Failing to PREPARE is preparing to fail

Dr Emma Bradford discusses how our organisational resilience research can be applied to defence sustainability challenges.

Climate change is increasing the potential for environmental threats that can disrupt business as usual. When faced with the possibility of events such as high-impact storms, intense drought and flooding, it is important to consider an organisation’s ability to withstand, recover from, and adapt to adverse changes in the environment. This blog discusses how Frazer-Nash’s research on organisational resilience can be applied to the defence sustainability challenge.

What is organisational resilience and why is it important to consider in the context of defence sustainability?

Organisational resilience is defined by the British Standard BS65000 as “the ability of an organisation to anticipate, prepare for, respond and adapt to incremental change and sudden disruptions in order to survive and prosper”.

While the journey to net zero cannot be perfectly mapped in advance, plenty of severe adverse effects such as rapid political change, obsolescence of old technology, famine, flooding and migration could lead to conflict or disrupt the supply chains on which defence relies. Organisational resilience will be vital to ensure that Defence survives and is capable throughout the next few decades.

While much research has focussed on physical and technical aspects of organisational resilience, relatively little has focussed on people and process elements. Frazer-Nash has undertaken research to understand and identify the key behavioural components of resilient organisations, originally focussed on our cyber security expertise and ensuring that defence is resilient to cyber-attacks. This research sought to identify what 'good' looks like from a people and process perspective.  It led to the development of the ‘PREPARE’ model, which groups emergent themes into the following overarching requirements for resilience:

  • PRESIDE – sufficient governance and leadership
  • RESOURCE – provision of necessary resources
  • EDUCATE – adequate guidance and training
  • PUBLICISE – internal and external communications
  • ACCLIMATISE – build culture and understand context
  • REHEARSE – plan and practice responses
  • EVALUATE – assess performance.

Resilience is highly complex, and there is a degree of linkage, overlap and dependency between PREPARE principles. Therefore, the organisation of themes is not intended to represent silos of activity; it is aimed at facilitating recall and promoting ease of use.   

The model lends itself to action planning and mitigation strategy, specifically outlining practical recommendations for how an organisation might improve its resilience to serious external threats.

‘PREPARE’ for real world events

Although originally designed to address organisational resilience to cyber-attacks, the PREPARE model is equally applicable when considering organisational resilience to real world events.

The previous episode of this blog series discussed the considerations for procurement. There are important people and process elements to defence procurement that need to be addressed in order to meet net zero targets and tackling them in a resilient way will ensure that the industry is set up for success during the challenges it will face in the next few decades.

The PREPARE model can be used to structure an evaluation of defence procurement practices today. As organisations inevitably need to adapt to changing technology and environment, applying the model helps to ensure that the context is well understood (so that teams can be more adaptable) and that plans for different eventualities can be developed, understood and rehearsed.

Understanding an organisation’s level of resilience, and identifying areas for improvement, helps improve its ability to withstand, recover from, and adapt to disruptions to the status quo. Focussing on the people and process elements of resilience can offer ‘quick wins’ which can be achieved with relatively low effort.

Preparing for infrequent/unanticipated events

It is sometimes hard to predict the type of events that might disrupt the normal running of business operations and it would not be cost effective to focus on becoming resilient to events that might only occur once every 1,000 years. Therefore, instead of planning for specific events, we recommend preparing for categories of impact. As an organisation, it is important to consider the type of impact that different events (e.g. climate/natural disasters, local protests, Brexit, war, famine, pandemics, etc.) might have (e.g. asset/process disruption, individual site closure, all site closure, inability to work from home, etc.). By doing this, it is possible to use the PREPARE model to evaluate an organisation’s ability to withstand, respond to, and recover from impacts, regardless of the specific event that caused them.

Some of the impacts of climate change are chronic – like rising sea levels, others are acute.  While extreme weather events cannot be predicted, it is clear that over the long-term the severity and frequency of such events is increasing, and will continue to increase for at least the next three decades.  Organisations cannot say they have not been warned.  Now is the time to PREPARE.