Summary

In the face of change, a lack of workplace resilience can lead to widespread instability and inefficiency. Leaders confront the dual issue of managing immediate disruptions and fostering a long-term resilient mindset. With the right structure, leaders can equip their people to handle current volatility and ambiguity, and instill enduring resilience, ensuring the organization’s sustained performance and adaptability in a constantly shifting landscape.

Sections:

  • Workplace resilience to future-proof your organization
  • Structure for building resilience in your team
  • The ecology of workplace resilience
  • An integrated approach to building resilience

Workplace Resilience to Future-Proof Your Organization

No matter how skillful you are at forecasting what’s coming down the pipeline in your business, sector or industry, the only thing we can know for certain is that surprises await. Our prediction machinery (the human brain) is incredibly proficient when faced with familiar variables in closed systems governed by consistent rules. But when we encounter unfamiliar circumstances filled with unknown variables in shifting environments, our prediction apparatus starts to flounder. The question is not if Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity (“VUCA”) will impact your business. It’s not even when. The answer to both of those questions is “yes” and “now”.

The real question is, “How serious are the risks?” followed by: “How will we effectively manage them?” While we can and should build robust systems, processes and tools to try to stay ahead of the curve, none of that will matter much if our people lack resilience.

WHAT IS WORKPLACE RESILIENCE?

Resilience is a characteristic that contains a wide range of attributes that are essential when the pressure comes on. Courage. Resolve. Bounce-back. Determination. Fortitude. Grit. That is a powerful list of words, and resilience is built on the back of all of them. Resilience is what is required whenever there are unexpected deviations from The Plan. It’s what we depend on when faced with adversity and unfortunate setbacks. Resilience is what allows us to learn and come back from failure.

Structure For Building Resilience Into Your Team

Some take the leadership “pep-talk” approach, attempting to emulate those legendary, iconic leaders who inspired their followers in the face of tremendous odds (so the movies tell us) by the sheer strength of their presence and words. That might be effective for a day, or even a week, but we’ve come to recognize that the impact of those efforts soon fizzles in the face of real adversity.

Another time-tested method is to simply do our best to find and hire resilient people and let VUCA weed out the herd. “We’ll hire the best and see who lasts.” This can feel like a pragmatic approach, however the “throw spaghetti against the wall and see what sticks” mindset ultimately leaves our organizational resilience to chance and puts managers on the hamster wheel of constant turnover.

The good news is there is a more strategic, dependable approach that grows and cultivates workplace resilience. It turns out that anyone can up their resilience game. Organizations can learn how to instill resilience into the ecology of their teams. At the end of the day, workplace resilience doesn’t need to be a secret sauce that empowers just a few remarkable outliers. It’s a skillset that can be learned.

We’ve identified five powerful characteristics that, when available in sufficient quantity, make all the difference when VUCA strikes.

  • Cohesiveness – “I know where I stand with my team. We have each other’s backs.”
  • Clarity – “I have a clear sense of expectations and accountabilities.”
  • Choice – “I know when I can make the call and when I should check in for guidance.”
  • Confidence – “I’ve been provided the necessary tools and resources to succeed.”
  • Coherence – “I see how my part contributes to the overall goals and objectives of the big picture.”

In fact, we can take it a step further and say that when volatility, uncertainty, complexity and/or ambiguity are at play, these characteristics are needs, not preferences.

The Impact of Disruption on Team Cohesiveness

Consider a high-performing team of individuals who have been working together for years. Trust is high. One another’s capabilities and methods are well known and reliable. A short-hand has emerged that allows for lightning speed productivity. Complex tasks are executed precisely with no fuss, no drama, and high efficiency.

Then one day, a member of the team moves on. A new person is hired. This individual is extremely well qualified with an exceptional track record, however, suddenly that no fuss/no drama team is off their game. Misunderstandings, mistakes and interpersonal conflict impact the team’s performance. Triangulating begins to happen. Trust is eroded.

Questions of competency begin to circulate. Is the new person the fly in the ointment? Did “the magic” leave with the outgoing colleague? Maybe the team wasn’t as robust and resilient as everyone assumed. Or perhaps, something else is at play. Maybe that new hire isn’t incompetent. Perhaps the team’s previous track record wasn’t simply a fragile fluke of having stumbled into just the right mix of people. Maybe the oxygen-like cohesiveness that once invisibly and silently paved the way for high performance suddenly got scarce.

Managers and leaders who spot and acknowledge the role Cohesiveness plays can become strategic in their approach to disruption. They don’t just hire exceptional people and see what happens. They ensure an onboarding process that acknowledges and builds team cohesiveness. They create supports to protect what’s working so well, and create buffer while the new person finds their place.

When we cultivate these characteristics in our organization, this isn’t simply 1+1+1+1+1=5. When employees feel supported and connected with others on the team, when they are clear on expectations, when they have a sense of agency and ownership of outcomes, when they feel equipped to be able to meet or exceed expectations and when they understand how their part contributes meaningfully to the bigger picture, we are looking at a resilient group of people who are prepared and ready to take on unexpected challenges and overcome setbacks.

Of course VUCA can directly impact and hinder these very things. In so many organizations around the world, March 2020 presented a situation that immediately threatened all of the C’s, putting them at risk as the world made a hard pivot in response to the pandemic. In a flash, we found out just which organizations had done the good work of laying the foundation for workplace resilience and which found themselves flailing and failing in the unexpected storm of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity that struck just about every sector all at once.

Creating an environment where leaders and employees can communicate openly and effectively about what matters most to them creates the conditions for teams that foster and cultivate resilience. Asking for what we need opens up the door for meaningful partnering, aligning available resources, and providing appropriate support when circumstances get in the way of one or more of the Cs.

The Ecology of Workplace Resilience

Environment matters a lot. Even the most hardy, resilient, VUCA-resistant employees can get ground down. When an organization is mindful of the 5 Cs, when it’s strategic and transparent about the impacts of change and obstacles to the C’s, it can create conditions that foster and develop resilience. Candour and empathy, when paired with the 5 Cs, become the levers of resilience. In fact, Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity can be transformed from resilience-eating monsters into catalyzing agents of organization-wide resilience.

There are seasons when Cohesion, Clarity, Choice, Confidence and/or Coherence just aren’t in adequate supply.

  • When reorgs happen, Cohesion takes time.
  • When our data points are speculative and anecdotal, Clarity is hard to come by.
  • When necessary, tough decisions get rolled out, employees might feel they have no Choice in the matter.
  • Mistakes happen and Confidence flounders.
  • Mergers and acquisitions can put Coherence at risk while the underlying strategic gameplan works to play catch up.

When we take stock of the Cs on an ongoing basis, our response to unforeseeable circumstances can be laser focussed. Candour and empathy can maintain and grow resilience, even when we don’t have ‘enough’ C in the ecosystem. Skillfully acknowledging the impact of a lacking “C” goes a long way in building trust and extending the capacity of a team in the grips of VUCA.

It can sound like:

“The bug in our new inventory management system is going to have a big impact on the Confidence levels of the team. Let’s acknowledge those impacts, and double down on Cohesion and Clarity while we address the technical challenges to help the team grow their resilience through the process.”

Acknowledgement sends signals throughout the organization that leaders are genuinely mindful of what really matters to their employees and committed to meaningfully partnering together over the long haul. Resilient, intentional leadership cultivates the necessary goodwill that results in system-wide workplace resilience.

An Integrated Approach to Building Resilience

Workplace resilience doesn’t need to be a happy accident. Neither does the lack of it need to be an unlucky stroke of fate. Great leaders understand their agency, and as such their responsibility, to provide their people with the necessary tools to not simply survive in the face of VUCA, but to thrive. They accomplish this by thoughtfully stewarding the 5 Cs, Cohesiveness, Clarity, Choice, Confidence and Coherence. They dutifully celebrate them when they are present, skillfully acknowledge when they are in short supply, and deploy them throughout the ecosystem as needed.

Consider your organization or team. What is the current C-State of affairs? Can you identify which C is your team’s resilience-greenhouse, currently? How will you protect and mind that stockpile? Now, take a look at the other side of the story. What is consuming resilience in your team right now? What missing C is slowly eating away at your most valuable people?

It’s time to get strategic, acknowledge whatever lack there might be, intelligently deploy the C’s you have in abundance and partner with your people for resilience.

Turn Ambuiguity into a Strategic Advantage for Innovation & Growth

In a world characterized by perpetual change and evolving priorities, ambiguity can become a disruptive force, compromising our core objectives and triggering impulsive reactions that hinder productivity, performance and decision-making. Our Leading in Ambiguity Training Program empowers leaders to adeptly navigate uncertainty and develop the strategic compass to guide individuals and teams towards sustained productivity and performance through times of change. The program equips leaders with practical strategies and tools to not just endure ambiguity but harness its potential for growth.