From resilient leadership to leadership for resilience

This blog is the second of a four-part series exploring  how a growing focus on resilience will impact different areas of place  branding, from reputation management to placemaking and more.

PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3

It may seem like the rollercoaster ride of the past twelve months promises to continue indefinitely. However, the fact remains that one day – however long that may take – we will emerge from this crisis. There will be behavioural changes, of course. People may never return to work in the office in the same way. Wellbeing and a more sustainable way of life may become the ley drivers. And organisations around the world are waking up to the importance of ‘resiliency’.

We talked last week about the importance of having reputational resilience as a place brand or marketing organisation, but of course, this is only one facet of the solution. You have to be able to secure the future of your own organisation to be able to continue delivering on your place brand and place marketing success.

There are three key areas that we’re going to look at in this article: leadership; organisational structure; and securing your funding revenues. All three areas are critical to delivering a resilient organisation that will be capable of withstanding future shocks and crises.

Resilient leadership vs. leadership for resilience

The Resilient Cities Network draws a line between two aspects of leadership – personal resilience, and leadership that encourages resilience.

  • Personal resilience includes the traits that you’d commonly imagine when thinking about a successful CEO or Director. Being able to handle setbacks, for example, as well as emotional maturity, the ability to reflect and learn from you experiences.
  • Leadership that encourages resilience is the outward effects that generate a more resilient company – such as supporting the wellbeing of your colleagues, being transparent and honest, and understanding when to step back and let others lead.

While personal resilience is essential in avoiding burn out (don’t forget to make sure you look after yourselves!), leading a resilient organisation is essential to recovering quickly from a crisis. Plus, if you empower your team to lead calmly and engender trust, then you can also remove some of the stresses on your own plate during a crisis!

In a very real sense, there’s little that can be done to build resilience during a crisis: teaching someone to swim when they’re already miles from the shore is an extremely risky business. On the other hand, through a constant stream of small, meaningful interactions during times of calm you can ensure that all your team members have the skills needed for when they found themselves halfway out to sea.

The building blocks of a resilient organisation

What, then, are the aspects you need to be exploring so that you can create a resilient organisation?

Open, honest communication with your team: 

Culture is a huge part of retaining talent in the long run, but during a crisis, it’s becomes critical. As a leader of a team or an organisation, it can be hard to admit that you’re uncertain about the future but by leading by example, you help to foster an environment where your team are more able to reach out and support one another during times of stress. However, as a leader, containing anxiety is equally crucial. It can be a very fine line to walk.

“I’m trying to do as much pastoral work as I can to motivate people, to not be hard on them. To push and to drive, but not to break,” explained Craig Kesson, Executive Director, Chief Data Officer and Chief Resilience Officer, City of Cape Town to the Resilient Cities Network. “These people, who’ve been with me through several crises, if I express a frustration, I can see they think, ‘Is he asking me to come in and support him?’ So I’m very clear to say, ‘This is not making me fall apart. I just need to express this, and you need to hear it. And now I’ve got it off my chest and I’ve let it go.’”

Being transparent in your actions: 

Equally, being honest with your stakeholders helps them to understand the measures that you’re taking to counter a crisis. “The SARS crisis has taught us the importance of frequent and transparent communications with both our industry partners and visitors from the onset of the crisis,” shared Keith Tan, CEO of the Singapore Tourism Board. But this is equally invaluable outside of a crisis – the more that your partners understand about the work you’re doing – particularly behind the scenes – the easier it becomes for them to understand the value of your organisation.

Cross-skill and break down silos between teams:

Audit your team to understand what’s absolutely critical to the bare bones of your work. What roles do you actually need? Who can you manage without? Who are you missing?

“Our agency structure that we’ve revised over the past few years is very scalable,” outlined Dana Young, CEO at Visit Florida. “That’s allowed us through very good times and very rough times to keep the same agencies in place and do the same type of projects with them but in a scaled way depending on the environment. With the staff now working remotely, we are very focussed on communication, and making sure that we’re communicating across silos, and that everything is done for the accomplishment of our mission.”

Prioritise skills over seniority: 

“It’s amazing how people rally together during a crisis. People who used to say, ‘That’s not my job,’ suddenly pop up with skills you never knew about,” enthused Leigh Dawber, CMO of Cape Town Tourism. “I’ve been unbelievably surprised and grateful for our team, and we’ve found new ways of working which make the best of everyone’s abilities, even though we’re not operating with a full team at the moment.”

When you’re running short of staff, being able to identify the key skills in your team is critical – even if that means temporarily transferring people between teams to help plug the gaps. Outside of a crisis, this also helps you to be a stronger organisation. Being able to rearrange the skillsets in your organisations as needed allows you much greater flexibility in your strategies, and also promotes better communication and collaboration between teams.

And, of course, secure your funding for the future.

Funding is at the top of mind for destination marketing, economic development, and place branding organisations around the world right now. In our 2021 research report on the evolution on place brand  strategies, we found that while tourism had definitely seen greatest reductions to their funding. However, the last twelve months have at least proven one thing: tourism is a vital economic driver. Now, we need to tie it into the broader picture of economic development to help secure its funding.

That said, a full 64% of respondents were working to change their funding structures. While tourism organisations have certainly been the hardest hit, the vulnerability of funding structures has been exposed and many place organisations are looking to diversify their revenue streams to provide more stability in the future.

To our minds, there are three key aspects to developing resilient funding: careful management of budgets; advocating for your organisation; and innovation. To an extent, we’ve touched on the first aspect in some of our previous points – such as auditing your organisation to understand the critical roles in delivering your base level services. More broadly, few people – if any – manage to get to a senior leadership role without being able to allocate budget responsibly.

The key to increasing your resiliency, then, rests on your advocacy and being innovative in your strategies to unearth new funding streams.

Advocating for the value of your organisation

We’ve spoken before about the importance of speaking your government’s language to secure their support in your strategies, but you also need to be speaking to your private sector and to your citizens.

“There are no end of people who want to see their country be more successful and want to help it – and they’re often more than happy to do that on a pro bono basis,” shared Dan Ramsay, Director of the GREAT Britain campaign.

For the private sector, driving positive growth in your place creates better quality of life for their employees, and for those in the hospitality sector, more opportunities for visitors to engage with. It is perhaps easier for them to connect your work to their own positive outcomes; this could explain why economic development organisations suggested that advocacy was lower on their list of priorities than tourism organisations in our research. For destination marketing organisations, however, persuading citizens of the value and benefits of tourism came out as a top priority.

It is never too early to start collecting the data and the case studies that support your work. “If they question the value of marketing,” Caroline Beteta, the President and CEO of Visit California, told us, “we can provide case studies of destinations that stopped marketing and saw an immediate decline in visitation, jobs, and taxes.”

We’ll be continuing the conversation on the role of advocacy in our upcoming round table discussion for Connections members later this month, but the better picture you can paint of the ways in which tourism and economic development drive positive growth in your area, the less hard you have to fight to prove your value. And that will be instrumental in creating new revenue opportunities and ensuring the continued support from your existing funders.

Innovative approaches to securing new funding opportunities

If you can diversify your funding streams, your organisation is less at risk if one of those streams is hit in anyway. Below, we’ve shared a few the ways that place branding organisations have been thinking outside of the box to create new revenue opportunities.

Inviting companies to sponsor digital space:  “We’ve made deals with the Discovery Channel so that we can have TV space and digital space, and we use this to sell sponsorship to automotive companies, retail companies – any private company with an interest in promoting Mexico,” explained Carlos Gonzalez, Director of Visit Mexico.

Leveraging tourism tax to drive resilience: The Slovenian Tourist Board has added an additional promotion tax to the existing tourism tax. This revenue goes directly to the tourism board to support the planning and implementation of future promotional activities.

Cashing in on the future of our cities: “We’re looking at how we can be more proactive with securing grants which is something that we’ve never looked at before. But we’re also looking forwards to understand how people will be changing the way that they live and what space we can fill within that,” outlined Cilia Kohn, Director of Marketing for Grand Junction Economic Partnership.  “For example, it seems likely that digital nomads will be much more common. We’re looking at creating new opportunities for a digital workforce that can also become another funding stream for us, while creating the services we’ll need to remain competitive.”

As with all the areas we’ve discussed, the key is to start planning these measures now. If you’re launching an advocacy programme to drive more sponsorship from your private sector, it will take time to build the emotional foundation that will lead them to support your work. And if you’re planning for a more policy-driven approach, that too can take time to get cleared through the varying levels of government bureaucracy.

Related reading:

How do you create a resilient place reputation

Eight crucial success factors for places looking to work smarter

Four findings from the 2021 place branding survey

COVID-19, leadership, and the impact on nation branding

How hosting COP26 is cementing Glasgow's green credentials

'Hear, here': the sound of place branding

The true damage of COVID-19 to nation brands

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The Place Brand Portfolio is City Nation Place's searchable portfolio of Awards case studies from the past five years.