A senior leader at a Fortune 500 company was disappointed in her company’s latest employee survey results, which showed people were feeling disengaged, lonely, and even a bit frustrated. In truth, she wasn’t surprised. And neither were her fellow leadership team members when they gathered to discuss the data.
The company had been trying hard to adjust to the new world of work and meet employees’ changing expectations, but they were falling short – siloes were forming based on whether people went into an office, biases were emerging, and employees were becoming more burnt-out and less productive.
But it wasn’t all bad news. While the results did show isolation and frustration, there were also recollections of great times when employees were getting together on a consistent basis. The leader saw two competing narratives emerging. Which one would win?
Now is the time for leaders to align on a shared narrative to re-engage the hearts and minds of their employees. By reminding people about the best elements of their workplaces, they can tap into that deep reservoir of institutional memories and create a sense of hope about the future.
Here are three tactics organizations can use to strengthen collective resilience:
1) Share Stories
Stories are a major source of organizational resilience. Every workplace has its share of stress, pressure, and discomfort. Most of us freely accept this, understand the reality, and willingly go to work every day. We don’t expect work to be “easy” or even “fun” at all times, but at least we have people around to share the good and bad experiences with.
Unfortunately, stories are easily forgotten during times of great challenge. Under stress, organizations focus on the short-term objectives, and under duress (or chronic stress), they focus so hard on immediate priorities that they lose sight of their mission, vision, and purpose. The stories that inspire and motivate people are parked somewhere in our memories, while our collective brain is captured by the fear that duress can cause.
Putting it in Practice: Share stories across the organization of when people and teams have been at their best and thriving, as well as creating positive future-oriented stories so employees can get excited when thinking about where the organization can go.
2) Prioritize Psychological Safety
A psychologically safe workplace is one where employees feel safe to speak up and bring forward new ideas (even if they go against the grain), without fear of retribution. Organizations that create psychological safety see many short-term and long-term benefits, including higher degrees of trust, resiliency, and retention.
Creating a psychologically safe workplace reduces stress and increases agility, and it starts with leadership. People leaders need to trust their people, give them the latitude to make choices on their own and bring their full capabilities to the task. This type of environment will create higher performing teams and more job satisfaction, which leads to employees who are more likely to remain resilient and committed to their organization in times of change. When people are scared to speak up and ask questions, or if there is no tolerance for mistakes and learning, why would they take initiative when an organization is struggling?
Putting it in Practice: Make a commitment among your leadership team to create a psychologically safe environment for all and foster an environment where everyone feels valued and respected. Then, share that commitment with your people managers so they can discuss with their teams and ensure that it becomes a shared behavior across the organization – not just an initiative.
3) Address Obstacles
Openly discussing what might stand in the way of your people’s success is another crucial element of developing organizational resilience. This means addressing any blockers, such as fear or biases, that your people may be carrying so they can put them aside and walk confidently towards a solution. It also means addressing any new obstacles that your organization is facing in the wake of a big change so that you can respond quickly, shifting resources if necessary.
This is particularly challenging for leaders who are uncomfortable being vulnerable, admitting things are not perfect, or who need to be in complete control. But, admitting that threats to success can come from anywhere lets employees know you’re scanning the environment to protect them, not blame them. Still, when obstacles do arise, it’s important to focus on your organization’s strengths instead of hyper-focusing on the weaknesses.
Putting it in Practice: Before embarking on a transformation or change journey, assess and address readiness for change. This will bring to light any legacy habits that might be standing in the way such as silos, internal competition, knowledge hoarding, or even a bit of cynicism around change efforts. Have open discussions with your team about what could undermine momentum and design human-centered processes that will engage leaders at all levels to not only embrace change, but also lead it.
When used together, these tactics can thicken the unseen superstructure that keeps companies safe and sound during challenging times. The pandemic made it clear that organizations can dig deep, pivot, and survive when put to the test. But there’s a cost to surviving. Some organizations squeezed humanity from their survival strategies and are now paying the price as experienced workers look elsewhere for new opportunities.
To avoid future “Great Resignations,” organizations need to adopt a resilience mindset: continuously strengthening resilience in preparation for future business-threatening events. Doing this at scale involves a combination of recalling organizational stories, making your employees feel safe and supported, and being agile in your organization’s response to obstacles—to stockpile resilience for later use when things are tough.
If you’d like to learn more about resilience, pre-order Paul Thallner’s upcoming book, Reinventing Resilience here.