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Case Studies

Resilience report

Covid-19 should not have been a surprise, according to a report, produced by Cranfield University, with the National Preparedness Commission (NPC) and the audit firm and sponsor Deloitte.

As the title, Resilience Reimagined, suggests, preparing is partly about the exercise of the imagination; or as the report puts it, to ‘overcome the mindset trap of normalcy bias’ – imaging future failure, and working back to make predictions and plans. In a word, a ‘premortum’, about what an embarrassing disaster may look like.

We are entering a new period of uncertainty and change, with an ever-increasing possibility that things will go wrong, the report said. How can resilience can be developed, who does it well, and what can other businesses learn from them? Those were among the questions posed.

Most businesses were ill-prepared to deal with the pandemic and muddled through, the report suggested. Cranfield University Prof David Denyer and Mike Sutliff did interviews and four focus groups with more than 50 C-suite level people (boards, senior executives, policymakers, and resilience directors) from FTSE 100 companies, multi-nationals and major national infrastructure firms.

Those that coped best with the pandemic had already been doing three things, according to the 55-page report:

– They understood what was most important to their customers and therefore what were the most essential things to continue to deliver as the crisis unfolded.

– If something went wrong, they knew what the thresholds of tolerable impacts to the customer/user were and had examined in advance alternative ways of delivering those outcomes that mattered the most.

– They had relentlessly stress tested for possible disruption without worrying about what type of threat they might have to face – a cyber attack or a pandemic – learning how to cope when under pressure from challenges that might not be foreseeable or imaginable.

David Denyer, Professor of Leadership and Organisational Change at Cranfield, said: “We do not know what shape the next crisis will take but we can take proactive action to prepare.

“Businesses and organisations need to seize the learnings from this crisis and develop the agility to cope with the next. Whether it is another pandemic, another financial crisis or threats from a cyber attack or climate change, the risks are multiple and complex but the capabilities of readiness, responsiveness, recoverability and regeneration, the 4Rs, are ones that can be ingrained. One of the reasons the financial sector coped better than most during the pandemic was that it had taken on the lessons from the 2008 crash. By going through that crisis, these organisations had stress-tested, they knew their tolerances and what an acceptable level of failure was to them and their customers.

“Our research, in partnership with the National Preparedness Commission and Deloitte, gives organisations vital practical steps to reimagine the way they think about resilience and respond to future crises.”

Lord Toby Harris is Chair of the National Preparedness Commission. He said: “The last year has been like no other for most business organisations, but some coped and responded much better than others. We asked Cranfield University to look at why this was and what the lessons are for the future. The Government wants to build a whole-of-society approach to resilience, so that every business, every organisation and every individual can play their part in making sure that as a nation we can withstand any future crisis. This means changing organisational cultures to foster an active and agile response to events and this report highlights some of what is needed to make this a reality.”

You can view the report online at the NPC website.

About the National Preparedness Commission

It was set up in late 2020 bringing together senior figures from public life, business, academia and civil society. Commissioners include Alan Brown, Group Security Director, Tesco; Neil Robertson, Global Head of Security, Unilever; former head of Uk counter-terror policing Sir Mark Rowley; Dr David Rubens, founder of the Institute for Strategic Risk Management; Professor Alison Wakefield; and Devon and Cornwall Deputy Chief Constable Paul Netherton, NPCC lead for civil contingencies. Visit


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