by Dr. Karen
Resilience is the ability to bounce back. Organizations have resilient people.
|Today’s successive whirlwind changes have put many organizations and individuals in a constant non-stop roller coaster. When this typically happens, it is high time to put more teeth in exploring the strength of a human attribute called RESILIENCE.
Resilience is defined in the dictionary as “the power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity”..
Other definitions include: “the ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyancy.”
In everyday life, resilience is the ability to bounce back, to recover, regenerate and renew one’s capabilities, re-build a healthy mindset and positive outlook after going through change hurdles in life.
A very important assumption which unfortunately is sometimes missed out is that resilience also involves the capacity of the individual to learn from the experiences, and to make a change within that would hopefully result in better and more results. This may assume that sliding back to old mindsets and behaviors should not happen.
Although many may argue against this thinking, the factor of learning and improvement would be an important element in bouncing back so as to prevent pain from taking its toll all over again in case the change experience is re-lived.
Resilience is an important attribute or characteristic to have particularly in times of uncertainty. According to Dean Robb, author of “Building a Resilient Organization,” a resilient organization is able to sustain competitive advantage over time through its capability to do two things simultaneously:
a. deliver excellent performance against current goals.
b. effectively innovate and adapt to rapid, turbulent changes in markets and technologies
He further stipulates resilient organizations exhibit certain broad characteristics. They are able to:
a. create structure, and to dissolve it;
b. provide safety (not necessarily security or stability) in the midst of change;
c. manage the emotional consequences of continuous transformation and change: anxiety and grief;
d. learn, develop and grow.
Change does not come easy. Many organizations are currently faced with constant dilemmas on how to deal with changing times. Although literature abounds with theories, how-tos, and different models and schools of thought reflecting how to adapt or embrace change, the ability of individuals within organizations to actually deal with these changes still pose quite a strain.
Very often, leadership will have to crack their minds thinking about how to initiate or position their changes to their people. We have observed that leadership is often caught between these types of dilemmas:
a. figuring out how their people will react -- will they passionately buy in to a vision for becoming world-class, or would they rather remain steady and comfortable under the mantle of “good enough”;
b. how to deal with employees’ exhaustive patience to glorify the silo thinking and put up with the structures and systems synonymous to prisons of inefficiency, versus opting to break down their own psychological “Berlin walls” and start giving life to team support and interdependence
c. would managers and leaders support the revolutionary drive to be on the cutting edge of innovation and technology or would they prefer to stay untouched and peaceful down in the pits - - faced with the everyday drudgery of the usual routine work, or struggle with a system that has reached its jurassic stage
d. would their new generation of employees profess loyalty to the company’s vision and values, or will they just tolerate indifference which may surround them, and eventually decide that the best way to deal with issues is just to leave and look for other greener pastures.
Then there is this nagging worry - would embarking on this change be the right choice for all of us, or are we taking a leap of faith not realizing that we do not actually hold the future in our hands ... and that anytime in the midst of it all, what we have set for ourselves was actually not a gateway to innovation and growth, but instead, a time bomb to start our corporate extinction?
THE PERSISTENT AGGRAVATION OF EXTERNAL FORCES
We can make the situation more confusing and critical by adding the pressures wreaked by the outside world.
Put in here the external forces -- climate change, environmental demands and global warning. Without batting an eyelash, nature sends its fury through disasters which destroys plants, buildings, houses, communities and even cities, such as the recent Japan intensity 9 earthquake and tsunami in March of 2011. Or the typhoon Ondoy in the Philippines which flooded a number of significant Metro Manila cities and towns in September 2009 causing the country billions of pesos.
We also have the 2009 economic recession which was more evolutionary in nature. From some of the economists’ perspective, the recession had its beginnings as early as in the ‘90s. Then, political changes also come in - even changes in government leaders who opt to pursue a totally different vision using different strategies and approaches.
Then, of course, there is the market -- our most unpredictable sector. The market is fickle but well-informed, selective but option-oriented, intuitive but now perceptively research-driven given the Web, and demanding but price-conscious. It also searches for quality and world-class products but may also opt for reasonably priced second-rate products.
With all these changes being hurled at people and companies simultaneously, or sometimes, in a sequence too close to each other, leaders need to be constantly vigilant and alert on how to respond.
The interesting part about all of these challenges is how leaders will have to initiate changes within their organizations to deal effectively with changes thrust on them. To complicate matters further, changes no longer seem to come in sequence or one after the other ... a number of them have become so complex and dynamic that people have to deal with the never-ending flux of changes that simultaneously occur.
The question we are therefore posing in this article is not “how Should companies respond”, but rather, what does it take for companies to develop resilience so that it can continuously respond and bounce back from one change after another?
WHAT WE NEED TO KEEP IN MIND
There are a few important assumptions we need to keep in mind before we discuss RESILIENCE.
Changes will keep happening no matter how resistant we may be. The more we resist, the more nature will force the change upon us (if not now, sooner or later).
We are capable of making changes within us to deal with the changes that beset us.
Every change we make is based on our choices - how we think, feel, act -- and there are consequences to every choice we make.
RESILIENCE IN INDIVIDUALS
Different models of how people react or respond to changes point to a set of emotions merged with behaviors which range from denial to commitment, and in between, we would have confusion, guilt, disenchantment, anger, passive and aggressive resistance.
There are 4 factors which do matter when we prepare individuals for change -- assuming that we know what changes we want to install:
a. Readiness - their mindset -- how ready are they to face the changes we are about to start? We have had insights from leaders and consultants who believe that no one can ever claim to be really ready for change. No matter how much training, information, education, pep-talks, consultation and dialogues leaders know, there will always be apprehension and anxieties (not necessarily with the change itself but more about the unpredictable issues that may erupt.)
b. Response -- how they will react -- how will they take the changes? People differ in terms of how they view the change. For some, being subjected to a change almost feels like an upheaval, an overhaul -- a change in assignment for some may be seen as uprooting while another may welcome the idea because of the mindset that “any change is better than where I am now”.
c. Resources - we are looking at two major aspects here -- those internal to the individual, and those external to them. Inner resources (those within the individual - does he or she have what it takes to survive the aftermath), internal (is the organization equipped and ready to provide support (financial, physical, psychological, etc.) External support - relationships that will cultivate a sense of teamwork and belonging -- the system that will provide a degree of comfort , support and buy-in particularly in times of crisis -- or may even be the trigger that would spark rebellion.
d. Character -- the core values and belief system in a person that would predispose his ability to bounce back, and in organizations, it will involve the organization’s ability to become intact and act as ONE to recover and bounce back. Dealing with individual resilience may be easier and more manageable. Helping an organization build resilience as ONE is a tougher and more complex issue.
RESILIENCE IN ORGANIZATIONS
Lifting from his article, Dean Robb’s perspective, he recommended that resilient organizations “integrate two domains by actively and consciously creating two subsystems: The Performance System and the Adaptation System”.
The Performance System is comprised of those company structures focused on current performance, which include:
a. Effective, efficient business processes, tightly aligned with customer needs
b. Clear boundaries, goals and performance measures for functions, teams and individuals
c. Clear relationships between individuals, managers, teams and organizations
d. An effective performance management system.
Many organizations have started working on these improvements to drive performance.
The Adaptation System’s function, on the other hand, “is to generate new life for the total organization. It generates new solutions that must be integrated into the Performance System in order to meet emerging challenges. This may require innovations in strategy, products and services, markets, processes, technologies, stakeholder relationships, behaviors, cultural characteristics, leadership and management styles, organizational forms, or anything else that will contribute to the ability of the total organization to meet adaptive challenges. “(Robb)
While the Performance system works on the nitty-gritty details of daily productivity and execution, motivation, coaching and relationship sustenance, the Adaptive System forces the issue of future, strategic long-term endurance, essence, synergy, relevance and resilience.
PERSPECTIVES TO CONSIDER
If we look at resilience from Robb’s viewpoint, resilience takes on two perspectives: the present and the future. This is rightly so mainly because the development of resilience stems from people’s encounters with the present day ordeals, trials and tests, and what they learn from them. And yet, the future also unfolds since most of their learnings are meant to be infused into future undertakings and challenges.
We also need to examine the strength involved in the development of resilience. It is most likely safe to assume that people with a weakness in character are bound to fail resilience tests mainly because of their fear of the following:
a. taking risks
b. making and owning their decisions
c. living up to the consequences of their decisions
d. facing uncertainty and daring to try something new.
On the other hand, people with strong character have the elements needed for resilience to take place within, and these are:
a. the nerve to take risks in order to get something done when options are few
b. the courage to make bold or unpopular decisions
c. taking responsibility for their actions regardless of the consequences
d. accepting the mistakes committed and developing wisdom from them
e. facing or confronting the brutal facts (lifted from Jim Collins’ Good to Great) that they need to hurdle with,
f. accepting the reality of their conditions and
g. moving forward to take a leap of faith to improve their lot.
If we translate all this into the organizational context, resilient organizations would have the capacity to recognize its strengths and its weaknesses, and leverage on their strengths while constantly improving their pitfalls.
They would take bold but smart steps in innovating their products and services more because they would always try to find where they can make a contribution. They may not necessarily fall into the fads of the day, bur rather, they would be able to balance both the practical and the innovative side in them and try to see where in their organization creative ideas apply.
Most interesting would be the possibility that they may not just consider pure cost efficiency as their main indicator for success. They would not regard people as expenses but rather as assets, and will try to keep them and not lay them off when their financials go haywire. Instead, they would find more ways of keeping their business, their people and yet managing costs, such as fixing work hours, selling physical assets which are no longer creating value, streamlining processes to increase speed and produce faster, let the technology do the drudgery work so that people can be utilized to think of how organizational problems can be solved, how more products can be researched on and innovated, more people can be mentored and coached, and so on.
There is also the perspective of balance. Overworked organizations eventually lead to chaos and burnout. Chaos may often put people in a state of imbalance and burnout can kill people’s motivation and sense of character and competence because burnout can eat the very life out of them.
Burnout people are often negative, have a pessimistic outlook of life mainly because they can no longer appreciate the achievements they have made, because of chronic fatigue. The fatigue is not only of the body but also of the mind, and the spirit. The seeds of resilience can no longer take root because of the person’s soul has become bedraggled.
HOW TO BUILD RESILIENCE IN PEOPLE
There are a few basic nuggets of wisdom on how to help people in organizations build resilience, stamina and character strength:
1. LET THEM TALK ... AND LEARN. Whenever people go through an external and internal crisis (e.g. disasters, threats of bankruptcy, and the like), it helps to put people in groups to allow them to air out and ventilate their apprehensions, anxieties and fears. The provision of opportunity for psychological air is not meant to be a gripe session. These sessions should be handled by organizational psychologists, counselors or ordinary people skilled in the art of empathic listening and the science of proactive response so that they can facilitate people’s inner processes and help them learn and develop solutions which are doable.
2. CREATE A CULTURE THAT FOCUSES ON FINDING SOLUTIONS, NOT FIXING BLAME. The act of blaming is the best killer of harmony, interpersonal strength and self-mastery. Blaming is an escape from the reality of a situation. It is an act of cowardice, spiritual frailty and a sign of being mentally inept. It is denial in the flesh and once denial exists, no problem can ever be solved. And if problems cannot be solved, no lessons can be learned, and no progress will be made. Even without a crisis, organizations should start developing a culture where people are encouraged to group together and solve problems synergistically together. There should be a sense of positivism that every problem can be solved. The behavior of blaming should be seen as an unacceptable practice and therefore re-shifted into solving problems. Leaders can influence this a great deal by compelling their people to think of solutions when they come up with problems so that there are options to think of. People should not be encouraged to delegate the problems upwards.
3. CHALLENGE THE MINDSET, ASSESS THE PROCESS OR STANDARD EVERY MONTH TO BUILD A NEW IDEA. Standardization can sometimes become the start of building a comfort zone that may make people complacent and dull. Although standardization is good, it may not necessarily be perfect. Standardization helps if the processes that are standardized are perfect, correct and consistent. Unfortunately, in today’s world, there is no longer such a process which can be described as “perfect and correct”. Even consistency has lost its touch because people have to constantly adapt to the day-to-day changes. Hence, while there are set processes, policies and standards, it pays to review them so often so that constant and continuous improvement comes in. As people regularly make it a habit to examine and evaluate their processes, new ideas can be generated because somewhere along the way, there will always be a need to innovate and improve.
4. COMPEL PEOPLE TO ATTEND LEARNING SESSIONS. Nowadays, training time is often cut short because people have simply become too busy to learn. Companies complain that people who go through training are unable to apply what they have learned in the work place. This is quite an interesting observation. There are some assumptions that surround this thinking. First, people go through training programs which have been cut short to roughly 1 to 2 days, sometimes even just a half day. And second, it is assumed that after attending the 1-2 day session, they can change themselves and their world backhome. This sounds a little dense and absurd. Learning IS after all a process, and the eventual end in mind of learning, ideally, is the start of the development of insight and wisdom, be it a skills training, an attitude program, or a character-building session. Furthermore, although training is an event, it is the role of the company’s leaders to create the environment that makes it conducive for people to apply what they have learned. It will be wise for companies to encourage their people to go through learning sessions that are relevant, and encourage them to echo what they have learned when they get to the office. Knowledge sharing should be a standard best practice in any organization. Second, companies should expect employees who go through sessions to come up with a project or an activity that will enable them to show the results of what they have learned -- a newly formatted tool, a new idea for consideration, an improvement in a process, an addition to insight generation, a project to undertake.
5. TRUST IN PEOPLE’S ENERGY TO SUMMON ALL THEIR STRENGTH TO REBUILD YOUR ORGANIZATION WHEN THINGS GO DOWN. Earlier in the article, we have mentioned that most often, some organizations’ first instinct is to remove people when resources go weak. I have however observed that it is when companies fall nearly into the abyss that people somehow summon all their strength and creativity to re-ignite and fuel the company’s engines to jack up again. There is something about the human spirit, when collectively lighted, that will spark up a new force to bring back the company on the road to recovery. We have observed however that this happens only when certain conditions have been met:
a. first, people know and believe the organization took care of them in the best of times and are still fighting for them in the worst of times. Hence, it is loyalty that comes to the fore.
b. second, when management has been open and transparent to them about company conditions. The integrity which management has shown to its people is reciprocated with trustworthiness and dedication to help rebuild the fractured corporate pillars into strongholds of financial robustness once again.
c, third, when management has always stood their ground with their core values and decisions, being accountable and owning responsibility, and also accepting and apologizing for their mistakes because they trust that their people will give them a second chance. This is credibility at its finest, and people have a reverence for credibility. They will do everything they could, give everything they’ve got to ensure that they will join forces with credible leaders to restore the company’s image and solid reputation. They will do this because it is the one heroic contribution that they desire to make ... and the world will always remember heroes and success.
The spirit of trust is the foundation of building a resilient organization. Without trust, a company will not stay alive for long.
There are as many tips as there are as many experiences of people who have developed their own resilience strength. I found a quote that may provide a proper ending to this article ... when I read it, I realized that this was what has been in my mind for quite some time now. Everything I have written here, the author of this quote has managed to capture in a few words:
“You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then – to learn.
Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the thing for you.
Author: T.H. White