Building Resilience into Your Business

Unexpected events can bring down usually reliable systems, supply chains, and organizations. This fact became obvious earlier this year on a global scale. Scientists have spent several decades studying how individuals develop resilience, or the ability to recover relatively quickly from difficulties, despite living through harmful or traumatic events. Finding help to become a more resilient individual is relatively easy, as a result. Business owners, however, must look harder to discover how to build resilient organizations.

Structure for Resilience

“Few business schools teach resilience, and today’s managerial toolkit is dominated by financial performance management,” according to Martin Reeves and Kevin Whitaker in “A Guide to Building a More Resilient Business” in the Harvard Business Review. “As a result, very few companies are able to explicitly design for, measure, and manage resilience.”

Reeves and Whitaker argue that managing for resilience “requires a fundamentally different mental model of business–one that embraces complexity, uncertainty, interdependence, systems thinking, and a multi-timescale perspective.” The authors recommend that business owners seek advantage in adversity, use longer timescales in looking forward, measure beyond performance, prize diversity, adopt the idea of change as the default, and take a collaborative, systems view of the company.

“In stable times, business can be thought of as performance maximization with a given business model in a given context,” they note. “Resilience, by contrast, concerns how the relationships between a business’s components or between a business and its context change under stress. It requires systems thinking and systemic solutions, which in turn depend on collaboration among employees, customers, and other stakeholders.”

Tri-Valley business owners have many opportunities to collaborate with peers, local and state officials, and industry organizations. The Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce held a webinar in June called The New Rules of Customer Service. In the webinar, Pleasanton restaurateur Edward Westmoreland, President and CEO of Hacienda’s Eddie Papa's Restaurants, discussed how he and other local restaurant owners collaborated among themselves and with local public officials in an effort to improve their business situation. Participating in a collaborative effort helps business owners beyond a specific issue by making them part of a support network where they can share concerns instead of carrying them alone. That willingness to help and be helped can also contribute to resilience, according to research.

Beyond Survival to Resilience

Many organizations offer guides and tools to help business owners whatever their situation, from those struggling to survive to those looking to start businesses to those who want to build resilience into their companies one step at a time. The Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce webinars are one source of expertise. Shareef Mahdavi, strategic consultant and author of the new book Beyond Bedside Manner, presented actions local business owners can take “to protect themselves and actually thrive as we come out of this new era.”

Mahdavi argues that improving the customer experience, which goes beyond good customer service, is a key way for businesses to differentiate themselves from competitors as the business environment becomes ever more challenging. According to Mahdavi, small-business owners can become like Amazon but even better, in some cases, if they focus on improving six specific areas. He encourages owners to focus on improving the customer experience via their website, their scheduling process, by using services such as Zoom or FaceTime, by adding delivery if possible, by using social media, and by adding a membership or events component to help customers feel special. Mahdavi’s research shows that many local restaurants do not allow customers to order online, which is a missed opportunity for those venues.

The Ohlone College Alameda County Small Business Development Center (ACSBDC) has also been an important source of education and learning for many business owners. Ohlone is the only college in the county that hosts a Small Business Development Center program. The ACSBDC provides expert one-on-one consulting, workshops and seminar series, and business- and financial-planning support services to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and startups.

“Our team of business consultants come from a variety of high-growth industries and corporate backgrounds and work hands-on with clients and students and alumni to address challenges and to maximize opportunities,” says Margaret Jackson, who is Program Director for the Alameda County Small Business Development Center.

The US Chamber of Commerce Foundation partnered with the UPS Foundation, the World Economic Forum, and the Disaster Resistant Business Toolkit Workgroup to create the Resilience in a Box program, which is available in English, Spanish, and several other languages. The program is available in several levels. The basic program is designed to educate newcomers on business resilience and is based on best practices, according to the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation, which notes that “small businesses are both highly vulnerable and can be without adequate resources to focus on preparedness actions. These resources will guide companies toward addressing preparedness issues while building in flexibility to handle potential business interruptions.” The Intermediate Level includes more detailed business readiness tools, tips, and resources as part of the Business Disaster Resilience 101 Workbook.

Flexibility is an important quality when it comes to developing enough resilience to bounce back from challenges. So is attitude. “We can make ourselves more or less vulnerable by how we think about things,” according to George Bonanno, a clinical psychologist at Columbia University’s Teachers College, who has been studying resilience in individuals for nearly 25 years.

William Doerlich, Broker/CEO for Pleasanton’s Realty ONE Group, agrees. In the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce webinar, he quoted poet Maya Angelou: “If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude.” Doerlich also suggested that owners of service companies focus on using common sense, respect, and transparency when dealing with customers, useful advice wherever a company may be in its journey to develop more resilience.

Ultimately resilience matters, according to experts, because it is more than an opportunity to mitigate risk. It is also an opportunity to develop a competitive advantage and succeed where others may fail.

For more information about the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce, please visit

For more information about the Alameda County Small Business Development Center, please visit

For more information about the Resilience in a Box program, please visit

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