The last two years were full of HR lessons – and this could be the most important: Resilience makes a difference.
It likely helped you trudge through volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. And now, resilience – the ability to cope with adversity and adapt to challenges and change – is a critical business strategy.
At work, resilience is an organization’s and its employees’ “capacity to thrive, rather than just survive, in high stress environments,” according to Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) researchers. It sounds like what organizations and their people did throughout the pandemic – from strive to thrive.
“Employee resilience has been a flaming-hot topic with plenty of new ideas. The problem with most is the notion that employees can do it themselves,” says Chris Altizer, author of Growing the Elephant – increasing earned advantage for all, and an adjunct lecturer on global leadership and management at Florida International University College of Business. “But, leaders contribute to workplace resilience when they lead with their own participation. From their own resilience, leaders can more effectively remove barriers to employee performance, improve workplace culture, and slow the great resignation.”
Even if it’s not in your actual company mission or business strategy, when you help employees improve resilience, you build a resilient organization.
But recognize this: You can’t just tell people to become more resilient – or expect it. Because resilience is partly a psychological trait and partly a variable psychological state, some people will always be naturally more resilient than others. You can’t tell people to “buck up” or “be strong” – but you can influence how resilient they can become.
Here are strategies to build organizational resilience – some through people, some through process.
Get a baseline
How resilient is your workforce? Find out the baseline, so you have a better idea of where to help employees.
It’s an 11-question survey. Employees respond to these statements on a sliding scale from “Never” to “Always.”
- I effectively collaborate with others to handle unexpected challenges at work.
- I successfully manage a high workload for long periods of time.
- I resolve crises competently at work.
- I learn from mistakes at work and improve the way I do my job.
- I re-evaluate my performance and continually improve the way I do my work.
- I effectively respond to feedback at work, even criticism.
- I seek assistance at work when I need specific resources.
- I approach managers when I need their support.
- I use change at work as an opportunity for growth.
From there, you can get a sense of employees’ levels of resilience. For instance, the more “Always” responses indicates a more resilient employee, team or organization.
Address employee top factors
Offering “resilience training” could be met with skepticism and resistance. But, you can create opportunities for development in the areas that are most critical to resilience.
CIPD researchers found these five factors predict resilience most. We’ve added training tips for each:
- Self-efficacy: That’s employees’ belief in their ability to perform tasks at a certain level. Manage it: Give front-line managers the tools and time to work with employees to set stretch goals and plan development and coaching to reach them.
- Positive affect and optimism: These are general moods such as joy, cheerfulness and enthusiasm, plus the belief in positive outcomes. This is baked into company culture. Positivity is also built on recognition. Manage it: Give employees the tools and public opportunities to recognize each other for accomplishments.
- Sense of coherence: This is a belief that what happens will be manageable, comprehensible and meaningful. Manage it: One way employers can contribute to that is with predictability – in schedules, operations and the future. Also, be transparent, so employees know what to expect. And give employees time and space to build relationships. Having a support system helps people cope when the unexpected happens.
- Social support: This is the help and advice employees get from managers or co-workers. Manage it: This can also be improved with time and space to build relationships.
- Leader–member exchange: This is the positive relationships between managers and their employees, which reduce work-related stress and increase psychologically safe spaces at work. Manage it: Hold town halls and focus groups where employees can ask leaders direct questions – and expect transparency.
Address organizational top factors
Resilient people can help make a resilient organization. But there’s more to it than that.
“Resilience … has never been tested as it has the last few years. Production pummeled, supply chains broke and service from a dwindling and exhausted workforce hit at all-time lows. The business impacts of burnout and open positions are real,” Altizer says.
“Common sense tells us resilient people make for resilient organizations and resilient organizations outperform and outlast less resilient competitors,” Altizer continues. “But, when leaders and HR people are in the same boat as their workforce, it’s hard to stop bailing the rising waters of turnover and disengagement to fix the resilience holes in the hull.”
That’s why companies that have built resilience are more apt to stay ahead. Organizational resilience helps them remain able to change strategy seamlessly, adapt for cultural shifts and move with agility through uncertainty.
To make that happen, resilient organizations have five common traits, according to the Deloitte Global Annual Readiness Report. They are:
- Prepared. Leaders continually create short- and long-term plans that take uncertainties into factor. They review those goals and priorities regularly so they can pivot if they’re off target.
- Adaptable. Leaders in the Deloitte report said employee flexibility and adaptability was the most critical factor to their organization’s success. Because of that, they hire versatile employees and reward adaptability.
- Collaborative. Leaders at resilient organizations remove silos and reward collaboration between individuals, teams and business units. Collaboration leads to faster decision-making, less risk and more innovation, researchers found.
- Trustworthy. Top organizations build trust from top down through transparency and regular communication. That means the leaders are expected to share information – the good, bad and ugly – with employees and the impact it can have on them.
- Responsible. Resilient organizations feel – and act on – a sense of responsibility to their stakeholders; employees, investors, their communities and causes. They work to balance stakeholders’ needs with business goals to remain resilient.