Colored slinky toy on the pink surface
In the current context of life, we all face trauma, adversity and stress. If you are a person who has experienced some level of challenging life circumstances throughout your journey, you may be better prepared to meet the current world order in your own terms. This is because people, who face unexpected and significant turbulences earlier in their years – especially as children, tend to grow capacity to be autonomous and independent and seek out new experiences. Therefore, when faced with a new kind of situation, they are often able to better develop what’s scientifically called a “positive social orientation.”
Yet, the majority of us do not have this luxury. Not only we continue to possess the same fundamental stress-response system, which has evolved over millions of years and which we share with other animals, we tend to immediately revert back to it – ‘the fight or flight mode’ during times of ambiguity and volatility. This is perfectly normal and expected. In fact, we, as human beings tend to thrive on a particular amount of stress. Acute stress is a response to a short-term stressor like presenting in a meeting, writing an article for the first time or making a deadline on a complex project. This kind of stress can create a bit of anxiety and sometimes physiological symptoms such as headache and at the same time, it can help us feel excited and challenged often pushing our energy levels up to perform better. When, however, we become reliant on our natural resources to “handle” such acute stress over long periods of time, acute stress can turn into chronic stress and create “wear and tear” on our minds, souls, and bodies. This very natural survival instinct of stress when perceived as ‘uncontrollable’ becomes toxic whereas when we can master and navigate through our inner waters can support the building of resilience.
Resilience refers to one’s ability to face difficult and unprecedented situations with grace and bounce back from adversity.
“The developable capacity to rebound or bounce back from adversity, conflict, and failure or even positive events, progress, and increased responsibility (Luthans, 2002a: 702).”
What’s better? Resilience encompasses human skills that can be taught. We know through research that children, who are nurtured and understood by their caregivers develop the ability to better notice, understand, label and communicate their emotions in the long term. Similarly, when we, as adults, can keep an “open and compassionate attitude” towards our inner experiences and work towards creating a healthy distance between us and our stressful feelings, thoughts, emotions, we, too, can become better able to navigate through our emotions and learn to soothe ourselves, set better boundaries, and trust our intuitions.
In a business context, resilience relates to an organization’s capacity to anticipate, prepare for, respond and adapt to incremental change and sudden disruptions in order to survive and prosper. To survive in environments of complexity or uncertainty and to foster sustainable growth despite the instability or volatility, organizations must be able to handle a variety of scenarios that may manifest unexpectedly. This requires them to develop individual and team capacity so the whole organism can react and cope with events mindfully and adequately (Lengnick-Hall et al. 2011).
It is important we delineate resilience from adaptability, which is a common misunderstanding for people. Adaptability refers to an organization’s capability to evolve its practices, processes, procedures and policies in response to a particular change in the environment. Resilience also differs from related constructs such as flexibility, agility or robustness. Although they may have some elements in common with resilience, these specific constructs are different in their becoming and drivers inside an environment. For example, while flexibility and agility are necessary to deal with daily problems and systemic changes, resilience is often recorded as a more important success factor in dealing with unexpected threats and crises (Lengnick-Hall et al. 2011) and has a longer-term value proposition.
Though resilience is about capacity, in the development of organizational resilience, we can take a capability view on it. In this research conceptualization, we find there are different norms we can assign to the different experiences and phases of activity in management of an unexpected event (see summary below).
A capability-based conceptualization – Stephanie Duchek
Given we are currently in the phase of coping abide the COVID-19 environment, which specific activities one may wonder we should be engaging in?
The best way to develop organizational resilience requires businesses to proactively invest in teaching its individuals the kind of core human attributes they can rely on during adversity. Since we lost our opportunity to anticipate and prepare for the unlikely scenario we are in at the moment and are currently trying to manage by, below are a few activities businesses can engage in to support resilience development:
1. Sharing information: It is critical businesses find channels to keep communication going. In absence of information, people tend to fill in the gaps and assume the worst. Organizations can consider regular gatherings to address macro and micro stress factors, to share any news in a hopeful fashion. It is equally important we continue celebrating moments of wins, recognitions and life events.
2. Keeping alignment: It is equally critical for businesses to align teams around business goals and focus only on key priorities at this time. Given the current context and competing life priorities, it is normal for people to not have regular concentration power to carry on with “everyday” responsibilities. Aligning teams on activities that most matter and empowering people leaders to make the right decisions can lift the burden of ‘productivity’ and help people focus tremendously.
3. Spending time together: Though some of us may prefer to turn inward, the majority of us look for quality connections during times of stress. Developing new routines – like weekly digital TGIFs, continuing with small celebrations, engaging in online check-ins, drop-ins or assigning remote work bodies can all be helpful to create moments of belonging. Technology can serve as a wonderful tool in connecting people.
4. Embedding positive psychology: Using positive language is always important but especially during adverse times. Finding ways to embed compassion into everything we do from small talk to performance related conversations can help immensely. In the longer run, we urge companies to rely consider deployment of kindness-altruism building practices as a part of their development activities.
5. Learning: It may not seem urgent now; however, it can be of real value to keep a log on individual and team organizational behaviors as a way to depict patterns. Taking a rhythmic pulse on what’s weighing on people and why, probing to understand what’s working well or not is a good idea because connecting those gained insights with the differentiation of cognitive, behavioral, and contextual dimensions of resilience can really help organizations reflect well on the circumstances and assist in development of a longer-term code of conduct for future situations.
There are many ways in which humans come to know an experience and to find a solution towards survival (and to remain sane), arguably some better than others. By “better”, we mean a way conducive to building greater presence, clarity, joy and safe independence.
Terrible or unforeseen outcomes are always possible and often probable in life’s way, but we tend to avoid thinking about the circumstances. If we could only remind ourselves that the choices we make today can impact the outcomes of tomorrow, we would all slowly move towards a greater awakening of consciousness and building of higher resilience.