3 ways to build resilience in the face of climate change

A new Korn Ferry report identifies three ways firms can become more resilient to make sustainability efforts last.

It’s become a common story in the news—an annual cycle so prevalent, it is easy to become immune and do nothing until directly impacted.

Wildfire after wildfire. In California, Colorado, Oregon. In Australia, Siberia, Brazil.

Despite the now-routine news coverage, this surge in wildfires is a new phenomenon. The uptick is both sign and symptom—an event that illustrates the impact of climate change, and the devastating disruptions it creates for people and organizations.

As research shows, climate change will continue to escalate over the next 20 years, and businesses, experts say, can expect to feel an impact on their operations, performance, and growth as a result. “We’re seeing increases in everything from climate refugees to supply chain disruption, so strong sustainability goals are just the tip of the quickly-melting iceberg,” says Maggie Patrick, Associate Principal in Korn Ferry’s Organizational Strategy practice.

To minimize these effects, more and more business leaders have started to embed sustainability throughout their organizations. But in its new report, When being sustainable isn’t enough, the Korn Ferry Institute suggests that even the most sustainable companies in the world will struggle to survive if they don’t also focus on one critical capability: resilience.

3 ways to foster resilience in the face of climate change

As climate change worsens, companies will need the ability to continually recover from the resulting disruption, Patrick says. This means business leaders must build resilience today for their firms to succeed in the long-term. And resilience-building strategies, Patrick adds, will enable organizations to not only anticipate climate-related challenges, but to be agile and effective when they strike.. “Every study we do reinforces the fact that resilience is the name of the game now, no matter how sustainable an organization may be,” she says. “The real game changer is understanding how to become more resilient in order to reach sustainability goals despite constant disruption.” To foster resilience in the face of climate change, executives can follow three valuable approaches:

1. Acknowledge the overwhelm

Research shows that a certain amount of stress has positive effects on performance. But constant change and ambiguity—like that presented by anticipated but unpredictable climate change disruptions—can move us beyond productive levels of stress, as the chronic stress increases the wear and tear on our minds and bodies. To manage this sense of overwhelm, and help their employees remain effective, organizations can plan for future scenarios to decrease anticipatory anxiety, build the capacity to shift people to where they are most needed, and provide resources and support to promote employee health and well-being.

2. Think holistically to build capacity for agility.

The employee lifecycle from hiring and onboarding to professional development and performance management offers multiple opportunities for organizations to encourage sustainable performance and improve resilience. It can mean attracting more adaptable candidates, adjusting compensation packages to reflect sustainability goals, or realigning responsibilities for sustainability across functions.

3. Connect with the community.

Korn Ferry research has shown that effective senior executives expand their view and recognize that no one is an island—no CEO, no company, no industry, no country. These leaders elevate their role to “humanize human and natural capital” to guide their organization’s performance and transformation in the face of external disruption. Organizations can seize the moment to shape a shared future by collaborating on disaster preparedness, broadcasting organizational sustainability values and actions, and taking a stance on climate change issues to empower courage and prepare for environmental shocks.

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