Putting the ‘And’ Back into Resilience

Resilience is often poorly understood. We hear terms like ‘they should be a bit more resilient’ or ‘they’re a very resilient individual’ like it is an identity,  thing that some people inherently just have, and others don’t. However, when we step back and think about it, we gain an identity through meticulous practice and repetition. It’s only through focus that we get to the point where the behaviour becomes automatic and therefore part of our identity. A pianist isn’t born with wondrously dexterous fingers, a sense of timing and a musical ear, they develop them, building behaviours and wiring neural pathways together until they are unconsciously competent. As a child, they are supported by an ecosystem that helps them develop those habits. For instance, a parent that reminds them to practice and teacher who shows they how to best practice, until they move from someone who is learning to play the piano to someone who is  a pianist. We need to think about resilience in the same way, as a set of behaviours and skills that can be practiced until they are the default automatic option. Organisations can help people to do this by setting up their ecosystems (the way things are done around here) and cultures to make it easier for people to acquire and practice those good habits.

Developing a ‘Resilient Organisation’ is just as much about developing resilient people as it is about developing robust processes. After all, resilient processes are usually run by people. There are lots of reasons to focus on this area.  We know that resilient people are better able to bounce back and learn from adversity, more able to think flexibly and innovate their way out of problems and even view them as opportunities. As Robert Sapolsky says in his book Behave[1], ‘stressed people make bad decisions marinated in emotion’.  These bad decisions cost organisations in poor people management, productivity and increased sickness (costing the UK economy £8.4 billion. Even worse, presenteeism (where people are in work but their productivity is impacted by stress or illness) costs the economy £15.1 billion per annum and impacts the ecosystem,  making it harder to do those behaviours that promote and develop resilience. Behaviours are viral and easily caught. Poor cultures develop just as easily as good ones and sometimes are incredibly hard to shift (seen in the same bad staff survey results year after year). This can manifest in burnout and people taking less care. In healthcare, this emotional exhaustion can lead to compassion fatigue and increase the risk of error by up to 45%[2]. In other industries, this can be the cost of missed opportunities, reckless behaviour or even lack of care in client relationships.

The question then, is how come we are not better at helping people develop their resilience? Potentially, this is because this is still a relatively new area for organisations to think about (and applying learning from how our brains work (neuroscience) to the work place is newer still) and many leaders believe that employee happiness is the employee responsibility, rather than being a joint endeavour. But and a big but developing resilience as habit will result in resilient organisations that can navigate and bounce back from adversity. The way to get there is by creating cultures that role model and promote habits and behaviours of resilience and make it the de facto “way things are done around here“.

A strategic approach isn’t a quick sticking plaster of running a few mindfulness or yoga sessions, especially  because the people most likely to access them are the ones in least need. Those kinds of activities are an act of delusional box ticking that make no difference to your bottom line or the recurring themes in your staff survey.  We know that a strategic approach makes a difference and European work place analysis studies demonstrate returns of €5.20 for every €1 invested.

A strategic approach needs to be two pronged :

  • taking a deep look at the recurring patterns (covered in another blog) that hold everything in place and
  • proactively role modelling and promoting protective factors that evidence shows us are associated with resilience.

This creates a tailor-made evidenced-based approach to resilience for teams and individuals which can contribute to building a resilient culture together. Through doing this, both organisations and individuals can understand what they can do, the useful personal and organisational habits that make it more likely that they will be in the best place to take opportunities and manage stresses so that they feel more like bumps and less like craters. It is then more likely that stress will move from being chronic[3] to short term[4], which actually improves performance and productivity. This proactive approach will also enhance relationships and reduce conflict and stop ‘people giving an ulcer to avoid an ulcer’.

There are lots of different ways that you can approach resilience and the most effective tool that I have used to date has been developed by www.mindmatters.pro This psychometric tool can be used with both teams and individuals and review six domains:

  • Health
  • Purpose
  • Problem Solving
  • Perseverance
  • Composure
  • Relationships

Working with this tool has enhanced the work with teams and individuals and identified actions that people can take to support them in their wider development. It’s is like developing a ‘stress inoculation’  for your people. For instance, that whilst we might not talk much about someone’s quality of sleep at work, we know that a lack of it costs the US Economy up to $411b a year[5]. In the it’s U.K  up to $50 billion (1.86 percent of our GDP, and just over 200,000 working days lost).  Just by helping people improve this one factor, can help people increase their insight[6] and ability to get those eureka moments. It provides a platform from which people flourish.

Each domain interconnects: for instance, in the relationship domain, one team discovered that their tendency was to overprotect, rather than talk to each other. Therefore, at times of high stress, they would disconnect rather than ask someone else for help. This work, enabled them to review the team culture they were inadvertently creating together and to purposefully develop better team habits that increased both their productivity and creative problem solving.  Leaders reflected on what they role modelled and led the way in intentionally reaching out and asking for support. They have recognised that this has increased their team working and where asking for help was once viewed as a weakness, it is now seen as an opportunity to develop new thinking. It is now a desirable strength[7].  Another, team that was feeling overwhelmed with work, has just adopted the simple behaviour of making sure they take lunch. That small act has improved relationships (connecting with each other over a sandwich) and they are reporting that they are generating better ideas that are making a difference by managing this boundary. Each individual and each team is different, and this approach enables that difference to be heard and people to be valued.

Taking an  evidence-based approach moves resilience from being a poorly understood individual responsibility, to being a purposeful organisational activity that can change cultures, reinforce new behaviours, and foster innovation. Whilst it is about your people, it is also about your bottom line. Building resilient people makes resilient organisations. If you take one thing away from this post, think about how you are role modelling resilient behaviours. Think about having lunch with someone.

To find out more about the tool: www.clearlyessential.co.uk/pri-indicator/


[1] Behave: The biology of humans at our Best and Worst – Robert Sapolsky

[2] Compassionomics: The Revolutionary Scientific Evidence That Caring Makes a Difference –  Stephen Trzekiak and Anthony Mazzarelli

[3] Chronic stress affects performance and relationships. It impacts our immune systems (increasing the likelihood of people being absent from illness), impacts our ability to connect with others, to think clearly and even to feel happy.

[4] Short term stress is evidenced to increase performance (and get into ‘flow’ state and actually strengthen the immune system. (The Short-Term Stress Response – Mother Nature’s Mechanism for Enhancing Protection and Performance Under Conditions of Threat, Challenge, and Opportunity – Dhabhar et al.)

[5] https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1791.html

[6] Sleep Inspires insight- Wagner, Gais, Haider, Verleger, Born  – Nature 2004 Jan 22;427(6972):352-

[7] The Trust Factor: Paul Zak.


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