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Fostering Organizational Resilience: Strategies and Insights

Brace yourself for an enlightening journey into the world of organizational resilience with our accomplished guest, Dr. Rodney McCurdy, the academic program director of the Doctor of Health Administration program at National University. As a seasoned professional in health care management and organizational behavior, Dr. McCurdy brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise that will equip you with strategies to not only withstand disruption, but to also thrive and innovate amidst such circumstances.

Our conversation takes us through the theoretical and practical aspects of fostering resilience within an organization. We shed light on the role of situational awareness, the expansion of quality culture, and the significance of value stream mapping. The dialogue takes a practical turn as we unravel the effects of remote work and employee turnover on organizational resilience, underlining the importance of maintaining a consistent flow of ideas even in virtual settings. If you're keen on understanding your organization's uniqueness and incorporating resilience into your strategic plans and operations, this episode is just what you need. You'll walk away with invaluable insights that can help you nurture a resilient organization that not only survives, but flourishes.

Show Notes

  • 0:00:11 - Building Organizational Resilience and Leadership (62 Seconds)
  • 0:03:34 - Understanding Organizational Resilience (53 Seconds)
  • 0:08:03 - Organizational Resiliency and Strategic Management (65 Seconds)
  • 0:10:20 - Organizations as Complex Adaptive Systems (79 Seconds)
  • 0:13:55 - Building Organizational Resilience and Adaptive Capacity (98 Seconds)
  • 0:22:32 - Building Organizational Resilience and Best Practices (104 Seconds)

0:00:01 - Announcer

You are listening to the National University Podcast.

0:00:10 - Kimberly King

Hello, I’m Kimberly King. Welcome to the National University Podcast, where we offer a holistic approach to student support, well-being and success: the whole human education. We put passion into practice by offering accessible, achievable higher education to lifelong learners. Today we are talking about what it means to have organizational resilience and how leaders and managers can help with strategic development to become more resilient. According to the Harvard Business Review, mainstream business education and managerial practice is largely focused on managing performance, but, as the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the painful fragility of many of our systems, leaders are now focusing on resilience, a concept that was rarely taught in today's business schools. So what is resilience, how do you manage and measure it And how can you build a more resilient enterprise? On today's episode, we're discussing organizational resilience, and joining us is Dr Rodney McCurdy.

Dr. McCurdy is the professor and academic program director of the Doctor of Health Administration program at National University. In this capacity, he oversees the curriculum and research efforts of doctoral students in addressing organizational and managerial challenges to improve health system performance. Dr. McCurdy has a master's in healthcare administration and a degree from Baylor University, and a PhD in health services and policy analysis from the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. McCurdy has over 20 years of healthcare management experience, including leadership positions at both the organizational and delivery system levels. He has extensive experience working with clinical professionals and leading multiple disciplinary team and an active and published researcher. He was a staff fellow with the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality at the US Department of Health and Human Services from 2016 to 2019. Dr. McCurdy's work focuses on exploring organizational behavioral performance measurement and performance improvement methods to enhancing a climate for value in healthcare organizations, and we welcome Dr. McCurdy to the podcast. Thank you for joining us. How are you?

0:02:30 - Doctor Rodney McCurdy

I'm doing great. Thank you, Kim. Thank you for inviting me. You made me sound old there though.

0:02:34 - Kimberly King

(Laughs) Not at all. No, what an impressive background you have. And why don't you fill our audience in a little bit on your mission and your work before we get to today's show topic?

0:02:48 - Doctor Rodney McCurdy

Oh sure, thank you for asking me. Well, I got to a point I've been in healthcare organizations most of my adult life, and both in the military and then in the federal service and in the private sector And I got to a point in the management leadership that there really wasn't a job I wanted to do. And I wanted to really help the next generation. And so I love places like National, where I'm at now. I like to think that we serve students who are working professionals, so they're on the ground, as we like to say, and we love to help them, give them tools and power them to help make their organizations better. So it's a fun place.

0:03:28 - Kimberly King

Oh well, I love that. And thank you for your service, by the way. And now look at you giving back. So this is all great. Today we're talking about organizational resilience. It's not something you hear about all the time, So what do you mean by that term, organizational resilience?

0:03:42 - Doctor Rodney McCurdy

Well, actually that's a good question because it is a term that's being used more, More broadly, especially since the post pandemic era. It's been applied to a lot of situations in literature. It's been used to describe really organizational survival, so organizations that no longer exist. They've closed for whatever reason financial and purchased out by acquired somewhere else. On the other end of the continuum, it's been used to describe organizations that have somehow not only survived but have thrived during these periods of disruptions. So it's been used very broadly. And I don't think that either end of the continuum helps us much.

So if we think, Kim, if I was to ask you, can you think of someone who you think of as resilient? You and I would probably think of someone who has overcome some significant challenges. Right, they've withstood, they've gone over quickly to some difficult events. There's this mental image we have of bending but not breaking, of maybe snapping back, if you've been compressed or stretched, and I think that's a good analogy.

So when we think of organizations, whether they be for-profit businesses or non-for-profit entities, we're talking about organizations that exist in this dynamic environment, an ever-changing environment, and an environment can be favorable, but it can also be very disruptive, like we experienced, and so, during periods of disruption, the organization is able to withstand, to bend, perhaps, is able to recover quickly from these disruptions. So I don't think it's realistic, as some of the literature is, to attribute resiliency only to organizations who thrived during this timeframe. But somehow, organizations who have been able to develop new procedures, develop new ways of doing business, to reconfigure, who have established new or created reshapes somehow, existing relationships with stakeholders, those type of things. And they've been able to bounce back and recover after such events. And I think that's the way. I think that's more what we think of when we think of resilience.

0:06:02 - Kimberly King

I love that. And I think of as an example even in the university level. You're going online and being able to flip the script a little bit and be able to move forward on any, even restaurants that were I'm in San Diego, so when they shut them down, but then they brought them outside. So to be able to continue to thrive in those instances Is organizational resilience, more than just planning for emergencies or catastrophic events?

0:06:34 - Doctor Rodney McCurdy

Well, you know, I think that that's definitely part of it, right? I think that planning and being as prepared as possible for disasters or for downturns in the economy or for whatever might be threatening your organization, I think it's definitely a part of it. But I don't think having a plan in and of itself is resilience, right. We know a lot of plans. There are a lot of plans that exist. Many sit on the shelves that are not used. Strategic and operational planning is important, but I don't think it equates itself alone to resilience.

0:07:05 - Kimberly King

Okay, that makes sense. So what about - the first thing that comes to mind is the financial resources. Is resiliency more than that, than the financial viability?

0:07:16 - Doctor Rodney McCurdy

That's what we tend to think of, right, we think of organizations who had to close because of financial reasons, and I do think there are what we call structural aspects, organizational scholars, things of organizations as structures and processes, right. So I think there's structural aspects of organizations, like financial, like infrastructure, like technology, like governance, you know of the organization, that definitely contribute to resilience. I think there's procedural or process aspects that contribute to resilience how the, how the organization conducts his activities right can contribute to resilience. But you know, I think it's more than these things, I think it's a, I think it's an, an attribute or a characteristic, if you will right. I think resilience is an adjective, a resilient organization, as opposed to a noun, and so I think, in addition to having sound structural and sound, sound procedural components, a major component is resilience as a characteristic or a trait that ultimately is able to distinguish that, or to distinguish that organization as being able to bounce back, continue operations, persevere through, maybe even by modifying or doing workarounds or whatever they have to do to persevere.

0:08:38 - Kimberly King

Okay, that makes sense too. Is organizational resiliency different from strategic planning or strategic management?

0:08:48 - Doctor Rodney McCurdy

Well, I think there's a lot of overlaps. I think there's a lot of overlaps in these functions. And, in fact, several of the ones you've asked about emergency planning, finance, strategy. They're all important. And strategy is important for organizational success right, establishing goals, aligning resources and capabilities to achieve those goals, being alert to market conditions and trends you know in the market and taking advantages of opportunities. That's all important.

When I think of organizational resilience, I’m not thinking about, I’m not thinking about a program or an office you know in the or function in the organization. I'm thinking about capitalizing on what is unique about that organization. And when I get to it, I mean that organizations are comprised of people. And for the most part, you know some more than others, but for the most part they're comprised of people. And so organizations are social systems. And while our eternal environment is dynamic, our internal environment in that social system is also just as dynamic. It's constantly changing. It's just learning, it's forgetting, perhaps it's developing good habits, it's becoming more efficient, more productive, hopefully, or maybe the opposite, right? And so, because it's a social system, organizations have the potential to change, to become more resilient or less resilient as a result of this dynamic.

0:10:20 - Kimberly King

How does approaching those organizations as social systems, as you say? How does that help a leader develop resilience in his or her organization?

0:10:32 - Doctor Rodney McCurdy

Well, we are definitely making it more complicated, right? So I understand that. Organizations are complicated, because organizations are comprised of people, and people are complex, right? So it's no accident that in the organizational field that I'm in organizational scholarship one of the most popular and fastest growing topics is organizations as complex adaptive systems. So it's one of the many reasons why you can take something well known like, for example, lean or some other quality improvement program. You can take that program, which is well established. You can put it in two different, two organizations that appear to be exactly the same. They have the same sort of resources, they have the same skill sets of the people who work in there. They do the same things. You can use the same trainers, but you get to wildly different, right, wildly different results from those implementation projects. And that's because the context of each organization is unique.

And since industrialization began, since the adoption of scientific method, we've had a linear cause and effect methods for management and direction and control. We've approached organizations the same way. We do most things, most complex things. We break it down into parts. Right, that's how we examine and study things. We break it down into manageable parts, and management theories for years have reduced organizations from its complicated tangle of connections and knowledge and information flows, down to specific components or functions or departments within the organization in order to improve quality and performance, right?

And don't get me wrong, that's not necessarily wrong. What I'm saying is, though, is when we focus on parts, and when we focus on incremental improvements to a part or some parts of the organization, then we can miss what may be happening on the organization as a whole, on the aggregate. And so it's very common, when you get together and we work in groups or teams for an activity to address a problem, right, it's very common for us to hear someone would say you know, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, right, meaning that through our interaction, through our brainstorming together, through our feeding off of each other's ideas and the feedback loops, we can arrive at a better solution than if we, than if we, tackled the problem on our own.

0:13:14 - Kimberly King

Oh, I love that. So I guess our organizations do have to be introspective and honest with themselves to embrace change when something needs updating, or if they have to pivot to stay relevant, is that right?

0:13:27 - Doctor Rodney McCurdy

I think change is always a difficult thing because one of the reasons why is because we have these patterns that are established in our universe, in our organizations. They have these patterns of relationships, how we interact and how information and knowledge flows. You know, within the organization is established patterns. In a lot of times when we introduce change, we sort of disrupt those patterns. So we can definitely make resistance to them.

0:13:55 - Kimberly King

Okay, and then what about- how can leaders and managers help organizations to become more resilient?

0:14:04 - Doctor Rodney McCurdy

I think it's understanding what's unique about their organization right. Understanding that how information and knowledge flows through your organization will be unique and it won't just be top-down. Understanding how people are connected through both their official and unofficial roles, how they interact with each other and the performance of their activities and their jobs and, in other ways, how encouraging how that information and knowledge networks flows, right? And using those to create what we call plan resilience and adaptive capacity through that flow of information and knowledge in the networks.

0:14:52 - Kimberly King

I love it. This is really interesting information and I can hear your military background really enhance what you're doing today, so I think it all comes hand in hand. Right now we have to take a quick break, but stay with us more. In just a moment, don't go away. And now back to our interview with National University's Dr. Rodney McCurdy, and we're talking about building organizational resilience. And so, Dr., it's so interesting, this information. I do want to go back to the two of the characteristics that you stressed, which is planned resilience and adaptive capacity. On the surface, these sound contradictory. Can you explain that?

0:15:32 - Doctor Rodney McCurdy

Sure, thank you, and please call me Rodney. By plan resilience I mean that your organization if you're talking about organization or department, you've identified those key activities, key processes that your organization needs to do to ensure it performs. Everyone's involved in those activities, either supplying those activities or using those activities, where they are in the chain, the value chain, come together, they brainstorm where disruptions could occur, right in that activity, in that process. And so, for example, we can readily, we can easily think of them, everyday things right, the computer system goes down, the internet goes out, there's a key worker who has that specific, unique knowledge or skill set, that person's out for an extended absence, right? There's an important supply or suppliers, the supply chain has been disrupted, things like that, scenarios that we can readily identify as being showstoppers. Then everybody works out a plan, everybody works out the plan. What can we do to work around those things, those disruptions, to minimize them? Alternative processes, work arounds, things like that, and so these strategies may not be optimal, they may not be the most efficient way and may not be better than your normal activities. But we're really not talking about normal activities, are we? We're talking about unique circumstances that hopefully don't come wrong, very often Major disruptions. How can you keep performing during those periods of major disruptions? And so when you get people thinking about those things, walking through maybe those things, practicing those things, then you have an organization that's better, more able to anticipate what's going to happen should that event occur, right? And who knows, maybe the organization would learn a better way of doing things by practicing maybe some of these alternatives, right? So that's what I mean by. That's what I mean by planned resilience.

Now, adaptive capacity when I mean, I’m referring to that information and knowledge flow through the organization that we talked about earlier. Right, because the organization exists. We're not creating it from scratch. It already exists. There's already a pattern of networks, channels of information flows back and forth among people in the organization.

There's behavior patterns, what have been established, either formally or informally, how people work and coordinate together. All that has been established and is in process. The even motivations differ for how and when information flows into who, right? So when we talk about developing adaptive capacity, we're recognizing that individuals are important in that part, as they play in the information and knowledge flow. And so when they interact with each other, either officially or unofficially, knowledge and information flows, and it doesn't all flow to everyone at the same time, it doesn't necessarily always flow to where it needs to flow, at the right time, right? And so adaptive capacity is just, is taking advantage of that uniquely human aspect of our organizations and increasing, increasing situational awareness and coordination in those interactions right, so that information and knowledge can flow when it needs to flow, and even creating channels of information flow that don't exist right now that maybe should exist should problems happen.

0:19:21 - Kimberly King

And it's interesting, you know, kind of going back on piggybacking on that planned resilience and you're talking about, you know, like practicing. My son is a police officer and just graduated from the academy. Yes, and one of the key elements, which I'm sure military as well they do see scenarios where you know they give them so many different things to walk into because of you know what's happening in our world. And I think we all could learn a lot businesses, schools about just going over scenarios that are life. You know, this happens in life and we're not always talking about that. So I think it gives you, you know, a little bit of an edge because you have some experience now, so I think that's great. The concept of organizational resilience seems to downplay traditional leadership and management theories and methods that focus on efficiency and cost savings. Is this accurate?

0:20:20 - Doctor Rodney McCurdy

Not exactly, I don't think. I think you lose to something you were just talking about, Kim. Efficiency and productivity, striving to increase value in our organizations is definitely important, right, and many of these methods that we use, like lean that we were talking about earlier and things like that, build on some of these capacities and the organizations that we've been talking about. In lean, there's the, there's the Kaizen principle, where equality huddles and continuous improvement, where people come together quickly, you know, to address issues and brainstorm issues with there's a quality or efficiency problem, right, and I think this is important.

But I think sometimes the emphasis in our organizations and the focus, as we were alluding to, can be so much on efficiency and productivity, elimination of waste reduction and things like that, all important, but it can be so that can be such the focus of our interactions that our situational awareness is sort of concentrated just on that, right, and so opportunities to pick up cues from our internal external environment may be of potential problems, potential threats could be, could be not there because of our focus strictly on efficiency and productivity.

So I think the concept of organizational resilience reminds us that, first, that organizations don't operate in a vacuum, right, those processes that we use and all these things we use for quality improvement, things they really don't factor in all those external things that can be happening that the organization is exposed to right. Rarely do organizations operate as linear as the methods that we use to portray them right or talk to them about. So it encourages us to incorporate an awareness of these potential disruptions that may be unforeseen and incorporate that situational awareness into our communications and our communication channels.

0:22:30 - Kimberly King

Interesting. How can leaders and managers build these qualities into their organizations? do best practices or strategies exist to help?

0:22:41 - Doctor Rodney McCurdy

Well, I certainly think now, post pandemic, that the literature is beginning to capture and collect potential best practices.

For sure, we're seeing more and more things like case studies, for example, the case study of an organization during the pandemic that established a command post, sort of operation right to better coordinate the flow of information and activities during these times of disruptions.

There's examples of organizations responding by expanding on that quality culture that they have, so their quality huddles and their quality rounds, concepts. They just expanded that to include addressing situations of disruptions, right? Things like that and value stream mapping, which is a common tool for efficiency and productivity improvement methods. Some organizations have started to use or are using the value stream map, the mapping of their activities, not for focusing on efficiency, but for focusing on areas where there's potential disruptions to those processes. So I think the evidence is building and there will be opportunities to learn best practices and, as this evidence and becomes more, more available, several of our doctoral students in our Health Administration program are now post COVID. They are examining their organizations and in this response to COVID through this lens of organizational resilience, and so I think that more evidence and more examples will be available soon.

0:24:17 - Kimberly King

It's a fascinating time and what a relevant topic you have during post pandemic and, yeah, now's the time for people to really figure out what worked and what didn't. You stress the importance of situational awareness at all levels of the organization, but can you give an example or an illustration of how it contributes to organizational resilience?

0:24:39 - Doctor Rodney McCurdy

So I'll try but realizing it may be over simplifying things, right?

So let's just say, someone in that organization, in your organization, someone has probably noticed that let's say that certain supplier of a key product that you use has been late for the last couple deliveries, right?

For example, maybe that person works in the receiving as part of procurement or whatever, and through their interactions, maybe they meet regularly with the same delivery person that that delivers those supplies and through their interactions or bantering or whatever, there's this realization that there's potential problems and concerns and some that supplier about what's happening in their organizations. Right, I think we underestimate the amount of information and potential information that our frontline, our frontline staff who are, who are really more connected to our external stakeholders, right, than many of us are, and so they'll typically be aware of these problems before you know, before, definitely those in the C-suite do, and so we want to incorporate an awareness of okay, how can this information, is it important, could it be potentially be important, and how can it flow to who it needs to get to so that an organization can be maybe proactive or someone can deal with that issue more comprehensively, for example.

0:26:13 - Kimberly King

Okay, that makes sense. I'm curious about how you anticipate the changing workplace dynamics and I guess, for example, more remote work, and how that impacts organizational resilience.

0:26:24 - Doctor Rodney McCurdy

You know, I think I enjoy remote work. I work in a remote, you know, work environment. But I do think it's a challenge. And it's a challenge because, even though, even though information and knowledge still flows in the organization, our organization, our interactions may be more constrained, right, so we may only be really being together for short periods of time during the day, for that time period is very tightly scripted, with agendas and things to achieve. Of course, I also think there's potential for less interaction across programs and across departments by your members of your organization, right, because people just aren't connecting as frequently and as spontaneously and as diversely as has been happening, either in the break room or in the coffee pot. You know coffee aisle. My favorite place was the coffee pot because that's where you got all the information at, right?

And so yeah, and so I think we're gonna have to be very deliberate and strategic in and how information and knowledge flows in our virtual organizations. How can we allow those channels to encourage and build not only efficiency but also plan resilience and adaptive capacity?

0:27:47 - Kimberly King

So we have - oh go ahead.

0:27:50 - Doctor Rodney McCurdy

Can I say something? Another thing that really concerns me from the organizational resilience and you don't hear a lot about it is the turnover. Organizations across all aspects of society. Right, I’ve been undergoing a lot of turnover, and there's many reasons for that, of course, but I don't think we've discussed yet what it means for an organizational resilience. All that turnover I mean every time. Every time an individual leaves the organization and a new individual enters, the patterns, the patterns of interactions, connections, information and knowledge flow changes, and so I don't think there's any empirical evidence, I don't think there's any empirical studies out there on this yet, but it doesn't take much to sort of hypothesize that a high rate of turnover should probably disrupts that information and knowledge flow and could surely somehow impact organizational resilience.

0:28:54 - Kimberly King

Yeah, I really actually didn't think about that. I think that's a really good point with the turnover and boy is that happening at record pace now. So it's important to have those human connections with each other in person, not just through remote work. But what can we do to make sure those ideas still flow and doing that remote work?

0:29:15 - Doctor Rodney McCurdy

Well, I think there's a lot of attempts. I don't know organizations have been very doing these open. You know they call different things, for example these get-togethers or town halls and things like that and keeping those channels open. I think just sort of trying to incorporate a situational awareness, if you will, into all of our regular correspondence, Like make it a way of doing work as well. So, for example, in our regular meetings, bringing up is anybody noticing any problems? or just, I guess, sort of anticipating that disruptions can occur and making opportunity, making space in our time for communications, interactions, for those issues to come up.

0:30:06 - Kimberly King

Okay, thank you. So we have explored a complicated topic today, but it's so interesting and, as I mentioned earlier, it's so relevant. But, given the short time we have left, what are the main points you'd like to our listeners to take away on this topic of organizational resilience?

0:30:24 - Doctor Rodney McCurdy

Cam, you would be a good management professor because you want me to take a topic as complicated as organizational resilience and break it down to a few points, i get it.

That's what we do, right, that's what we do. So I guess I would encourage organizational leaders to first remember that the organization, their organization, is unique and that's not just a cliche. They're unique because it's comprised of people. The patterns of communication and flows of information and knowledge and interactions through that organization is unique. So rarely will an off-the-shelf or consultant supplied fix adequately fit your organization. And those are coming and they're probably already starting to come and come and roll out, right, just be aware of that.

And there's just like Lean, that somehow needs to be more adaptable to the unique aspects of organizations for them to really be productive. So, too much, anything that that deals with organizational resilience needs to take the uniqueness of the organization into perspective. Second, i'd say that someone in your organization knows something that you probably should know and knowing is knowing it before you, right. And so, as you focus on efficiency and quality and productivity in your organizations, work to build, plan resilience and adaptive capacity into how your folks work and interact with each other, right. And lastly, i would lastly, i guess I would say, plan for resilience as you would plan your capital budgeting, as you would go through your organizational strategy right. The payoff may not be as immediate as some of these other things that you're working on, but we know that disruptions in our environment will come, and so planning for resilience is it will be something you'd be glad you did.

0:32:28 - Kimberly King

Great advice. I love it. This has been so interesting, doctor. Thank you so much for your time and, if you, want more. Thank you. If you have more, want more information, you can visit National University's website, that is, and we look forward to your next visit.

0:32:44 - Doctor Rodney McCurdy

Thank you, Kim, so much for inviting me and for allowing me to talk about this with you.

0:32:49 - Kimberly King

Thank you. You've been listening to the National University podcast. For updates on future or past guests, visit us at You can also follow us on social media. Thanks for listening.

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Show Quotables

"Organizations have the potential to change, to become more resilient or less resilient." - Rodney McCurdy Click to Tweet
"[We] have to be very deliberate & strategic in and how information & knowledge flows in our virtual organizations. How can we allow those channels to encourage and build not only efficiency but also plan resilience & adaptive capacity?" -Rodney McCurdy Click to Tweet