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Building Organizational Resilience in Higher Education

December 22, 2021

Whether it’s your email inbox, your social media feed, or even just every time you turn on the tv, you’re no doubt being inundated with reminders of our current situation, and all kinds of advice on how to deal with it. And sure, these are unprecedented times, and any guidance on how to make it through safely with your institution intact is not only welcomed but crucial right now. But what happens the next time something like this happens? How do we make it easier for our institutions the next time disaster strikes — whatever form it takes?

The answer lies in organizational resilience, or more specifically, fostering a culture of resilience in every level of your institution of higher education. But what exactly does that mean?

Resilience is not immunity from, or invincibility against, any challenge that comes your way. Rather, true resiliency lies in the ability to recover from those kinds of adversities. When you build a culture of resilience, you are creating a culture that is capable of dealing with any crisis with grace and fortitude. That is why we talk about “risk management” or “risk reduction” rather than “risk prevention.” Think of it this way: You cannot go up in a balloon and change the weather when a storm is coming, but you can build yourself a bunker of supplies to help you weather a storm and also to rebuild afterward.

Why Building Resilience in Higher Education Is So Important

This year has shown us that any kind of crisis can happen at any time, and most importantly, that no person or industry is immune. Resilience is proactive, not reactive. When disasters happen, they are rarely predicted, and everyone feels at least somewhat blindsided. But when you have a culture of organizational resilience in place, you can go into these situations with a positive attitude and peace of mind, and you can come out of the other side stronger.

Building Organizational Resilience Starts on a Personal Level

Any plan for building organizational resilience that doesn’t start with people is akin to building a boat with holes in it. You can look at things on a macro level, but if you are making plans for, say, a university but forget the students, you may just be setting yourself up for failure. As said succinctly in Forbes:

“Organizations need to take a step back, look at the human aspect of business continuity and their employees, and see how to best support them in times of disruption.”

The Harvard Business Review backs this up, emphasizing that organizational resilience starts on a personal level — and that resilient organizations focus their attention and resources on cultivating resilience on every level, from leadership to the larger workforce. This counts doubly for universities and other organizations of higher education — building resilience in college students is just as important as building resilience in any other level of the institution, and contributes greatly to complete organizational resilience. What follows are some of the main areas of focus when it comes to building a culture of organizational resilience in higher education.

Resilience in Higher Education Institutions

While you may already be sold on the importance of risk management in higher education — that’s probably why you’re here — there may be others in your institution who still need to be convinced on the value of organizational resilience. Getting buy-in on the importance of continuity planning is no doubt easier now than it was a year ago, but proper education extends beyond that.

Everyone in a resilient organization should learn and understand the plans that are in place, their part in them, and why they are important. This not only aids in execution, but establishes greater trust in the institution and the innate peace of mind that comes with knowing that there are systems in place for any situation.

Communication is the key to organizational resilience

It’s amazing how many problems are both solved and prevented with proper communication. That’s why communication is at the core of every continuity plan, and the key to ongoing organizational resilience. It all comes back to where we started: with people. People are your most valuable resource, and co-operation from every level will be required in order for any of your plans to succeed.

Thus, communication can be broken into two parts: Effective communication in building a resilient continuity plan, and the question of how will you continue to communicate status updates both during and after an event, when your main channels are blocked or shut down altogether. It takes a village to build a continuity plan, and that plan is useless if you are not able to view it or communicate in the midst of a disaster. Fortunately, cloud technology has provided an invaluable place to store and communicate any plan — which leads us to our next key area.

The Right Resources in the Right Places

When talking about continuity and risk management in business, there is often plenty of conversation surrounding the application of resources and spending money in the right places. In institutions of higher education, it’s not usually a question of investing more money in certain areas, but instead working with what you already have.

This is where allocating resources in the right areas becomes all the more crucial. Leadership must work together in order to identify key areas where support is needed, and the most efficient way to meet those needs. Investing in the right software can ease the burden on many individuals, and streamline the process of building up those defenses.

Encouraging Participation and Innovation

It all comes back to the people. Where continuity planning or risk management can too often get bogged down in stress and fear-mongering, building organizational resilience is about creating a positive environment and encouraging proactive change. This starts through creating goals for every level of the institution, and encouraging everyone to be involved in meeting them. Adversity can be a wonderful breeding ground for innovation, but there is no reason why that innovation should be saved for after the disaster strikes.

Kuali Ready is designed to aid with this all-hands approach. Through connecting people and breaking down communication gaps between departments, Kuali Ready is able to empower people and minimize time wasted — allowing everyone to spend their energy and expertise wherever it is most needed. Read more here or contact us for a demo today.

Additional Resources
Importance of BCP in Higher Ed industry Insight
How to write a business continuity plan
Become a partner, not just a customer.
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