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Anticipation vs Resilience

Chapter 2 – Theoretical Development

2.5 Anticipation vs Resilience

A central theme throughout this thesis is the question of anticipation vs. resilience, planning vs. adaptation. This section defines anticipation and resilience and discusses how these two approaches can be combined within organisations to address organisational resilience.

Anticipation involves predicting possible sources of failure or causes of crisis or disaster, so that they can be planned for, mitigated or avoided altogether. Vogus and Sutcliffe (2008) refer to this asavoiding error by design whereby a system of controls, processes and checks is put in place to prevent possible crises from occurring. Comfort (2001, p. 146) argues,

A strategy of anticipation builds upon a careful assessment of the community to identify not only its vulnerabilities to risk, but also likely points of strength and safety”.

Hurley-Hanson (2006) emphasises the importance of developing crisis response plans and provides numerous examples, mainly in relation to September 11th, of successful crisis responses enabled by planning. However Boin and McConnell (2007, p. 53) discuss critical infrastructure breakdowns and argue that “…prevention and planning come with serious shortcomings”. Valle (1999) highlights this when he discusses an anticipatory approach to organising, where leaders anticipate problems by focusing on rules, procedures and policies and discourage deviation from them. These leaders reward those members of staff who follow the rules and this also serves to discourage innovation, improvisation and creativity. Valle (1999) goes on to note that an

anticipatory approach is more suited to environments characterised by stability and predictable outcomes.

In contrast resilience, as discussed in Section 2.4, involves adaptation to changing environments. Vogus and Sutcliffe (2008) discuss the resilience approach and note that resilient organisations recognise that it is impossible to prevent all crises and disasters all of the time. Instead they monitor their organisation as a system with inputs and outputs, the characteristics of which can provide information about the health of the system. Comfort (2001, p. 146) argues,

A strategy of resilience identifies the capacity of a community to mobilise in response to a threat, once it has occurred”.

Here she notes that resilience is also about a capacity to act and refers to it as an emergent response to a threat, rather than an existing property. Comfort (1994) discusses self-organisation and adaptation as part of resilience and notes that organisations often restructure the way in which they mobilise and manage resources as they progress through the response.

Egan (2007, p. 8) argues that anticipation and resilience are not mutually exclusive and that “…anticipatory change…should be based on developing greater resilience”. Wildavsky (1998) discusses ways to reduce risk and proposes a balance between anticipation and resilience. Comfort (2001) discusses Wildavsky’s work and argues that disaster management practices are moving towards a combination of anticipation and resilience strategies. She goes on to explain that this combination provides a dynamic tension which, if managed effectively can produce effective response strategies (Comfort, et al., 2001). Boin and Lagadec (2000, p. 188) also suggest a two-pronged approach and state “While we agree that resilience is the key to coping, it is necessary to organise for resilience”. Here they suggest that the anticipatory approach, including planning, is used to enable organisations to be resilient. Planning and formalising response arrangements in advance means that the organisation is free, at the time of crisis, to be much more adaptive and resilient in its response (Hurley-Hanson, 2006).

Weick and Sutcliffe (2007) discuss high reliability organisations (HROs) as resilient organisations, and present one possible resolution of the conflict between anticipatory and resilience strategies. They go on to identify 3 principles of anticipation and 2 principles of containment which they argue characterise HROs. The 3 principles of anticipation are preoccupation with failure, reluctance to simplify, and sensitivity to operations.

Weick and Sutcliffe (2007) discuss organisations’ preoccupation with failure as their understanding that it is impossible to prevent all accidents and crises from happening. Instead, HROs look to identify weak signals, or early warning signals, which will enable them to avoid the accumulation of unnoticed events which can lead to disaster (Turner, 1976). In detecting these potential failures, Weick and Sutcliffe (2007) also note that HROs question their organisations’ assumptions and accepted ways of working. HROs are concerned with how their expectations or assumptions can mislead them, or mask potential crises from their attention. HROs are reluctant to simplify problems or the way they view systems, because this means losing sight of some of the complexity which has an impact on the possible outcomes of their actions. An understanding of the complexity and coupling of their organisation as a system is also important for HROs sensitivity to operations. HROs monitor their performance and are responsive to unexpected changes or deviations in the system’s performance, regardless of whether they look important at the time or not (Weick & Sutcliffe, 2007).

Weick and Sutcliffe (2007) also identify 3 problems posed by anticipation and planning, which provide evidence of the need for a combined anticipation and resilience strategy. Firstly, plans can cause complacency and mindlessness. They formalise the expectations of the organisation to such an extent, that the ‘preoccupation with failure’ and ‘reluctance to simply’ are much more difficult to achieve (Weick & Sutcliffe, 2007). Secondly, plans limit organisations’ view of what to expect and what can be achieved during an emergency response. Although this may not be their intention, plans appear to specify that a crisis will occur in a certain way, however there are no routine crises (Boin & Lagadec, 2000). Thirdly, plans promote a standardised response to crisis which discourages innovation and improvisation (Weick & Sutcliffe, 2007). Crichton et al. (2009) echo this and argue that planning encourages blindness to new and emerging risks.

Weick and Sutcliffe (2007) discuss the idea of containment as minimising the impact or escalation of an unexpected crisis that has occurred. They go on to identify 2 principles of containment which are commitment to resilience, and deference to expertise.

Commitment to resilience, which is also discussed in Section 3.3.1, concerns organisations’ ability to make sense of emerging patterns and a mind-set and culture that favours organisational learning from errors as opposed to purely the prevention of errors (Weick & Sutcliffe, 2007). This means that the organisation is focused on increasing its resilience and is able to prioritise resilience to the extent that resources for addressing resilience issues can be made available. This commitment is also related to what Pearson and Clair (1998) refer to as executive perceptions about risk which are one of the drivers of success of a resilience management program.

Weick and Sutcliffe (2007) argue that during business-as-usual all organisations, including HRO’s, demonstratedeference to the powerful.This means that decisions are made based on hierarchical position and delegated responsibility. However as the pace of change increases and a crisis begins, HROs push decision making down tothe front lineof the organisation where people have access to better information and expertise to make informed decisions which incorporate the complexity of the system.

This combination of anticipation and resilience is important for organisations that need to be both planned and adaptive in order to be competitive across a range of environmental changes and shifts.

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