4 Must-Haves And How To Overcome Common Obstacles
Your organization is only as resilient as the least resilient person in your workforce. Your most resilient person is only as resilient as the organization allows them to be.
(Read that again if needed.)
Saying someone isn’t resilient isn’t a moral judgment—it’s about whether a person has the tools to adapt to change or volatility. It’s not just about a person’s individual drive. Sure, that can help. But individual drive won’t get you very far if the organization doesn’t give that drive space to flourish.
I hardly need to argue for the need for resilience. We are all staring into the unknown: war, recession, Covid, hybrid work and learning, and societal struggles around the pursuit of racial, social, health, and climate justice.
The unknown creates volatility in our workplace (“Will I be fired?”), in the marketplace (“Will my business survive?”), in our personal lives (“Is my future secure?”), and in society (“Is justice possible ?”).
It’s not volatility that makes your business vulnerable. It’s an inability to respond to volatility. So how do you build a workforce that is ready to respond?
- People who see the need to respond and can make the most of the opportunities.
- People who know how to unleash themselves and others.
- People who are not afraid of difference or change.
- People who know they matter.
The big mistake leaders make is thinking that this requires a change at the level of the individual – believing that it is up to the individual to already have or attain these qualities.
And to an extent, that’s true. But in my experience, most organizations aren’t equipped to develop these qualities, even if their people have these qualities.
In other words, you need people with those qualities (and those qualities can be developed). And you need your organization to avoid them so people can actually do it use these qualities.
So how do you rate the resilience of your employees? Here are some things to evaluate, measure, and build.
Build resilience by seizing opportunities
The ability to manage odds is a uniquely powerful ability. It’s actually a set of four skills that we all possess to varying degrees, but most of us never consciously work to improve each one individually. It is the ability to see, sow, grow and share opportunities.
- Improving your ability to spot opportunities leads to expanded observation. You can see what is coming and also see what is possible.
- Improving your ability to seed opportunity leads to extensive innovation. You bravely follow curiosity and achieve top performance.
- Improving your ability to expand opportunities leads to a strategic focus. You consciously focus on promising opportunities, you create sustained momentum.
- Improving your ability to share opportunities translates into charitable purpose. You gain the ability to value and uplift people for their own individuality – creating an environment of trust and respect.
Dealing with opportunity is a skill that can be learned, but most companies don’t emphasize its importance. That’s a missed opportunity (ironic, right?).
Questions to ask yourself or those you lead:
- Do you think opportunities are just something that arises or something you create?
- How much energy did you put into learning how to create and manage it?
- Can you now think of people in your organization who would like to improve this valuable skill?
Break down outdated hierarchies to unleash resilient talent
Now that you see this volatility as an opportunity to create opportunity, you need people who can jump on it.
This is where most organizations stand in their own way. Organizations are built around hierarchies that have been around for some time. They were probably created at some point (maybe) for good reasons, but now they make people feel suffocated and restricted. This is not an unleashing recipe.
Questions to ask yourself or those you lead:
- If one of my top-performing team members wanted to leave and move to a different department or function within the organization, would I see that as a betrayal or an opportunity for all of us?
- When considering what a person might contribute to an endeavor, do I use their title, official capacity, or previous experience as a determining factor? is this valid
- Do I hold people to standards just because those standards have existed for a long time?
Remove barriers to individual expression and risk-taking
This is one of those areas where the burden is more on the organization than the individual. It’s hard for individuals to take risks when judged on perfection. It’s hard to share your differences when you see leaders nurturing those who look and act the way leaders have always looked and acted.
Stop promoting comfort and safety. Leaders usually make it very clear that being different is not safe and that it is not safe to fail. They can make public statements like “Be creative! Experiment!” while promotions or awards are based on metrics that reward sticking to the status quo.
Questions to ask yourself or those you lead:
- When was the last time you revised your own idea of what success in your specialty looks or sounds like?
- Do the people you lead feel safe sharing their authentic selves? How do you know?
- If you have an idea in an area that is not your area of expertise, would you like to share it?
Addressing each of the three needs above increases your chances of meeting the last one as well.
Recognize the value and dignity of the individual to build workforce resilience
Wellbeing has become one of the top priorities today. It is usually discussed in relation to health in various forms: physical, mental, financial and social to name a few. These are critical areas, but I’m happy to delve deeper into what I see as the root of each of these areas.
Donna Hicks, Ph.D., is a fellow at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University. She is an expert on human dignity and a specialist in conflict resolution. Through her work, she identified a major obstacle in our human relationships: “Our failure to recognize how vulnerable people are when treated as if they don’t matter.” (from her 2011 book, “Dignity: Your Essential Role in Resolving Conflicts”).
Everyone needs to know and feel that they matter as individuals. In the workplace, they know they matter when they are able to perform at their best and when their dignity is supported. When someone knows they can be open and honest, from their ambition for a new role to their admission about their anxiety and depression, it’s proof to them that they matter as an individual.
But most organizational systems are designed to inadvertently repress people, and most leaders are never trained to identify and root out those systems to unleash people.
- Do employees feel it’s safe and beneficial to share who they really are and what they’re struggling with in their lives? How do you know?
- Do you have a way to measure how employees feel about the impact they can have on the company?
- Does your organization feel like a place where everyone can use their skills to the fullest, regardless of their background? How do you know?
Two common barriers to workforce resilience
First, performative DEI makes organizations less resilient.
You could do all of these and still lose the trust and loyalty of your employees. How? By making a public statement about DEI’s commitments and then not changing anything within the organization. It’s one of the quickest ways to show people that they don’t matter and never will. They do not deceive anyone and shake the trust between the workforce and management.
Second, you don’t know how to measure inclusion.
They are great at measuring diversity within the organization, but very few people have figured out how to measure inclusion. This is at the core of creating a culture that unleashes people for who they are. This is related to the first obstacle. If you tout your diversity numbers but don’t bother to find out if the people behind those numbers actually believe they can make an impact at every level of the organization, then in turn, you’re showing them that they don’t really matter .
People will stay with you
All of this combined will help you build a workforce of people who are motivated to stay with you through volatility and who are able to handle the uncertainty and even help your business thrive in the middle .
Someone’s resilience level isn’t static—and that means your workforce’s resilience level isn’t static either. It will ebb and flow, and a good leader will encourage it. When you help people learn how to manage opportunities and how to unleash themselves and others, and when you free them from the fear of difference and change and make sure they know they matter, you have them helped to become more resilient individuals.
Remember, your organization is only as resilient as the least resilient individual in your workforce, and your most resilient individual is only as resilient as the organization allows them to be.
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