Ten ways to increase resilience

Leadership, culture, communication and risk-taking all play important roles
By Linda Hoopes
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 02/21/2017

A resilient organization is one that can sustain high levels of performance while experiencing high levels of disruption. Whether disruption comes from external forces or changes within (usually it’s a combination), employers that can avoid significant drops in performance have a significant competitive advantage over their less resilient counterparts.

Here are 10 things organizations can do to increase resilience:

Hire resilient people: Human energy — mental, physical and emotional — is the currency of organizational change. Some individuals are better prepared to manage their own responses to change than others. In hiring new employees, organizations should take the ability to operate effectively during change into account, in addition to the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to perform core job activities.

Ensure that leaders model resilience: Leader modelling is one of the most powerful forces in an organization. Making their own development process visible to others also allows them to model the process of growth and learning.

Build a resilient culture: An organization’s culture can either support or discourage effective approaches to uncertainty and change. Creating systems and processes that place a high value on adaptability, reward positive responses to adversity, and collect and share stories of resilience signal an organization’s emphasis on building strong change capability.

Communicate effectively: One of the biggest challenges people face during periods of high turbulence is the ambiguity that accompanies uncertainty. Although some degree of uncertainty always accompanies change, many organizations compound it by doing a poor job of communicating. It’s important to tell people what is known (such as facts and plans), be clear with them about what is unknown, and help them understand when and how additional information will become available to them.

Align around clear goals: When multiple sources of disruption are affecting an organization, people can become disoriented and unclear about where to spend their limited supply of energy. In the absence of guidance, each person will prioritize actions based on their own sense of urgency. When an organization can agree on a small number of critical goals, and make sure each individual is clear about how those should be reflected in his own priorities, less energy is wasted on confusion and unproductive activity.

Support risk-taking: An organization discourages risk-taking when it makes it difficult for people to try out new behaviours and tends to punish failures rather than use them as occasions for learning. This will lead people to be cautious in exploring new ideas and perspectives. During periods of significant change, this will dramatically decrease the level of adaptive behaviour people display, since operating in uncertainty requires experimentation. Organizations that consciously foster innovative approaches and take the time to learn from failure reap the benefits of greater adaptive capacity.

Increase diversity: One of the most important ingredients in dealing effectively with unfamiliar situations is a wide range of perspectives that can be used to solve problems and identify options. Organizations that proactively seek to draw in differing viewpoints, including a variety of educational and professional backgrounds, and life experiences, will reap the benefits in the quality of solutions generated.

Strengthen teamwork: Although teams do not always outperform individual efforts, ambiguity and change create conditions that maximize the benefits of teams for problem-solving and decision-making. This is only true, however, if teams use effective processes to accomplish their goals. It’s important to invest time and energy in key teams to ensure all members share a common goal, recognize interdependence, effectively influence one another, and display strong communication and critical thinking skills.

Monitor the environment: Despite an organization’s best efforts to prepare itself for turbulence, a major shock to the system will still create a huge energy drain. It’s even worse when the potential for disruption could have been foreseen, allowing time to prepare, but was overlooked. Highly resilient organizations do not turn all their energy inward; they establish a sensing function whose role is to identify trends in the financial, political and social environment that could have an impact on the organization.

Build slack into the system: Human energy is a finite resource. For this reason, resilient organizations keep some reserves. Rather than taking on every new initiative that seems promising, taxing the organization to its limits as a matter of course, they ensure people have at least a small amount of time and energy that is not committed. This serves as a source of creativity when things are going relatively smoothly, but can be recruited into action on an urgent priority when needed.

Linda Hoopes is founder and president of Resilience Alliance in Decatur, Ga., which helps organizations and individuals thrive in turbulence. She can be reached at linda@resiliencealliance.com. This article was originally published by TidalShift, a performance-focused learning and development firm. For more information, visit www.tidalshift.ca.

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