The resilient shipping company

What is Resilience?

One definition of resilience is ‘The ability to succeed in varying circumstances’.  A global and shipping recession clearly meets the definition of ‘changing circumstances’.

The figure below shows the ‘four cornerstones of resilience’.


The cornerstones are:-

1.       Knowing what to do when something happens.  This is either by following previous practices or being able to adjust to the new situation quickly and establishing a new ‘normal operation’. 

2.       Knowing what to look for  is being able to see the early signs that something is changing and taking timely avoiding action.

3.       Knowing what to expect.  Being able to anticipate what will happen in the future and what effect they will have on the organisation

4.       Knowing what has happened.  Being able to learn from the past

The cornerstones are unsurprising and it could be argued that they exist within the current operational model within the tanker industry.  It could also be argued that the objectives have been lost in the complexity of organisations.

Adding Value-Resilience is more than avoiding failure

The focus of ISM and many of the systems used is on avoiding incidents and disasters.  This was appropriate for the industry in the 1980’s/1990’s where this was the biggest issue.   Good operation is about generating success not just avoiding failure.  Continuing the military analogy you don’t win a war by being good at defence.  The focus on avoiding failure shines a bright light on people as being the cause of incidents and creates a defensive mentality.   A resilient organisation will be applying the same processes and skills to success as for dealing with failure.   So the learning processes should share the positive as well as the negative.

Resilience should consider Value as well as Cost, Opportunity as well as Risk.

What provides resilience?

As discussed above the cornerstones of resilience in a shipping company are recognisable.  The underlying needs to deliver resilience are more complex.  A shipping company needs the following to deliver resilience:-


An organisation needs to be agile to deal with challenges.  The organisation needs to be simple and predictable with clarity on who does what and who makes what decisions and how.  Process also needs to be simple and easy as do the systems required to deliver the process.   Change processes need to be effective and need to drive sustainable change.

Knowledge and Learning

Knowledge is critical to all the cornerstones.  This includes short, medium and long term corporate memory.  The latter is often missed.  The company who can remember the 80’s and what went right, as well as what went wrong, will have a competitive advantage.  The tools by which the knowledge grows should include risk analysis as well as investigations.  Mechanisms to capture what is going well are required as well as those which do not go well.


The human element is critical.  Not just from the competence point of view but from the behavioural side which often drives the application of competence.   Leadership style will shape the behaviours of the organisation. 


The space to think and to train onboard is critical to resilience.   If staff are employed ticking boxes then they will not be preparing for the unexpected.