Building A Resilient People Organization

For most businesses, resilience is not a new topic. Ideas around redundancy in IT and communication systems help build infrastructure resilience. Having multiple vendors to insure delivery of production material creates logistical resiliency, and plans around safety and security build operational resiliency.  However, what is often missing from these businesses approaches is the importance of building “people resilience.”

While resilience is an accepted practice in operational areas, building people resilience is often overlooked. Leaders often believe that addressing workplace challenges as the affect people such as work overload, change management and even team effectiveness will somehow magically happen rather than putting concerted efforts into overcoming these workplace difficulties. Such efforts teach people that the best they can do is just hold on in the face of adversity and hope that they will survive the challenge. Most of these efforts fail for lack of recognizing these problems exist or because there is no focus on sharing ideas around how we learn from adversity

How do we build a people resilient organization? There are three key steps.  Begin by assessing the nature of the organization’s culture. Is there a great deal of blaming and negativity that keeps people from getting work done effectively and efficiently? Do people walk around bemoaning their fate and criticizing the organization for everything that is not working without recognizing their ability to shape outcomes? Teaching people the principles of resilience shows them how, in the face of adversity, they can impact results by shifting their attitudes and activities and those of their teammates.

A second key to building people resilience comes from the research on how resilience is built into complex systems. A major takeaway is the recognition that we cannot become resilient all on our own. Teams are not a new phenomenon in the workplace and it is assumed that people know how to work effectively on a team.  My experience as an a former health care executive and current organizational psychologist tells me that unless people played in the marching band or a team sport in high school or were in the drama club, they probably do not know how to contribute to the effectiveness of a team.  Improving team performance requires intentional development in getting people over their “I can do this on my own” belief and helping them develop skills in collaboration and communication.

The third key involves encouraging leaders to fully engage in conversations around workplace challenges.  There is a genuine concern among most managers that by opening up the conversation about workplace stressors such as workload or time demands, it will encourage non-productive griping and complaining. But the truth is that an important topic that cannot be spoken becomes toxic and contributes to workplace disengagement, low productivity, and a blaming culture.

When managers seek out the problems and concerns that their employees are having, such as a workload that feels too heavy, there is the opportunity to clarify priorities. Time constraints seem too unrealistic? There’s an opportunity to redo workflows. Not enough recognition? Build in opportunities to acknowledge good work.