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Organizational resilience and the challenge for


human resource management:
Conceptualizations and frameworks for theory
and practice
CONFERENCE PAPER JULY 2014
DOI: 10.5176/2251-2349_HRMPD14.09

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Organizational resilience and the challenge for


human resource management:
Conceptualizations and frameworks for theory and practice
Marcus Ho
Stephen T.T. Teo
Tim Bentley
New Zealand Work Research Institute and Department
of Management
Auckland University of Technology
Auckland, New Zealand
Marcus.ho@aut.ac.nz

Martie-Louise Verreyne
School of Business
Faculty of Business, Economics and Law
University of Queensland
Brisbane, Australia

AbstractOrganizational resilience is an increasingly


important characteristic for organizations. The notion of
organizational resilience has only recently taken root in the
human resource literature. However, diverse perspectives and
definitions have impeded the utility of this construct for
organizational research and practice. In this study, we
conducted three analysis utilizing content analysis with
Leximancer software to examine how organizational resilience
has been conceptualized in the social sciences literature and
examine its implications for human resource management.
Our analysis suggests that organizational resilience is linked
with understanding process and capabilities of the
organization in order to respond to uncertain and potentially
disruptive crises and events. Implications for theory and
practice are discussed.

organizations respond to external shocks and disruptions [810]. As with many concepts that have been examined and
utilized by diverse multi-disciplinary perspectives, there is
neither consensus on what organizational resilience is nor
agreement on its underlying nature and characteristics.

Keywords-Organizational resilience; Human resource


management;Strategic human resource management;
Organizational capabilities

I.

INTRODUCTION

Global estimates of the cost of crisis from natural


disasters in 2011 conservatively put the total at around
US$366.1 billion [1]. In addition, economic crisis such as
the global recession have far-reaching consequences which
permeate all aspects of organizational, social and economic
life [2, 3]. The increasing disruptions to organizational life
through natural disasters or economic crises have increased
awareness of the importance of resilience for organizations
and its employees. Organizational resilience is thought to be
important in how organizations respond to external events
and highly dynamic environments. The concept of resilience
originated from diverse fields such as psychology,
environmental ecology and disaster management [4-7].
Consequently, the concept of resilience has permeated
various fields such as crisis-disaster management and
organizational studies as a way to understand how

Peter Galvin
Graduate School of Business
Curtin Business School
Perth City Campus
Perth, Australia

Lengnick-Hall and colleagues [11, 12] were one of the


first scholars to suggest that human resource management
(HRM) could promote and benefit from organizational
resilience. Building on work by Sutcliffe and Vogus [10],
Lengnick-Hall et al describe organizational resilience as a
firm's ability to effectively absorb, develop situation-specific
responses to, and ultimately engage in transformative
activities to capitalize on disruptive surprises that potentially
threaten organization survival (p. 244).
They postulate
that an organization's capacity for resilience is predicated on
a set of individual level knowledge, skills, and abilities and
organizational routines and processes which enables it to
overcome the potentially debilitating consequences of a
disruptive shock [13]. Emphasizing the cognitive, behavioral
and contextual elements of their model, they posit that
strategically managing HR in the HR system will develop
resilience in organizations. Their model highlights HR
principles, HR policies, and desired employee contributions
as a way to manage an organizations capacity for resilience.
In contrast to the above model, which only focuses
attention on the HR system, Kantur and Iseri-Say [14] adds
to the cognitive and contextual elements by also specifying
the strategic aspects of organizational resilience in addition
to addressing the constituents of organizational resilience as
robustness, redundancy, resourcefulness and rapidity.
Taking an organizational perspective rather than an HRM
perspective, they further postulate that organizational
resilience leads to organizational evolvability which allows
organizations to recover, adapt/have continuity and allows

for renewal. These conceptual models provide a framework


for understanding resilience in organizations.
A major criticism of the organizational resilience
literature and its implications for HRM is the lack of
precision on its conceptualization and definition. In addition
to diverse conceptual underpinnings, there is a lack of
empirical evidence to supporting the theories and definitions
of resilience. This is perhaps not surprising considering the
scope and application of the concept to numerous contextual
and epistemological landscapes. One of the reasons for this
is the lack of agreement on the various definitions of
resilience from the literature [15]. While Lengnick-Hall et
al [12] provides a definition and conceptualization for how
organizational resilience and HRM are interrelated, their
definition is broad due to the above issues. This has lead to
Bhamra, Dani and Burnard [15] to urge researchers to
transcend all contexts and untangle the complexities
involved (p.5389).
The purpose of this paper is to map how organizational
resilience has been conceptualized in the extant social
sciences literature and to extend and develop a framework
for understanding organizational resilience for HRM. To
this end, we utilize content analysis using Leximancer to
address three questions of the literature on organizational
resilience, a) How has the social sciences literature
conceptualized organizational resilience; b) What are the
main research themes from that each disciplinary perspective
takes on organizational resilience and c) what are the HRM
elements that are important in organizational resilience?
II.

RESEARCH DESIGN

In order to examine the literature on organizational


resilience, content analysis utilizing Leximancer software
was utilized to analyze journal articles investigating
organizational resilience. To address the above questions,
we utilize Leximancer (ver. 4) utilizes proximity values for
text mining and artificial learning in order to automatically
identify and produce concept maps highlighting themes and
concepts of textual data [16]. Leximancer uses word
frequency and co-occurrence of data that is then aggregated
to identify families of terms and words that tend to be used
together in the data. In this way, a content analysis can be
made that produces semantic and relational analysis of cooccurrence information by statistical algorithm as well as
employing nonlinear dynamics and machine learning with
robust validity and reliability [17, 18].
A. Method
We utilized four databases (Scopus, Google Scholar,
ProQuest, and Web of knowledge) using the search term
organizational resilience as a keyword to collect the
journal articles that would form the basis for the analysis.
The databases were further limited to journals and reports.
All books, summary/abstracts and inaccessible articles
(articles that did not have full text or pdfs) were eliminated
from the sample. In addition, the data was manually reduced
to articles that discussed organizational resilience. Articles
from the life sciences such as biology and physics (e.g.,

biological systems and thermodynamics utilized resilience)


were also eliminated. Articles were then cross-referenced to
eliminate double entries across the databases.
We conducted three separate analyses in order to answer
our research questions. For our first research question, we
content analyzed the literature on organizational resilience
using automatic identification of concepts by Leximancer to
determine the conceptualization of the construct from the
diverse literatures. In our exploratory analysis, minor data
cleaning was performed at each analytical step of the
analyses (for example, automatic merging of plural and
singular words (such as organization and organizations), and
removing common function words and general terms (such
as et al, results, etc) from the concept seeds. In addition, we
merged three compound concepts from separate concepts
(dynamic capabilities, competitive advantage and
organizational resilience).
Second, we comparatively
analyzed the themes of organizational resilience from the
various disciplines. All articles were manually categorized
by a research assistant into major disciplinary perspectives
and approaches. Folders were then tagged in the analysis so
that representation of themes proximity and co-occurrence of
concepts can be can be automatically analyzed by
Leximancer. The thematic analysis weights concepts to their
folders and thus presents a visual comparison of the dataset.
Lastly, we conducted a focused analysis of organizational
resilience on the human resource elements. For this analysis,
we utilized the user-defined concepts in Leximancer to
specify human resource concepts using concepts of human
resources and human resource management to investigate
the human resource implications of organizational resilience
research.
III.

RESULTS

We firstly report on the descriptive analysis of the data


collection. Table I displays the initial search and the final
results for the data collection after the search criteria were
defined.
TABLE I.
Sources
Google Scholar
Scopus
Web of Knowledge
ProQuest

SOURCES AND SEARCH RESULTS OF ARTICLES


Number of initial
journals
107,000
142
43
38
Total

Final number for


analysis
69
27
22
38
156

A total of 156 articles1 were used as the final dataset of


the analysis categorized into nine categories (Dynamic
capabilities, sustainable innovation, attitudes-values,
transformation (tourism), emergency planning, crisis-disaster
management, business continuity and organizational
flexibility). Table II displays the final categorization of
articles and number. We utilized the categorizations for
1
Reference list of the articles in the final dataset is available from the lead
author on request

analysis two to comparatively examine how organizational


resilience was conceptualized.
TABLE II.

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9

CATEGORIZED DISCIPLINARY APPROACHES TO


ORGANIZATIONAL RESILIENCE

Discipline
Organization Resilience
Dynamic capabilities
Transformation
Attitude
Business Continuity
Crisis-Disaster Management
Emergency Planning
Sustainable innovation
Organizational flexibility
Total

No of citations
22
55
8
8
5
28
6
8
16
156

A. Automatic content analysis: How has the literature


conceptualized organizational resilience?
For the overall dataset, Leximancer provided an
exploratory identification of the major themes of the dataset.
The major themes can be seen in the concept map (Figure 1).
Figure 1 displays the exploratory concept map. The concept
map displays preserved the initial concept theme size (40%)
and thematic concepts are shown. These separate analyses
allowed a much greater detail to be examined about the
conceptual nature and concept relationships in each
individual period without relational forcing in the overall
analysis [19]. Figure 1 displays the visual concept map of
the overall analysis.

Figure 1. Overall concept map

The main themes that emerge from the analysis in order


of importance or centrality were: capabilities (made up of
concepts: capabilities, dynamic, dynamic and capabilities,
resource, firm, advantage, competitive, competitive and
advantage, knowledge, performance, product, strategic;
capabilities=100% connectivity- a measure of centrality, and
therefore importance, of the theme), process (organizational,
processes,
change,
environmental,
management,
development, business, research, connectivity=54%), system
(system, time, social, work, information, resilience, control,
employees, measures, policy; connectivity=20%), company
(company, industry, technology, service, economic, capital,

group, transformation; connectivity=15%), crisis (crisis, risk,


disaster, tourism, public, people, local, events, power,
happiness; connectivity=11%), model (model, effects,
analysis,
organizational
and
resilience,
task;
connectivity=8%), dispositional (dispositional, affectivity,
individuals, school; 4%).
In addition to the above thematic analysis, Leximancer
reported ranked concepts from all the literature. Table III
displays the top ten concepts from the overall analysis.
TABLE III.
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10

TOP TEN RANKED CONCEPTS: OVERALL ANALYSIS

Concept
Organizational
Capabilities
Dynamic capabilities
Processes
Resource
Change
Firm
Management
Environmental
Knowledge

Count
3895
3479
2865
2204
2059
1952
1931
1843
1617
1585

Relevance (%)
100
89
74
57
53
50
50
47
42
41

B. Comparative content analysis: What are the main


research themes from that each disciplinary perspective
takes on organizational resilience
Our next analysis required that the dataset be categorized
by the research approach. By auto-tagging the categorized
folders in the analysis, a visual comparison can be made
showing the weighted concepts with each perspective that
appear in the dataset. Our results show that approaches
utilizing dynamic capabilities perspective were grouped
around capabilities theme (capabilities, dynamic, dynamic
and capabilities, resources, firms, advantage, competitive,
competitive and advantage, product, strategic, learning,
market, innovation, technology; connectivity=100%);
sustainable innovation around the organizational theme
(organizational, processes, organizations, management,
change, environmental, performance, knowledge, research,
business, development, model, industry, strategy, value,
social, approach, effects, analysis, opportunities, capital;
connectivity=99%);
organizational
flexibility
and
transformation with system (system, companies,
information, services, economic, tourism, human, quality,
public,
transformation,
policy;
connectivity=26%);
Individual resilience with affectivity (affectivity,
dispositional, work, control, resilience, employees,
happiness, individuals, people, events; connectivity=24%);
business continuity, crisis-disaster management and
emergency planning with disaster (disaster, crisis, risk,
local; connectivity=7%); and finally organizational
resilience with organizational resilience (organizational and
resilience; connectivity=1%). Figure 2 presents the visual
comparisons of the overall map from the dataset.

Figure 3. Focal Concept map of HRM

Figure 2. Comparison of approaches in the overall thematic map

Table IV lists the top ranked concepts in the comparative


analysis. As with the ranked concepts in the first analysis
(Table III), concepts have remained relatively unchanged in
this second analysis although several concepts have changed
positions and relevance due to the weights of the folders on
the concept relationships.
TABLE IV.
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10

TOP TEN RANKED CONCEPTS: COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS

Concept
Capabilities
Dynamic
Dynamic Capabilities
Organizational
Processes
Organizations
Resources
Management
Change
Firms

Count
3517
3050
2923
2219
2208
2090
1996
1920
1903
1856

Relevance (%)
28
24
23
18
18
17
16
15
15
15

C. Focused Leximancer Analysis: what are the HRM


elements that are important in organizational
resilience?
The focused analysis utilizing human resource
management as a focal concept revealed that perhaps
unsurprisingly due to the nature of the approaches in
organizational resilience that the concept human resource
management had a relevance ranking of 3% in the dataset.
Figure 3 shows the concept map of the dataset with human
resource management as a focal concept.

The main themes that emerge from the analysis in order


of importance or centrality were: capabilities (made up of
concepts: capabilities, dynamic, resources, competitive,
advantage, strategic, firm, routines, assets, markets;
connectivity=100%), management (management, human,
systems,
practices,
effective,
framework;
connectivity=39%), ability (ability, existing, capacity,
capital, opportunities; connectivity=25%), risk (risk, natural;
connectivity=24%), crisis (crisis, connectivity=9%), and
behavior (behaviour; connectivity=3%). In addition, we
report the top ten concepts in the HRM focal analysis.
Table IV displays the results of the focal HRM analysis and
corresponding counts and relevance.
Table IV displays the top ten ranked concepts of the
focal analysis revealing that human, resources, practices,
capacity and creation are the five most referred to concepts
in the literature. In addition, concept ranking revealed that
HRM as a concept came out relatively low (count: 71;
relevance=3%).
TABLE V.
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10

TOP TEN RANKED CONCEPTS: FOCAL HRM CONCEPT

Concept
Human
Resources
Practices
Capacity
Creation
Strategic
Divestment
Planning
Team
Assets

IV.

Count
71
71
71
27
14
6
21
2
4
4

Relevance (%)
11
4
4
5
2
2
2
1
1
1

DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION

Our results allow us to make several observations about


the nature, process, and outcomes of organizational
resilience and point to several avenues for its implications
for HRM. In this study, we examined, using content analysis
software, how organizational resilience has been
conceptualized in the social sciences literature. We will
firstly discuss the results around each of our research

questions including the implications for the results on


organizational resilience and HRM.
A. Organizational resilience: Nature and purpose
Our exploratory analysis was designed to examine
the concept of organizational resilience from the social
sciences literature. The results of the first exploratory
analysis of the dataset suggests that organizational resilience
is linked closely with capabilities of the organization,
organizational factors such as processes in change and
transformation (themes: capabilities and organizational).
Results of the top ranked concepts from the analysis (Table
I) confirm that the literature emphasizes organizational
processes and resources for the organization. Researchers
have conceptualized organizational resilience as a capacity
for pre-event readiness implying that organizational
resilience is a capacity or response pre and post- event [8,
20]. In contrast, others suggest that organizational resilience
is important in ever-changing dynamic environments of
which crisis [defined as low probability, high consequence
events, 21] are but an extreme form of dynamic
environments [6, 10]. Such contexts highlight the capacity
for creative response and exploitation of change as central
mechanisms to adaptation [11]. Thus, there is agreement
among the social sciences literature that in contrast to
individual conceptualizations of organizational resilience as
a capacity or response, our results suggest that collectively,
the literature is concerned with organizational resilience as
capabilities associated with strategic readiness or competitive
or environmental dynamics including the organizational
processes required to actualize the changes or adaptations
required (or forced unto the organization).
Within this
literature, the organizational process and resources, models
of resilience and organizational systems are implicated by
the various approaches. A minor finding is the peripheral
importance of the context of crisis and dispositional impact
of organizational resilience [7, 22].
Capabilities as a central theme of the literature
emphasizes organizational resilience as strategic capabilities
[6]. This has been rarely emphasized in the literature on
organizational resilience with many theorists instead
emphasizing policy level decisions, practitioner response,
capacity and/or capabilities of the firm [8, 12, 14, 15]. Such
implication may dictate that organizational resilience may be
associated with organizational capabilities that are linked to
dynamic environments and competitive advantage vis a vis
dynamic capabilities [23-25].
This suggests that
organizational resilience is not what organizations prepare
for but is related to the myriad capabilities that it develops
over the course of its organizational lifecycle into routines.
Another theme worth exploring further is the theme of
organizational within the context of change with its emphasis
on processes and resources. A number of processes and
mechanisms have been proposed to underlie organizational
resilience.
Components of organizations thought to
influence and underlie organizational resilience are human
capital such as individual resilience [7] and individual
knowledge, skills and abilities [12]; organizational
capabilities such as organizational flexibility, adaptability

and agility [26-28]; and organizational factors such as


strategy [6, 29], leadership [30, 31], and organizational
learning [32, 33]. Taken together, our results suggest that
organizational resilience may be developed over time, is
path-dependent, and is ingrained in the organizations before
the need arises [12, 14]. Our next analysis examines
organizational resilience with a comparative look at each
disciplinary emphasis.
B. Disciplinary approaches: Context and outcomes
Our second analysis comparatively analyses the main
research themes of each disciplinary perspective on
organizational resilience. Unsurprisingly, our results show
that the dynamic capabilities literature tend to emphasize
strategic and capabilities; sustainable innovation tend to
emphasis organizational processes; organizational resilience
and individual resilience tend to emphasize employees and
affectivity; organizational flexibility tend to emphasize
systems; and lastly transformation and business continuity
tend to emphasize system and disaster; and lastly crisisdisaster and emergency planning tend to emphasize disaster
as its thematic emphasis.
The comparative analysis allows an insight into the
disciplinary contexts of organizational resilience and in
conceptualizing the precepts of the concept. The results
allow us to make several comments as to the context and
outcomes of organizational resilience research. Such a
comparative analysis allows us to visually see that there are a
number of differing perspectives on what organizational
resilience is and the central concerns of each approach. One
other major finding from the comparative analysis is the
dichotomy between the conceptualization of organizational
resilience in the dynamic capabilities literature and other
literature such as emergency planning and business
continuity literatures.
One major implication from this is that it allows us to put
into context how organizational models of organizational
resilience are represented.
Lengnick-Hall, Beck, and
Lengnick-Hall [12] as previously mentioned, identified two
approaches in the literature. First, as an ability to an ability
to rebound from unexpected, stressful, adverse situations and
to pick up where they left off and secondly, as a capability or
ability of organizations to take advantage of new
environments by developing new or expand on
organizational capabilities. Their model identifies the
desired employee contributions and HR principles which
make up the HR system required for organizational capacity
for resilience and indirectly performance outcomes. In a
similar vein, Kantur and Iseri-Says [14] model expanded on
the organizational percepts of organizational resilience by
specifying the individual basis (e.g., perceptual stance and
contextual integrity), strategic and organizational factors
(such as strategic capacity and action) that lead to outcomes
such as recovery, adaptation/continuity and renewal.
While these models are generic in purpose, our
comparative results demonstrate the importance of taking
into account the multidimensionality of organizational
resilience. As discussed above, the context and outcomes of

organizational resilience are important. Aside from the


aforementioned recovery, rebounding, responding to shocks
and organizational evolution, other outcomes are implicated
including performance, innovation and change [7, 8, 34].
However, direct examination of performance outcome tends
to reflect the disciplinary approaches. Therefore a major
implication of the comparative results is that organizational
resilience may be understood by its purpose and outcomes
for the organization. For example, business continuity
perspectives have ISO standards to which organizations are
required to reach [35]. In addition, recovery and risk
assessment is often a concern for the crisis-disaster and
emergency planning approaches.
Such approaches
demonstrate the multidimensionality of organizational
resilience and its breadth. Therefore, while existing models
of organizational resilience emphasize performance or
recovery, there may be differing processes and capabilities
associated with different types of organizational resilience
based on its context and outcomes.
C. HRM and organizational resilience
Our final analysis focuses on the concept of HRM to
understand how the literature has discussed what role HRM
plays in the organizational resilience literature. Our findings
demonstrate that HRM is still a relatively little mentioned
component of organizational resilience.
When it is
mentioned, HRM is embodied in the management of ability
and capabilities in mitigating behavior and crisis [12, 36].
One implication is that the management of human resources
is key to the management or risk and threats to the
organization. The link between organizational resilience and
HRM literature could be through HRMs ability to influence
the acquirement and development of desired employee
outcomes such as through management development,
organizational training and development and recruitment and
selection of desired human capital [37-41]. Such HRM
practices play a significant role in the required ability and
capabilities of the organization to prepare, cope, and adapt to
change. These theoretical links pushes to the forefront the
need to carefully manage HRM and organizational resource
in response to dynamic and potentially disruptive
environmental changes [36, 42, 43]
A closer look at the top ranked concepts reveals the
importance of practices in the creation and development of
capacities and practices to manage resilience. Our focal
analysis supports Lengnick-Hall et als [12] model of HRM
for organizational resilience by emphasizing the role of
desired employee behaviors and the HRM system (in the
organizations policies and resources) for managing the
capacity for resilience. In this way, the results demonstrate
agreement and support for the ways in which HRM may
support
and
develop
organizational
resilience.
Organizational resilience can be seen as a cultural change
and hence, HR systems are thought to support these changes
in behaviors and structures [44-47]. The culture change
HRM literature points to the significant importance of
managerial agency and HRM practices in leading changes
such as leadership [48], HR and managements systems or
interventions [49], and work and job design [44, 45].

Furthermore, there is suggestion that the importance of


setting key performance indicators and expectations for
required behaviors for risk and threat management is
important [50, 51].
One indirect implication for the results from the focal
analysis is that the low ranking for the concept of HRM
suggests that HRM can and should continue to play a greater
part in the development and analysis of organizational
resilience. As with other scholars [14, 52], we support
efforts to include HRM as part of the analysis of
organizational resilience. In many ways, our findings from
the first two analysis reveal that organizational resilience is
part and parcel of the development of capabilities and
resources that organizations depend on.
Such
interdependencies and capabilities are dependent on the
human capital and managerial practices of the organization
[24, 53-55]. Such a focus requires not only understanding
the organizational stocks and resources of an organizations
people but also the ways in which organizations are able to
leverage the potential of these resources [56, 57].
Overall, this study has provided some basis for
conceptualizing organizational resilience and how HRM may
play a part within the organizational resilience. Following
Lengnick-Hall et al [12, 14], this study explored the
conceptualization of organizational resilience in order to
elaborate on how HRM may play a part within this important
organizational concept.
Increasingly, organizational
resilience plays an important role in the viability and
sustainability of organizations and its people. With the
documented impact of individual resilience in organizations
[31, 34, 58], organizational resilience may being to play a
more important role in theory and research. This study is
one of the first to attempt to delineate the theoretical
landscape of the concept for HRM and practice. Our
findings reveal the scope and nature of organizational
resilience in a variety of approaches and disciplines mapping
out the varieties and typologies that the term organizational
resilience has been used. In doing so, we have provided a
useful framework to being discussions of organizational
resilience and its utility for HRM.
V.

LIMITATIONS AND FUTURE RESEARCH

While the fundamental findings from this research study


provide a greater understanding of organizational resilience
for HRM, there are a few important limitations that need to
be taken into consideration. Our first limitation is the
databases we have used may not have been comprehensive
enough to cover all the disciplinary approaches to the study
of organizational resilience. While we have taken steps to
cover the four major databases in the social sciences
literature, these may not cover all the major works in the
literature on organizational resilience. Future research may
consider adding more diverse databases to the analysis.
Another major limitation in this study is the relatively
small mention of HR and HRM in the organizational
resilience literature. While our third analysis was aimed to
uncover the role of HRM in organizational resilience, the
small number of articles that mention HRMs role limits our

knowledge of how HRM may contribute to organizational


resilience. To our knowledge, Lengnick-Hall and associates
were the first to emphasize the role of HRM in building
organizational resilience. Such theorizing may be indicative
of the newness of the field rather than any real conceptual
limitation.
As more research around organizational
resilience develops, more empirical and theoretical models
will be developed. Such limitation, as mentioned above,
may mean that the scope for HRM to play may be
significant.
This study has provided a means to
conceptualize and frame organizational resilience and the
role of HRM for future research. Certainly, our analysis of
the literature demonstrates that as far as the development of
capabilities and capacities go, human resources are an
essential piece of the organizational toolbox through which
these capabilities and capacities develop [54, 59].
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