A Sense of One Within the City of Houston

Today, change is the status quo. Fueled by evolving technologies, increased market competition, and shifting customer expectations, it’s not unusual for an organization to navigate multiple, large-scale transformations at a given time. A recent study by North Highland and Harvard Business Review revealed that 88% of companies reported experiencing some form of disruption, including merger/acquisition, reorganization, and ownership change. At North Highland, we believe that when change is buzzing, one of the most critical factors for an organization’s success is the resilience of its workforce.

The resilience of the 2.1 million people who call Houston home was tested in August 2017 as Hurricane Harvey stalled over the city, producing unprecedented rainfall and flooding. At its peak, one-third of Houston was underwater. What made headlines across the world was not just the devastation, but the stories of community, determination, and hope. The city of Houston – united across divisions of age, race, and background – bought in to the shared goal of resiliency through the storm and recovery that followed.

Upon reflection, the response from the Houston community reveals a number of best practices in cultivating workforce resiliency during times of organizational transformation.

  • Power of inclusive, grassroots efforts. Private citizens jumped into action, using personal boats to rescue neighbors trapped by flood waters. As families were displaced, strangers welcomed them into their homes. Now iconic, photos of volunteer lines wrapping around the Convention Center reveal the communal spirit which captivated Houston in the days that followed Harvey’s disruption. Organizations can cultivate this spirit by fostering a culture of inclusivity and empowering teams to take initiative and identify simple solutions that fit.

  • Agents of change lead by example. Well-known Houston personalities like Jim McIngvale, “Mattress Mack”, used their position of influence to spark action among the community. As floodwaters invaded his own home, Mattress Mack opened his furniture stores as makeshift shelters to 200+ Harvey victims, sending company trucks to rescue those stranded in their homes. Mattress Mack became an example, inspiring other community leaders to leverage their resources for the good of the recovery. When influential among impacted stakeholders, change agents play a critical role in inspiring resiliency through change and disruption.

  • Digital as a tool to empower. Digital channels became sources of real-time updates for search and rescue, volunteering, and donation needs. Government programs and non-profits created dedicated web-pages to match victims and volunteers with organizations providing aid. Houston-based companies used emergency text services and mobile applications to confirm the safety and needs of their employees. J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans launched a fundraiser on Instagram, and just over 24 hours later, his post had reached 550,000 people. In the end, Watt raised more than $37 million to benefit Harvey victims.  Although digital tools often introduce change on their own, they can also help alleviate the impact from disruption by streamlining the flow of information, enabling people to get timely and targeted updates.

Underscored by the against-all-odds Astros World Series win, the Houston community has emerged stronger than ever. In organizations, this resiliency is often demonstrated by the capacity or “battery power” each individual brings to his/her responsibilities. When an organization’s foundation is rooted in inclusivity, with a vision clearly championed by influencers and enabled by the right tools, employees build capacity to sustain periods of change. As we can learn from Houston, people are resilient when united by a shared goal they believe in.