Any leader if asked whether or not he / she would like to have a resilient company or organization, is unlikely to give any answer other than an emphatic, “Of course I do”. And whilst resilience is something ‘hoped for’ amongst leaders when thinking of the organization they lead, there seems to be little intentionality when it comes to nurturing this important trait. The reason for this conspicuous lack of intentionality around nurturing resilience would seem to have more to do with ignorance rather than the lack of desire to see resilience in action. Resilience is defined as the ability to ‘bounce back’, to get up off the floor over and over again if necessary and to, ‘keep on keeping on’. It is a quality that defines some of what is best in those stories we like to repeatedly hear told – an individual or groups ability to overcome, to triumph and to succeed against all odds. It is the stuff of legend and a trait desired no matter what the context, culture or situation. It ‘s desirability extends to both the corporate culture as well as that of a personal or individual trait – what parent if asked whether or not they think resilience is an important character trait for their children to display would say, “No”?
It is easier to define resilience than to know how best to nurture it. However, research on resilience done by Werner and Werner over a 40-year period provides some insights as to how to go about developing resilience at both an individual and environmental (organizational) level. They found that there are four individual characteristics that contribute towards nurturing resilience: Social competence; problem solving skills; autonomy and a sense of purpose or hope in a brighter future. These pointers deserve further consideration and discussion but I would rather look at the three environmental factors that contribute towards resilience. These are things that, as a leader, you need to intentionally develop within your work environment if you wish to see resilience nurtured and flourish.
Firstly, there is the need for caring relationships. All too often this need has been motivated as a ‘soft’ or ‘feel-good’ factor, one that is given attention provided there is budget or some spare time. This is nonsense. Caring relationships in a work environment contributes directly to resilience. Further than that, in a Connection based economy, caring relationships (both inside and outside the workplace – i.e. with customers, suppliers etc…) contribute directly towards ensuring a competitive advantage. For instance, the real presence of caring relationships within an organization has a direct bearing on the your ability to attract and retain talent. How much more motivation can there be to give this aspect of corporate culture serious attention? As a leader you need to model such if it is to become an integral part of your corporate culture. The rhetoric needs to be backed-up by behaviour; the list of values that hang on the wall needs to find expression in the daily transactions that colour each and every day.
Secondly, is the need to have high expectations of those within your organization. This particular factor contributing towards resilience acts as a counter-balance to those skeptical of the first point. Caring relationships does not mean that anything goes and that one needs to look beyond shoddy performance. Anything but! High expectations and supporting the effort it takes to realize such is a vital aspect to what it takes to develop an environment in which resilience is to be found.
Thirdly, there is the need to create opportunities to participate. Thinking about this logically for a moment it is not hard to see how this would directly contribute towards resilience. Herein is a platform to motivate a more participative management style. Allowing others the opportunity to participate in decision-making means they also get to share in the consequences of those decisions. It builds a sense of ownership within the corporate culture and all this is part of the mix that is resilience.
Naturally what this looks like from place-to-place and within each environment will differ. Working out what this means is your workplace is work you will have to engage in – but, if you think resilience is important, this offers a framework from which to deepen the conversation and ensure that resilience is nurtured. Resilience is important. In fact, in a world of exponential change, it may be more than important – it may be essential!