The Human Side of Resilience

by | Apr 27, 2020 | Company, Industry, Product

“Human resilience is about individual employees having the personal strength to keep moving, leaders having the perspective and skills to chart a way forward in difficult circumstances, and the organisation as a whole to have the capacity to adapt quickly and bounce back in the face of adversity.”

Julian Birkinshaw
Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship
The London Business School

For executives around the world, the primary business imperative right now is survival – maintaining core operations, keeping enough cash coming in to cover fixed costs, obtaining help from governments – seeing the crisis through. But a few months from now, once the peak has passed, attention will shift to the challenge of rebuilding and sustaining the organisation for a world that won’t look quite the same. While the shape of the future is as yet unknown, we do know that companies must learn to draw on their experience of the Coronavirus pandemic – and other disruptions throughout history – to improve and excel in the coming years.

Resiliency – the ability to withstand shocks and uncertainty, and come out better than your competitors – will be integral to not only the survival, but to the long-term prosperity of any organisation. Companies must therefore develop a form of resilience that’s not just about persevering now, but about seeing through crises and preparing to succeed in the future.

While there are operational and financial dimensions to this challenge, the area that is ultimately most important – yet often overlooked – is the human side of resilience. We have said for many years people are our greatest asset but little has been done to truly understand the intricacies of personage within the workplace. Decision makers typically do not have clarity on how people are reacting to, and performing under, the pressure of crises. This human side of resilience includes the various elements of company structure and culture, as well as the skills and attitudes of employees at every level.

In essence, resilience must not only happen at the organisational level through broad statements or policies to have a lasting impact, but it must be fully exhibited at both the individual and the leadership level level too.

Individual Resilience

“Personal resilience … is enhanced by moving away from narrow self-interest towards meaning-based behaviours such as concern for family, colleagues or society.”

Julian Birkinshaw
Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship
The London Business School

The consequences of the current pandemic for individuals are hard to foresee. In the short term people will do what it takes to keep things moving, but if countries remain in lockdown – or at least under severe travel restrictions – for many months, social isolation may become a real problem. What may be considered menial losses given the broader context: Friday night drinks, pre-meeting chatter or the humble handshake, are in reality the vital workplace rituals that foster a sense of community amongst employees. The loss of such routine and human-relation can incite a greater feeling of distance and isolation, and despondency will set in. It is therefore important to work proactively on helping your employees with their individual resilience.

Studies have highlighted some of the key attributes of individual resilience – for example retaining optimism while also accepting the realities of the situation, an ability to find meaning in work and life even when times are tough, and the capacity to improvise and adapt quickly.

Leadership Resilience
“Resilient leaders do more than bounce back – they bounce forward”
Elle Alison
Educational Leadership
It is often said that a crisis brings out the true qualities of a leader – good or bad. The greatest leaders navigate uncertainty with clarity, control and precision, engaging stakeholders, inspiring employees, and maintaining an acute awareness of both the challenges and opportunities ahead. A leader’s focus must be on what is likely to come next and preparing to overcome it. However during times of disruption, this is easier said than done – there are many traps that leaders may fall into whilst negotiating the new landscapes.

“The most effective leaders in crises ensure that someone else is managing the present well while focusing their attention on leading beyond the crisis toward a more promising future.”

Eric J. McNulty and Leonard Marcus
National Preparedness Leadership Initiative at Harvard
Consequently, it is vital to help leaders understand themselves better so they can be as effective as possible. For example, leaders have to become adept at making decisions under high levels of uncertainty, which means recognising their own biases and weaknesses, as well as being thoughtful about which sources of information to trust. Leaders also have to learn to delegate and trust others more than they did in the past, to ensure that the organisation as a whole has the capacity to react quickly in times of crisis.
Organisational Resilience
“The future belongs to those who prepare for it today. Organizational Resilience is a continual endeavour to achieve the holistic strength on which to base business success.”
Howard Kerr
CEO, BSI Group

Organisational agility has increasingly sat at the forefront of the business-world psyche as companies strive to meet the world’s ever-growing culture of instant gratification. As a result, many of today’s business operations have been built on lean agile principles: reducing waste, simplifying the chain of command, providing components and products on a ‘just in time’ basis. This approach puts efficiency ahead of reliability, which works fine as long as there are no shocks to the system.

However, in an uncertain world agile systems become fragile. As evidenced by the Coronavirus pandemic borders may close, supply-chains will stutter, customer loyalty becomes essential and suddenly to be agile isn’t enough.

Organisations must therefore rethink the principles of how to manage internal operations to make them more resilient. One useful way of framing this discussion is by looking at the attributes of “high-reliability organisations” such as power plants and aircraft carriers that cannot afford to make any mistakes at all. They put responsibility for identifying and responding to problems in the hands of those on the front lines, and they build redundancy and duplication into all their core processes.

It’s time to be more resilient…

Almost every institution and company was unprepared for the Coronavirus pandemic. The reality is that, despite hard work and extraordinary sacrifice by many people, from governments to corporates there will be adverse consequences for the next decade. Because we were not fully prepared to be resilient.
Temporall has announced its Organisational Resilience Index (ORI) to help leaders understand the human aspect of resilience.

You can read about the ORI blog here

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