Managing for Resilience: Lessons from Ecology
Nancy E. Landrum, Ray Dybzinski, Amina Smajlovic, Brian M. Ohsowski
January 1, 2015
Africa, Asia - Pacific, Europe, Latin & South America, North America
Ethics & Social Justice
resilience, ecology, leadership, Diversity, sustainability
Understanding and developing resilience is becoming increasingly important in business for both leaders and organizations. Resilient organizations can successfully navigate uncertainty and change. Resilience, however, is a poorly understood attribute. We thus turn to ecosystem resilience theory to understand the concept of resilience. We identify four lessons that can be adapted from management for ecological resilience to management for business resilience: 1) resilience can be positive or negative depending on the nature of the function it supports, 2) diversity of individuals, departments, flows of information, perspective, and other attributes contributes to resilience, 3) because we have imperfect knowledge about the timing and nature of a given disturbance and thus imperfect knowledge about the exact components of diversity that will promote resilience inthe face of it, there is a benefit to preserving diversity, even if it reduces efficiency under static conditions, and 4) to the extent that disturbances are unavoidable, emphasis should be placed on low-level adaptability to support high-level resilience of function. In managing for resilience, the leader can apply these lessons both by promoting diversity (of functional redundancy and response diversity) throughout all levels of the organization and by focusing on development of flexibility, nimbleness, and adaptability. This work has led us to develop seven theoretical propositions on leadership for resilience that can spur further research to integrate ecology and business leadership perspectives.