to the situation with Illicit Organisations; it is time to learn how the military and legitimate business builds it resilience and remains capable to operate when faced with multiple threats, then reverse engineer this approach, which can help identify the key components to target within an illicit organisation, with the right tools, to start to dismantle its resilience capability to function. It is key to note that no entity will remain static; just as businesses will seek to develop new products, illicit organisations will seek to adapt to the “grey” market, either mixing legal and illegal activities into a “hybrid” business model in the aim to obtain greater market share by reducing overheads, time or regulation to name a few areas. Through better understanding of their business models, hybrid approaches and potentially temperamental supply chains, there is an opportunity to target these various weaknesses within their resilience framework. The absence of regulation and governance may allow them a level of flexibility and drive down operating costs; at the same time there will be a lack of financial support if the market crashes or the supplies are late, or if customers stop buying their services. While the concept of Organisational Resilience is a holistic approach, it is important to understand that there is an individual aspect within the illicit groups, especially those that seek to conduct acts of subversion or terrorism. Attempting to apply a broad brush approach to these organisations is destined for failure; the examples of the UK military in Iraq and Afghanistan is evidence of this. Crime, illegal operations and terrorism are complex phenomenon to unpick and prevent due to the multi-factored input that can create them. This is where a greater understanding of the elements that contribute to organisational resilience can help; by being able to focus not just on core activities but also those that sit on the fringes, the security services may be able to start impacting on the resilience capability and longevity of such organisations.


This blog entry has aimed to raise the question about how to use a better understanding of organisational resilience to assist in the deconstruction of illegal organisations. By understanding the factors and how they are interdependent within an organisation, specific targeting of certain factors may result in a detrimental effect on other areas. There are several methods that businesses and security services can achieve this, though it will be a protracted experience as illicit organisations, similar to legitimate businesses, will seek to learn and adapt to potential threats that it identifies. Having worked closely with security organisations to develop a capability within Iraq and Afghanistan to destabilise, reduce and then dismantle illicit organisations within the complex operating environment, it became apparent that several of the tools being used had their origins in business change processes and tools. This was particularly apparent in the information and intelligence gathering activities, which, for industry, would not be very dissimilar to stakeholder engagement, mapping and business analysis activities. What has become very apparent within other research is that the analysis and effective processing of information into intelligence is poorly conducted within UK industry; this regularly results in lost productivity or failed programmes.


As these organisations may be implementing a hybrid business model, this approach may require a blend of financial, legal, security and political activities to slowly unpick one element at a time, helping to unravel the Gordian Knot that organised crime has become for nation states. Current business is fighting a confrontational campaign against illicit organisations which seek to destabilise the market for their own benefit; rather than operating in silos, businesses and security organisations, similar to the those entities within the failed or failing states, need to work closer together, across all spectrums of commerce and information gathering, to build their own resilience, and also to target and reduce the resilience of the illicit entities that are operating across the globe. The requirement to understand the organisational resilience framework within businesses and how to reverse engineer it to deconstruct an entity is crucial to increasing the pressure on illicit organisations and impacting on their illegal activities. By stripping away the components of their resilience, security services can improve their targeted interventions, being able to focus on factors that may cause maximum impact to the organisation but require minimum resources to implement. As the majority of resource into organisational resilience has been focussed on assisting legitimate organisations prepare and survive, there is the need to conduct detailed research into this area, either on the streets of major cities in the UK or examine the war-torn suburbs of failing nations. Either area will start to identify key components that illicit organisations require for their resilience; components that become the vital ground for security services to disrupt in order to deny these organisations the ability to function effectively.


[1] MoD JDN 2/07 (2007) Countering Irregular Activity within a Comprehensive Approach, DCDC. P.1-1.

[2] JDN 3/11 (2011) page 1-1.

[3] Farell, S. (2015) The Guardian: Nearly 157000 had data breached in Talk Talk cyber attack, dated 6 Nov 2015.

[4] Thomas D., (2015) Financial Times: TalkTalk warns cyber attack costs could could rise to £35m, dated 11 Nov 2015; dated 11 Nov 2015.

[5] JDN 3/11 (2011) 1-1.

[6] Newnham (2012),

[7] Seville et al (2010) p.2

[8] Newnham (2012), p.3

[9] Newnham (2012)ty, p.4

[10] BDD JDP 0-01 p.1-11.

[11] Alberts D. S.,(2013) “Agility, Focus and Convergence: The Future of Command and Control, The International C2 Journal, Vol 1: 1.

[12] Jermy S., (2011) Strategy for Action: Using Force wisely in the 21st Century, Knightstone Publishing, London, p.18.

[13] Houghton N., (2014) Chief of Defence Staff Speech, RUSI, published in JDN 1/15: Defence Engagement, MoD, p.iv.

[14] Clausewitz C., (1997) On War (abridged), Wordsworth classics, London. P.5




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21/07/19 Squared Apples Presents ORM3 Framework


Five years in development, members of Squared Apples have recently circulated the Oraganisational Resilience Management Maturity Model (ORM3), presenting it at the Resilience Association in London, and then the Business Continuity Institute in Utrecht, Holland.


The framework has been the culmination of a PhD research programme, analysing lessons from UK military, international business and UK heavy industry.  During the research, individuals from UK military, industry, local government, international practitioners and the BCI were consulted on their thoughts about the absence of an Organisational Resilience framework. Key to the development of ORM3 was the regular engagement with the Resilience Association and, in its latter stages, discussions with the Resilience Center in Telford.


Working together with the Resilience Association and the Business Continuity Institute, Squared Apples has been able to hoild open discussion forums around the organisational resilience domain, building greater awareness of the need for resilience to move from the shop floor to the C-Suite level. Research in multiple countries has demonstrated that the majority of failures of large businesses are down to strategic leadership miscalculations, leading to financial, performance or reputational damage; normally all three. By understanding that an organisation is a system of systems, and therefore the resilience approach needs to follow a similar approach, then we can begin to build a greater awareness and capability of how to build, embed and sustain a resiliecne culture across an organisation.


Further information is available on the model in the slideshow featured in the Whats New section, which gives a high level of the research approach and the components of the framework. If you wish to discusss the framework in detail, please contact us here




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09/04/2018 - What is the Cost to Community Resilience of Poor Strategic Leadership?


The current situation within the halls of power of Westminster is constantly demonstrating two warring parties who are losing situational awareness of what is actually happening across the UK. As the Brexit question continues to shatter the fabric of communities, depending on whether you are "in" or "out", there is an increasingly apparent trend of poor strategic leadership decisions now returning to haunt the ministers that made them; there is also the failure to admit them. Is this a failure of moral courage to accept mistakes and address the issues at hand?


Austerity policies have caused a number of issues that have resulted in the environment to create increased violent crime. The impact of these issues have decreased the resilience of the communities across the UK and the ability to provide adequate security and local intelligence gathering. These issues are:

  • Reduction in community centres;
  • An over-stretched, under-resourced and under-funded NHS, with some trusts not having enough vehicles to cover critical activities;
  • Ongoing poor pay and support for teachers, resulting in children being poorly educated for the workplace;
  • Limited emotional resilience support for teachers and young people;
  • Decrease in police on the streets (21000 personnel), resulting in a reduction in community engagement and a loss of local intelligence networks;
  • Reduction of the Armed Forces capability, impacting on national resilience and ability to respond to critical national threats;
  • Failure to build a way forward for the next generation, resulting in an increase in the younger population seeking to find other ways;
  • Eroding of the UK's international standing within key influential organisations, such as the EU, The Commonwealth, the G8 and NATO;
  • A rapid increase in the number of children living in poverty;
  • A continuous attack on local councils to reduce funding, which in turn leads to a deconstruction of social support frameworks;
  • Increasing council taxes, pushing more families into poverty; and
  • An increase in the homeless on our streets.

If we were to look at this situation through another lens we may see things differently. Applying the framework that the UK military sought to apply in two Resilience building campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, we can observe how these issues would be treated in combat. Using the guidance of Templar (Malaya), Patreaus (Iraq) or McChrystal (Afghanistan), if you are fighting a counter insurgency, the issues listed above are the things you seek address quickly through the provision of resources, as well as to provide the host nation its own integral capability to fight the lure of the insurgent.


This is not a situation just for the Middle East; this approach was also used in Northern Ireland to help stop the ongoing slaughter during the OIRA / PIRA insurgency campaign. What it does demonstrate though is that the current UK government, across all parties, have lost sight of the bigger picture, with the majority of focus being spent on Brexit. Discuss.




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20/10/2017 - Building a Business Continuity Framework


The British Standards Institute identified that 0ver 43% of SMEs had no IT continuity plan, while the Charterer Management Institute indicated that the average cost of severe weather disruption was approx. £52k. The CMI also highlighted that 86% of UK business owners recognised the importance of a business continuity framework, though only 63% had one in place. Of those individuals that had a Business Continuity framework in place, 87% indicated that when activated it reduced... the impact of a disruptive event. If you’re looking to build a continuity framework within your business, follow these tips;


• Build an initial business case to identify what are the key components of your business that needs protecting, the cost if operations are disrupted or lost, and the available funds you have to initiate the development of a continuity plan;


• Invest in your staff capabilities and development rather than outsourcing the development of your continuity plan; 80% of your continuity plan being successful relies on your staff knowing what to do and when. If they have been involved in its development they will provide a far greater agile edge for your company during disruptive events;


• Conduct an indepth risk analysis and SWOT to understand what disruptive events, positive and negative, may impact on your business. A good Business Continuity framework is the outcome of a holistic approach of adaptive leadership, an inclusive organisational culture and a shared understanding of disruptive events and available resources;


• Your risk analysis needs to conduct a full analysis of all risks, including your supply chain, staff capabilities, internal structures and organisational frameworks;


• Build a natural level of redundancy within your structure through the integration of business continuity activities into of all business activities; business continuity is fundamental to building resilience. Resilience is cultural, supported by business processes such as risk management, business continuity and resource management;


• Utilise business intelligence to build situational awareness to create the relevant responses needed; this will enable the organisation to effectively prepare, react, recover, learn and improve from disruptive events;


• Develop the capability of Red-Teaming and regular review of your business continuity framework within the organisation at all levels; build a culture of consented dissent to build capability and avoid potential crisis events;


• Develop a strong leadership model to support your staff during disruptive events and create the feeling of empowerment to enable rapid response and decision making during disruptive events;


• Build a level of understanding within your customer base and supply chain to identify key operational elements to keep going in order to release resources to manage disruptive events; and


• Develop a culture of learning lessons; both from yourself and from others to support your business development.




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10/09/2017 - Building Organisational Resilience


In the current global market place, the political, financial and cultural pressures being placed upon the modern business personnel are often draining, pulling physical and emotional strength to the limit. Individuals try to juggle their priorities - work, family, friends, interests, in a bid to obtain a balance. Often the pressure of all these can generate their own self driving pace, which rapidly becomes overwhelming and potentially destructive. This in turn removes the effectiveness of the individual in their business role, resulting in a reduction in both personal and organisational resilience.


As a thought leader in the area of organisational resilience, Squared Apples has offered some tips for building your resilience to these pressures that exist in the workplace. Whether as a business or an individual, these tips can help if you are experiencing a significant disruptive event at work, or just in life in general.


A number of resilience experts describe resilience is defined as the ability to bounce back or recover well from change. This is not totally accurate; this definition is more based within the discipline of Business Continuity rather than Resilience. Rather than bouncing back, organisations, or individuals, with a high level of resilience seek to take advantage of the situation and thrive while their competitors around them struggle.. So what are the characteristics that these organisations or individuals possess that enables them to react and adapt to their situation quicker and more effective than others? Squared Apples research into organisations with a high level of organisational and staff resilience, such as the military, emergency services and financial institutions points to following key characteristics:


Vision and Purpose

Organisations with a high level of resilience have identified a clear sense of purpose, values, direction of travel, which is aligned with the high-level purpose, mapped through a number of established goals which are aligned to the strategy. The organisation has a strong learning lessons framework, effective governance and well developed problem-solving skills.


Belief and Confidence

When organisations invest in strong governance frameworks, enhanced skills development and the design and implementation of a competence framework, its workforce become more effective, thus building resilience. Individuals feel competent, they have effective strategies for coping with disruptive events and are able to cope better with stress. Managers and individuals have strong self-esteem, believe in the organisation and focus on their skills and abilities. With a lessons learned framework, the organisation develops a learning and growth mindset. When things go wrong, the leadership ask themselves, “What did we learn from that?”


Strong Social Support Framework

Organisations that develop strong business and personal relationships with others generally create a stronger resilience framework. By having good supportive commercial relationships, organisations understand that seeking support can help the organisation, industry sector or individuals overcome adverse situations, rather than trying to cope individually. Organisations can also provide collective support to others, but not at the expense of self, during difficult situations; a good example of this was the collective decision of the staff of the John Lewis Group to sacrifice their 2008 bonus payments in order to save one of their major outlets. Organisations build and sustain themselves as they understand that if they are not strong they are can’t support other industry partners, or, in the worst case, their own workforce.


Agility, Adaptability and Flexibility

Organisations that develop a high level of resilience have an inherent agility within their corporate framework, obtained through workforces and structures that are flexible and adaptable to changing situations which are beyond their control. The agility also reaches to the decision-making process, enabling wicked problems to be managed through dynamic response, crisis management and early engagement. As an organisation there is a clear understanding of capability, resources and the critical components of the company to maintain momentum. These organisations cope well with change because they are optimistic for the future due to the preparation they have engaged in; they see the opportunity to thrive as their competition struggle, rather than the threat that the change may bring.


Build Team Ethos and Sense of Empowerment

As a manager, or a leader within an organisation, you can build your resilience with these tips:


·     Develop positive attitudes and emotions within your teams early;


·     Spend time getting clarity on a sense of purpose, team objectives and organisational goals;


·     Develop contingency strategies for potential disruptive events and practice them regularly. Use discussions, table top exercises and exec study days;


·     Establish, build and sustain a supportive social and professional network; be unafraid to share ideas across the business sector to build trust early;


·     Ensure that you look after yourself through exercise, rest, and healthy eating. As the leader / manager, you set the example for the team;


·     Create time to do team building events that strengthen understanding and the team ethos; and


·     Recognise and develop the strengths within the team; do not be afraid to invest in individual and team CPD events; this builds trust within the team as well as enhancing their capability.


These are a few ideas to spark discussion and informed debate on the building of resilience across the UK private and public sectors. Please feel free to leave any thoughts / comments below.


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23/12/16 - Is the Resilience of the Union Threatened by Brexit?


As Northern Ireland now seeks to lodge a formal challenge to the extraction of the UK from the EU and Scotland, under Nicola Sturgeon, explores the option of another independence referendum, does Brexit pose the biggest threat to the resilience of the United Kingdom?


The 23rd June 2016 saw the UK, as a nation, vote to leave the European Union. On closer examination however, the figures do not tell the true story. Only England and Wales voted to leave, with Northern Ireland, Scotland and Gibraltar voted to remain. The result of Brexit resulted in social and political divisions becoming highly visible, the senior leadership of the UK police forces reporting an increase in racist attacks within the southern counties of England and a change in political leadership. For approximately three months the nation remained leaderless, with key political decision making processes placed on hold, priority given to the preparation and implementation of the Brexit decision.


Now Scotland and Northern Ireland seek ways to remain within Europe, risking the splitting of the Union. Brexit was supposed to offer a choice for the UK, to demonstrate democracy and the ability of the nation to forge its own destiny within a modern Europe. Instead, Brexit has become the greatest threat to the survival of the Union, a threat that is becoming more tangible by the day as political parties and devolutionised nations now move to forge their own destiny, potentially separate to that of England. As the tidal wave of emotion now settles, the political and social shockwaves now become very apparent, with the United Kingdom becoming dis-united about the Brexit decision.


Please feel free to leave your thought on this topic below; remember that this is a public website seeking to promote considered debate on the subject of resilience. Please write your comments accordingly.


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