The resilience zeitgeist

In a complex and volatile post-pandemic world, there is more emphasis than ever on building resilience into our organisations


Image: Istock

Tom Paul

Director of treasury and commercial, Optivo

It was remarkable. A triumph even. Two years ago, and in the space of less than a week, the nation’s office workers were sent home to work as the first lockdown began. Yet the business world did not stand still. Indeed, if anything this was a period of huge productivity as processes, systems, supply chains were all re-engineered to face up to the coming disruption. As leaders we patted ourselves on the back for a job well done.

It undoubtedly was a huge achievement for leaders up and down the country, and a salutary reminder of what can be achieved through common cause and combined action. Leaders have learned from the experience, and in the wake of the pandemic there’s more emphasis than ever on resilience – supply chains, processes, people, access to finance, stress-testing etc. The pandemic has ushered in a new spirit of the age – a new zeitgeist – resilience.

And my sense is that the challenges leaders face today match and possibly even exceed those of two years ago.

“My sense is that the challenges leaders face today match and possibly even exceed those of two years ago.”

Sense of urgency

Two years ago we were all in it together. Some of the biggest decisions were being made for us by national leaders. There was a sense of urgency. None of these is true today, yet we face a raft of less urgent but nevertheless pressing challenges.

The resilience zeitgeist is, in my view, likely to persist for some time to come. The need to build resilience features prominently in the narrative behind the potential merger announced in March between the housing association I work for – Optivo – and our near neighbour Southern Housing.

So, what do we need to be more resilient about?


The world is more complex than ever, and the pace at which complexity increases is itself increasing. Complexity inherently increases risk and makes for a more fraught decision making landscape. Building resilience is a response to the realisation of greater risk through complexity.


It feels that the world is also more volatile than it has been for several decades. Political leadership is more unpredictable, events more interconnected, and actions more synchronised than perhaps they have ever been. Moves towards de-globalisation are in part a global effort to build resilience. While net zero-carbon is in some sense a known factor for business planning, even apparently small decisions at a national policy level could have huge ramifications for organisations and individuals. Building resilience is a response to an uncertain policy landscape.


It is 30 years since we faced inflation levels as high as they are today. For many it is our first taste of leadership in this environment. It is difficult to plan and make decisions in response, but also to resist the urge to move too quickly. Differential inflation effects have the potential to blow up business models and represent a major source of risk. The cost of living squeeze has the potential to cause real hardship for customers, colleagues and society as a whole. In the face of this, businesses are stress-testing their resilience to a wider set of challenges.


It is also the tightest labour market we have experienced for some time. Brexit has reduced the potential pool from which leaders can recruit, and the pandemic has led to many reappraising their roles, careers and life choices. As the pandemic has eased, we’ve seen a huge churn and this itself has had a destabilising effect on teams and on businesses. Building team resilience has become a priority for many.

These trends are unlikely to go away any time soon and, even if they do, they will cast a shadow for many years to come. The building, measuring and reporting of resilience will dominate strategic thinking for some time to come. Resilience really is the spirit of the age.


Blog: Why are housing associations merging?


Board leadership: Steering the ship