Running a business can be a fulfilling experience. For business owners, their job is their passion, and each and every day is another opportunity to further their mission. Still, despite the rewards of owning and operating a business, entrepreneurs and small business owners have to contend with innumerable challenges on a daily basis.

Whether it’s creating and selling quality products, hiring strong employees, marketing their goods or building their brand, every aspect of a company requires the full attention of leadership. What’s more, to maintain profitability and navigate the day-to-day trials of business ownership, attitude is everything. As a result, resiliency is not only a desirable trait for businesses of all kinds—it’s essential.

When answering how she personally stays motivated when facing a challenge, Diana Hall, president and COO of ActivArmor said, “It's super simple. This job is my mission. I know why I was put on this planet. I know what I’m here for.”

While there are many ways to define resiliency, a recent piece in the Harvard Business Review defined resiliency as a company’s capacity to absorb stress, recover critical functionality and thrive in altered circumstances.1 In a business context, resiliency can be used broadly to refer to organizations that not only have the ability to recover from adverse events, but also learn from them.2 In recent times, the importance of resiliency has never been more apparent, as the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way organizations think about and conduct their operations.

In response to the pandemic, billions of people around the world were subject to some form of mandated social distancing, and many governments issued stay-at-home orders and shut down businesses to help slow the spread of the disease. For many operations, COVID-19 led to significant disruptions, and organizations had to quickly adapt to the pandemic in order to stay afloat. While essential businesses like hospitals, pharmacies, grocery stores and gas stations remained open during the COVID-19 pandemic, other operations deemed nonessential had shut down temporarily or changed the nature of their operations. Some businesses never reopened at all.

“COVID-19 has changed the business model for so many people,” Dahlia Rizk, founder of Buckle Me Baby Coats, said. “And the people who have done well are the ones who have been able to pivot quickly instead of continuing to do what wasn’t working.”

Still, despite the unprecedented nature of the pandemic and the economic consequences that came with it, many organizations were able to weather the storm. Not only that, but resilient businesses emerged out of the shutdowns with a greater understanding of their operations and how to ensure continuity in the face of the unpredictable.

Even without a pandemic, these days, running a successful business of any size is no small accomplishment. It takes time, effort and dedication. Each year, businesses have new and ongoing challenges to tackle. Whether it’s addressing labor trends, dealing with industry disruption, sizing up changes in consumer behavior, complying with new regulatory requirements or focusing on growth—businesses have a lot to consider. Surviving and thriving in this environment takes leadership and a resilient mindset.

But, what makes a business resilient, and how can organizations build resiliency into their core operations?

Characteristics of resilient businesses

No two businesses are alike. However, that doesn’t mean that the core characteristics of resilient businesses are all that different from one company to another. The following are some key traits of resilient businesses.

Adaptability3

One characteristic of resilient businesses is their ability to adapt to unforeseen challenges as well as changes to their operations. Without this ability, an organization may struggle when things don’t go according to plan—a common occurrence for business owners.

“One of our number one core principles is to adapt and attack,” Javier Evelyn, founder and CEO of Alerje—a Michigan-based technology company—said. “With that mentality, you can turn any loss into a lesson, and there's nothing that can stop you.”

To remain adaptable, businesses should focus on continued education.4 No matter what industry a business operates in, markets are constantly changing. As such, it’s important for business owners to never stop learning. Disruption, industry changes and new competition can all alter the way leaders think about and run their business.

“Learn the lingo,” Evelyn said. “Learning the jargon and the rules at large of any industry really allows you to adapt as quickly as possible.”

If leaders fail to stay informed on issues that impact their business, they may fall behind or—in the face of an adverse event—get caught off guard. Business owners should regularly take stock of the environment and their industry. This, in turn, allows them to be more aware of trends that impact their operations and respond accordingly.

Open-mindedness

Open-mindedness is equally important when it comes to resiliency, and business owners need to be flexible when it comes to new ideas and have the resolve to shift focus.

“As a small business, it’s critical to keep an open mind,” Hall said. “This allows you to continually refocus on the big picture and be strategic.”

This not only helps them remain resilient to foreseen and unforeseen circumstances, but it can also promote growth. Above all, organizations should find out where they can improve their business, solicit feedback whenever possible and not be afraid to change course. This can help leaders discover inefficiencies or get a new perspective on how to take their business to the next level. It’s all about having an open mind.

“Sometimes you go forward with your head down trying to fulfill your everyday needs,” Hall said. “But it’s equally important sometimes to take a break, step back and look at the forest. It's very easy to get caught up in the day-to-day of your own business. So, it’s important to take the time and space to stop and reevaluate what your environment is and how it's changed.”

Tech savviness

Investing in the right solutions can help build a more resilient business. For instance, technology can be used to monitor supply chains in real time, alerting leadership in emergency situations. Additionally, today’s analytics tools provide businesses with unparalleled access to data that can be used to manage employees, streamline operations or anticipate potential exposures. Having solutions like these in place allows leaders to assess their business and evolve accordingly, building a more resilient business in the process.5

“Make sure you look at what your strengths and weaknesses are,” Evelyn said. “It's good to know your strengths, but you want to build your team around your organization’s weaknesses.”

Leadership

In general, a business is often only as resilient as its leadership. As such, it’s important for business owners to take a top-down approach to resiliency. One way to accomplish this is by focusing on employees.

“You need to teach people how to reframe challenges,” Rizk said. “You don’t want somebody working for you who constantly looks at tasks and thinks: ‘This is impossible.’”

Employees are an organization’s greatest asset and the foundation of a resilient business. As a result, leaders need to trust their people and empower them to do their jobs. This involves clearly communicating expectations and providing them with the tools they need to succeed.6 Employees—and the organization at large—need to have defined goals and roles to play. Without clear direction, businesses can struggle to adapt to challenges that come their way.

Moving forward

For businesses, resiliency begins at the top. Leaders need to understand that disruptions and changes to their organization will occur. From there, it’s just a matter of how they respond. Do they have a plan in place to take on any challenge? Do they adopt a resilient mindset and lead by example? Do they invest in tools and solutions to make the business more resilient?

These things are crucial, as taking steps to build a more resilient business not only helps organizations navigate day-to-day challenges, but also ensures they are more prepared for the unexpected. For more business management resources, be sure to visit the Nationwide Business Solutions Center.