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Building a resilient workforce: Strategies for thriving in times of change

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If there is a secret to success in life and in business, it is resilience, the capability to withstand adversity and keep pushing forward, ready for the next challenge. Thomas Edison believed that “success requires the courage to try one more time.” Winston Churchill said, “If you are going through hell, keep going.”

Can an individual learn to be resilient? And, more importantly for a business, can a leadership team train a company of individual employees from diverse backgrounds to be a more resilient workforce? In this article, we will explore some of the strategies that leading business organizations have employed to build a team of resilient employees and a workforce that not only survives, but thrives, in the face of change, challenge and crisis.

Change, Challenge and Crisis are Inevitable

Changes will inevitably arise from new technology and fickle consumer tastes. Challenges will shake the foundations of traditional supply chains, favored markets and trusted partnerships. And crises will arise from natural disasters, global conflict, pandemics or social upheaval. When the unexpected happens, a crisis can destroy a brand’s reputation, revenue and profit, and may even impact long-term business continuity. The ability to adapt, recover and overcome these obstacles will be the critical determinant of an organization’s long-term success.

Understanding Resilience in the Workforce

Before developing a strategy, it is essential to understand what workforce resilience truly entails. Workforce resilience goes beyond mere survival; it is about an organization’s ability to adapt, recover and even prosper in the face of adversity.

Resilience is not a static trait, but rather a dynamic quality that can be cultivated within an organization. A resilient workforce is one that demonstrates agility, flexibility, innovative thinking and a stubborn capacity to bounce back from a setback.

Defining the Quality of Resilience

Some employees may not have encountered the textbook definition of resilience, but they are sure to know what it means to be steadfast, determined, persistent, tenacious or tough…and they know what it means to have grit, fortitude, self-reliance, perseverance or an old-fashioned backbone.

The task of fostering team resilience in an organization begins with the process of building up personal resilience in every individual worker. Some people are born with more resilience, and some have become resilient through life experience. However, most people need to have their potential for greater employee resilience developed through appropriate training and exercises in emotional resilience.

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10 Essential Objectives for Building a Resilient Workforce

Here are 10 essential objectives through which any organization, no matter how large or small, can develop a practical strategy for building a resilient workforce:

  1. Foster a culture of open communication and transparency.
  2. Invest in continuous learning and development.
  3. Empower decision-making at all levels.
  4. Promote flexibility and agility.
  5. Prioritize employee well-being.
  6. Build a strong leadership team.
  7. Encourage innovation and creativity.
  8. Establish clear goals and metrics.
  9. Learn from the past and plan for the future.

Let’s take a closer look at each one of these elements, along with some of the proven tactics to make sure the strategic plan produces the desired results.

Foster a Culture of Open Communication and Transparency

Effective communication is the cornerstone of business resilience. Team leaders must establish an environment in which open dialogue is encouraged and information flows freely. Make sure that all employees know that there are no negative consequences for seeking and giving timely and complete information.

During times of change, rumors and misinformation can spread quickly throughout an organization, leading to confusion and anxiety among employees. If workers are unsure whether information can be trusted, their natural reaction is to protect themselves, not to work together to push through a crisis to achieve business continuity.

Encouraging Employees Toward Greater Resilience

By fostering open communication, leaders can address concerns, provide clarity and ensure that everyone is on the same page, working together with current and accurate information.

Tactics for fostering communication and transparency include regular team meetings, frequent updates by team leaders, a sense of personal responsibility for business continuity and well-established mechanisms for gathering employee feedback.

Invest in Continuous Learning and Development

Resilient employees are always learning. Providing opportunities for continuous learning and development equips employees with the skills and knowledge needed to adapt to new challenges. This can include formal training programs, workshops, online courses and mentoring.

Create personalized development plans that align with both individual aspirations and organizational needs. When employees feel invested in and equipped to handle change, they are more likely to embrace it rather than resist it.

Exercises for Employee Resilience

Human resource teams can encourage employees to use teaching materials and exercises to build up their own resilience. Exercises could include personal assessments intended to identify improvement objectives for individual employees, team exercises to provide resilience examples for employee resource groups or mindfulness exercises to reinforce positive thinking.

Empower Decision-Making at All Levels

Resilience should not be confined to the top echelons of an organization. Empowering employees at all levels to make decisions fosters a sense of ownership and accountability. When employees have the autonomy to address challenges in real time, they become more adaptable and responsive. This approach is particularly effective in rapidly changing situations where decisions cannot always wait for approval from higher-ups.

Learning to Build Resilience

To help develop a company culture of resilience in any organization, both workers and managers can benefit from access to a company library. Here is a list of popular current works on the subject of how to build resilience, with a primary focus on workplace skills. Team leaders should read about resilience, encourage their team members to do the same and create opportunities to discuss what the team has learned.

  • Resilience that Works: Eight Practices for Leadership and Life Ruderman, Klerken & Fernandez
  • The Resilience Breakthrough: 27 Tools for Turning Adversity into Action Moore, McQuivey & Anderson
  • Do Hard Things: Why We Get Resilience Wrong and the Surprising Science of Real Toughness, Steve Magness
  • The 5 Practices of Highly Resilient People: Why Some Flourish When Others Fold, Taryn Marie Stejskal
  • Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth
  • HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Mental Toughness, Harvard Business Review
  • Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life, Susan David PhD
  • Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength and Happiness, Rick Hansen
  • Resilience at Work: How to Succeed No Matter What Life Throws at You, Salvatore Maddi and Deborah Khoshaba
  • Option B, Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy, Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

Promote Flexibility and Agility

In a world of uncertainty, rigidity can lead to downfall. Resilient organizations prioritize flexibility and agility. This means having the ability to pivot strategies, reorganize teams and adapt to new market conditions swiftly. Cross-functional teams and multi-skilled employees can be instrumental in maintaining this flexibility.

To promote flexibility and agility, teams can study agile work methodologies, which will enable them to respond rapidly to changing customer demands and market trends. Individual training can focus on emotional agility and the ability to react to obstacles and detours with optimistic energy.

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Prioritize Employee Well-being

The resilience of a company workforce is intrinsically tied to the physical and mental health and well-being of all workers. Stressed, burned-out employees are less likely to cope effectively with change. Beyond the physical aspects, employees with financial burdens can struggle to focus on fighting fires at work. Resilient businesses know that in challenging situations the organization’s resilience and business continuity may depend on the emotional intelligence of a few key stakeholders.

Building resilience requires a work environment that values employees as individuals and takes their holistic well-being into account. This includes physical, mental, financial and career well-being. Resilient businesses should make well-being and employee engagement top priorities, offering wellness programs, mental health assessment, social support, stress reduction and other ways to promote a healthy work-life balance. Ensuring employees have access and support to health care on a financial level fosters the use and benefits of such services, which is why many resilient companies offer strong employee benefits programs.

Build a Strong Leadership Team

Leaders play a pivotal role in shaping the resilience of a company’s workforce. Effective leaders inspire confidence, set direction, provide encouragement and lead by example. When an organization is met with a small challenge, all eyes are on the leader, taking note of whether the emphasis is on finding solutions or pointing fingers to assign blame. Workers need to feel confident that their leaders will give them encouragement, running interference and putting resources where they are needed while urging the workforce to link arms and work as a team to move forward positively.

During challenging times, leadership should be visible, approachable, good-humored and empathetic. Leadership development programs can equip managers with the skills to stand strong in a crisis, face unexpected challenges and navigate change, all the while communicating effectively and leading their teams toward an optimum state of the entire organization’s resilience.

Encourage Innovation and Creativity

Change often brings about the need for creative problem-solving. Resilient workforces embrace innovation as a work method, generating new ideas to overcome challenges and seize opportunities. Essential to innovation is a sense of confidence that a worker is allowed to try something new and fail without negative consequences. In a moment of crisis, the creative solution is often the only available path to recovery.

Creating a culture that encourages experimentation, idea-sharing and calculated risk-taking can drive the organization forward even in uncertain times. Techniques for building a resilient team by encouraging innovation include establishing innovation hubs, sponsoring cross-functional brainstorming sessions and highlighting recognition programs for innovative contributions. The key to success is positive rewards for ideas that work and no negative outcomes for efforts that ultimately fail to produce the desired result.

Establish Clear Goals and Metrics

During periods of change, it’s crucial to have a clear sense of direction. The leadership must clearly define for the team: where we are now; what that means for each of us; and what we need to do next. What are the goals to ensure business continuity? What are the important milestones on the way to those goals? What are the metrics that will tell us whether we are succeeding or falling behind?

Measuring Resilience in the Business Environment

Resilient workforces are guided by well-defined goals and metrics that help measure progress and adapt strategies as needed. These goals should be communicated throughout the organization, ensuring that everyone understands the role they play in achieving them. Use Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to track progress and make informed decisions.

Create an Employee Support Network

No individual or team should have to face challenges alone. Building a network of support can provide employees with the resources they need to navigate change successfully. This can include mentorship programs, peer-to-peer support groups and knowledge-sharing platforms.

Leverage technology to facilitate these networks, enabling employees to connect regardless of their physical location. Human resources can support this effort by using existing diversity, equity and inclusion programs to make every employee feel like a team member who is heard, understood and valued by the organization.

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Learn from the Past and Plan for the Future

Resilience is often born from experience. Organizations that have successfully navigated previous challenges and achieved successful business continuity can draw lessons from those experiences. A manufacturer that was shut down by a port strike can develop a multi-faceted supply chain with backup sources. A company that has survived a hurricane or an earthquake will have highly focused plans for risk mitigation, damage response and business recovery.

Business Resilience Delivers Business Continuity

Team leaders can conduct a thorough post-crisis assessment to identify what worked, what didn’t and what can be improved. This retrospective analysis can feed into future strategies, enabling the organization to be prepared for the next wave of change – perhaps even better prepared than the competition.

Building Resilience for Growth and Success

In a world where change, challenge and crisis are the only constants, the ability to build and nurture a resilient workforce has never been more critical. Organizations that prioritize open communication, continuous learning, flexibility, well-being and innovation are better positioned to adapt, improvise and thrive in the face of the unexpected.

Leaders must recognize their essential role in guiding the organization toward the objectives of these strategies, with the goal of a workforce that can not only weather the storm but also set sail toward new horizons. By embracing the goal of building a resilient workforce, organizations can turn change, challenge and crisis into opportunities for growth and success.

Need help building a resilient workforce?

If you’re looking to empower your team and promote employee resilience, Higginbotham can help.

Whether you need help creating employee development programs or training your leadership team, our human resources team has the skills and expertise you need.

Talk to an HR specialist today and experience the Higginbotham difference.

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