In the world, as it is right now, we are in a constant state of change, greeting the uncertain and unfamiliar on a daily basis. Whether it’s as small as changing the office layout, or the ever-uncertain economic or political landscape, the need for resilience to keep calm and carry on is greater than ever. But how do we develop our resilience, and is it possible to build resilience on an organisational level?
Resilience is a complex resource which is more present for some of us than others. It is, however, a learned skill which means that we can all become more resilient – with the right internal and external factors. Resilience is a subjective experience of how we manage stress and bounce back from adversity; however, everything we do exists within the context of who, where and how we interact with the world around us. Organisation resilience, therefore, requires individual resources who collectively make an organisation more resilient, while also having organisation level resources which in turn support the development of individual resilience. Make sense?
Humans are social creatures – whether, in the workplace, the home environment or social gatherings, we thrive from belonging and being supported by others. In the history of humanity, the civilisations which were the most successful were those that were able to gather their respective strengths for the benefit of the group so they could adapt effectively for survival. This same condition is the state of the current working environment – organisations need to gather their resources (personnel and tangible) in order to adapt and be flexible to constant and inevitable change. Individually we are weak, but collectively we are strong. This same mentality can be seen in the reason why we have teams. One individual is not as effective or productive as a group can be, and we, therefore, work together to achieve a common goal. This is where the concept of organisational resilience comes in.
Organisations need to remain innovative, flexible and agile in the face of constant change, and organisational resilience allows the organisation to turn failures and potential threats into opportunities for transformation and growth.
So how can we build our resilience resources on an organisational level? This article aims to explain the three components we need to focus on when we want to develop resilience in our organisation, and how we can support ourselves and each other in the workplace to not only bounce back but to thrive in the face of adversity.
Cynthia and Mark Lengnick-Hall (2005 and 2009) are experts in the field of organisational resilience. Their research findings have found that there are three sources of organisational resilience. These are organisation-level cognitive, behavioural, as well as contextual capabilities and routines which foster resilience in the face of setbacks. In the section below we will unpack the cognitive and behavioural strategies (contextual strategies will be explained in another article so we don’t overload you).
Each of these components are based on the paper Developing a Capacity for organizational resilience through strategic human resource management (Lengnick-Hall et al., 2011):
Three cognitive strategies for organisational resilience
- Strong core values
When confronted with challenges, resilient organisations are able to bounce back because of their alignment to the core values and purpose of the organisation. If any unexpected negative events occur, knowing the core purpose of the organisation can provide the framework for not only adaptation but transformation and growth. Do you and your employees know your core values and purpose?
- Collective sensemaking
As humans, we are programmed to find meaning in situations. If there is a shared space and vocabulary for making sense of an unforeseen event, it can greatly impact how people perceive and are able to support each other to recover and grow.
- Collective growth mindset
We have mentioned the concept of the growth mindset in previous articles, and it is, by no surprise, a fundamental aspect of developing organisational resilience. If we remain in a rigid perspective where expectations are made of how things “should be”, we can quickly become hopeless and disappointed when things don’t work out. Developing a growth mindset in your organisation can help people to reflect, learn and adapt to new experiences more effectively.
Four behavioural strategies for organisational resilience
- Learned resourcefulness
The truly South African saying of ’n boer maak ’n plan is what comes to mind when we think of learned resourcefulness. In order to cope with unforeseen changes, an organisation needs to think outside the box, so that they are able to be creative and innovative with the resources available to craft an unpredictable but robust solution. This requires ingenuity, originality and creativity which is learned over time based on how we manage stress and challenges as a collective.
- Non-conforming, counterintuitive strategies
You cannot grow in the same environment which made you shrink. In order to survive and thrive in the face of change and hardship, the resilient organisation is able to find strategies which go against the grain, literally “swimming upstream” to get the job done. We cannot conform to a pre-existing strategy if things change; we need to develop an innovative and counterintuitive strategy which will open new doors and help us move forward.
- Practical daily habits
Learned routines in an organisation can quickly fall apart when we are confronted with unseen change. The behavioural element of practising daily habits is not based on routine, but rather habits which form from acting in integrity with the core values of the company. The prerequisite for this behavioural strategy is having a strong knowledge of the core values across the organisation. For example – the value of truth in an organisation can lead to the development of a habit of open dialogue and investigation which will serve the organisation to explore different avenues rather than making assumptions (and blaming) when trouble arises.
- Behavioural preparedness
This strategy comes from awareness and planning for the unseen future. Resilient organisations are able to adapt rapidly to problems that arise, abandoning behaviours that do not suit the situation, and being prepared to adapt mentally, physically, and emotionally in order to transform a negative setback into a new opportunity.
Resilience is the subjective, individual ability to bounce back from adversity and to grow in the face of challenges. While individual resources are necessary to survive and thrive when change happens, there is a need for greater organisational-level conditions to be present in order for a company to transform and grow in this day and age. Both the cognitive and behavioural strategies mentioned in this article are based on the extensive work of Lengnick-Hall et al., and provide us with a foundation of essential elements from which we can begin building resilience. Your organisation has been, is currently being, or will become, confronted with failures, setbacks and change, because as we know the only constant is change. So, starting to apply these practices into your organisation will give you greater flexibility, innovation and staying power when the going gets tough.
We wish you luck in implementing these strategies, and if you would like further assistance or have questions, our expert team is waiting for your email. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.