Individual Resilience: Embedding Change in our DNA

In this new age of work, it goes without saying that constant change has become the new normal. From minor changes to major events, the pace of change in business has grown exponentially in recent years and shows no signs of slowing down.

Businesses that adapt quickly can create competitive advantages and deal with uncertainty. However, we often forget what it means for the people in the business. Against this backdrop of never-ending uncertainty, how do we successfully navigate this workplace, and support others to do so too? We start with you, the individual.

In this blog, we highlight the unprecedented importance of resilience in today’s business climate and offer suggestions on how to build it. Workforce resilience is key to enabling organisations to tackle their strategic imperatives, particularly as those imperatives evolve at an accelerated rate.

Let’s talk about resilience

As individuals, there are several cognitive and behavioural ‘levers’ that we can pull to enable us to best react to change. Perhaps the most important of these is our level of resilience, or the ability to rebound despite adversity or change.

Having resilience is about being able to perform well under pressure. It’s about being able to learn continuously and recover quickly from failures (which are inevitable). A person with high resilience isn’t immune to feeling disappointed or frustrated when things change or go wrong. It just means they’ve found a pretty good way of dealing with it. And studies show that high levels of resilience can lead to higher performance, job satisfaction, and organisational commitment.

People are at the heart of organisational change

Increased resilience forms part of a positive organisational culture, which improves employee experience. Increased resilience makes it more likely that employees will be receptive to change, which helps to embed transformations and changes more effectively. In turn, organisations will better realise the benefits of change programmes.

Resilience is like a muscle; we can, and should, work to build up, develop and maintain our resilience levels. The value with resilience lies in being able to recognise it, understand the importance of it for you and your organisation, and learn techniques to enhance it. Take this example of an employee on his way to work:

It’s Monday morning. You’ve had a bad night’s sleep, then as you’re getting ready for work you spill toothpaste down that new shirt. After a mad dash to the station, you find your train is delayed, so you’re at risk of missing your first meeting…

Depending on your resilience levels, one, two or all these seemingly small events could cause stress, anger, and anxiety that lingers throughout the day. Resilience is contextual – it’s shaped by everything around us and is unique to each person.

…Finally, on your way to work, your phone alerts you to a new email from your manager. More resilient-you reads the email, giving you an update on an upcoming resourcing change that’s being announced later. You’re curious, maybe a little worried, but grateful for the heads up. But less resilient-you might still be flustered from the morning’s events. You’re catastrophising – your brain is creating irrational consequences of you being late, meaning you don’t see the email. The result: you’re unprepared and more likely to be caught off guard later in the day…

Increasing resilience doesn’t mean you don’t feel worried or anxious – we’re all human! But strengthening your resilience means you’re able to recover quickly and learn from difficult experiences. It’s about how you recharge, not how you endure.

…During the day, an official announcement highlights some role changes that are likely to impact you. You’re understandably a little worried, but a more resilient you rationalises that there’s a limit to what you can control and tries to reframe the situation around the positives. However, less resilient-you may focus on the negatives and imagine the worst-case scenario.

The above is just one example where being aware of your own resilience can increase the speed at which we recover from negative factors and look for the positives in situations. Employees lacking in resilience can mean it takes longer for organisational changes to stick, if at all.

The goal is to build resilience by making sure that organisations have the right processes, and individuals have the right skills, to perform under changing conditions. A more resilient workforce is more adaptable and better able to cope with change. But resilience can only be developed when we experience setbacks, so shielding people from change or failure can also be counterproductive.

Practical steps to boost resilience

  • Take charge of change: whilst resilience is unique to each individual, there are some common characteristics that can support with increasing resilience.
  • Get the conversation going: less than half of organisations promote a culture of resilience. Discussing the importance of resilience with your teams, colleagues, and leaders creates the building blocks for a resilient workforce.
  • Focus on Culture: a strong, intentional culture where employees know they are supported and guided is key to creating high performing teams
  • Build awareness, desire and capability for change: change is about individuals being willing and able to adapt to new ways of working. Establishing a Change Management Centre of Excellence – or another structure that ensures best practices are accessible and consistently applied – can enhance this process.

Bolstered by a focus on resilience, organisations will be equipped to improve all areas of people-powered performance, from culture development through to people strategy, operating model, and change.

Laura Cameron also contributed to this blog.