The coronavirus pandemic has upended industries across the globe, and many employees have been asked to work from home.
It seems like a small shift, but working from home requires employees to integrate new platforms and modes of communication, juggle work and home responsibilities (particularly if they have young children), strategically modify their goals, and understand and adapt to the challenges of the pandemic. Essential workers are being called upon to respond to increased pressures, often with limited resources, and all employees are dealing with heightened mental and emotional strain during this time.
This unprecedented situation has brought one fact into sharp focus: Resilience is among the most important qualities in the workplace.
The DNA of Resilience
Resilience is a trait that unites strength, perseverance, and adaptability. Keeping those traits in tension is key to success. Brute strength that doesn’t see a task through or adjust its approach leads to burnout. Dedication is not helpful if it is misdirected and doggedly clings to the wrong idea. Flexibility needs to be grounded and focused. Employees who bring all these characteristics together are not only good in a crisis, but skilled in finding positive resolutions to pressing dilemmas.
Resilience on an individual level translates to resilience on an institutional level. Strong and flexible employees make for enduring organizations. Resilience is vital not only as companies face the coronavirus pandemic, but also as they deal with the long-term ramifications the pandemic will leave in its wake.
How to Find and Cultivate Resilience in Your Organization
How can you find and foster resilience among your workers? Doing so begins in the first interview and continues throughout an employee’s tenure with a company.
Identifying resilience should be a key part of your interview process. Resilience is an internal trait that expresses itself through actions. When evaluating potential employees, focus on two aspects related to resilience: their attitude toward and approach to obstacles.
First, what is a candidate’s mental orientation toward obstacles? Some individuals avoid conflict or challenges, either by actively ignoring obstacles or by feeling defeated and giving up at the first sign of hardship. Others will seek out or even create challenges or conflict when there is none. What you’re looking for is a balanced approach: Someone who meets obstacles head-on when they present themselves. Particularly valuable are those employees who can anticipate and address challenges before they become urgent.
Second, when faced with an obstacle, how does the individual respond? Are they able to think creatively and innovate? Do they persevere through challenges? It’s important to look not only at a candidate’s individual response to an obstacle, but also at how they contribute to team dynamics in a difficult situation. Teams must maintain focus, communication, and camaraderie even in trying times.
You will rarely find an employee who perfectly exhibits a mature measure of the traits necessary for success — and if you do, it might be difficult to keep them!
Through challenges big and small, managers have ongoing opportunities to shape and support their subordinates’ abilities to overcome adversity. One of the most common ways managers sabotage the development of resilience is through micromanaging. It can be tempting to rush in and take care of a crisis yourself, but guiding employees through challenges is vital for fostering overall institutional strength.
This does not mean managers should leave their teams to flounder. Good managers will provide guidance will giving employees the freedom to develop their own strategies. The opportunities for growth don’t end when a challenge is over. A successful supervisor will provide feedback and coaching after a problem passes to enable even better iterations in the future. Project retrospectives can be done on an individual and team basis as appropriate.
Creating institutional culture is an ongoing process. When you reward a trait or an accomplishment, you not only reinforce it for the individual, but you also give their colleagues something to aspire to. Moreover, when people’s contributions are recognized, they stay engaged and enthusiastic.
Recognition should happen on all levels, from formal awards to informal kudos. Managers should cultivate the habit of affirming the positive traits of employees in personal conversations and in front of others. Organizations should also have visible incentive structures that encourage and honor employees for strength, perseverance, and adaptability.
Resilience Begins With You
The COVID-19 pandemic has created disruption in nearly every industry, creating challenges that weigh heavily on company leaders. Leaders must respond with strategy and stamina in order to identify and optimize the opportunities they are presented with. One of the best ways leaders can cultivate resilience is by modeling it. This moment can be a catalyst for the entire organization’s growth as leaders step forward with vision and boldness.
Cheryl Hyatt is a founding partner at Hyatt-Fennell Executive Search.