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Resilience isn't a moment in time: building a resilient culture

Thomas Davies, CEO at Temporall

July 30 2020 - It's hard to avoid the cliches when talking about the pandemic. 'Unprecedented', 'once in a generation' and a host of superlatives remind us how much we've all had to deal with.

But in many ways this teaches us an important lesson about resilience. Most people see it as something you discover in the face of adversity, rather than something you nurture within your culture as standard.

Accordingly, many of the business continuity plans I've seen organisations create over the years have been exceptionally detailed in terms of operating procedures but surprisingly light in terms of culture. To be less euphemistic, they've failed to examine whether their business is truly resilient, because they've overlooked their people.

Cultural and commercial benefits of resilience

When faced with a crisis, organisations understandably prioritise the survival mode that allows them to see the crisis through. However it's also important to keep an eye on what happens beyond the crisis, to develop a form of resilience that's not just about persevering now, but about preparing to succeed in the future. I believe these two modes have to stem from the same place - a truly resilient culture.

To nurture a resilient culture within an organisation, leadership teams must understand how well their company is able to sense, respond and adapt to disruptive change. Even outside of crises, most businesses are having to change more often, and at greater speed, than ever before. Getting left behind can happen very quickly. Simultaneously reputational risk has increased due to the scrutiny brands receive in traditional and social media.

As a result, the commitment to a culture of resilience must be constantly present, and it has to be fully exhibited by leaders and individuals alike. The challenge is that most organisations will defer to the business continuity plan when asked about resilience. And as I've said already, most of these don't account for true culture change.

How HR and leadership teams build a resilient culture

There are four key areas in which leaders can better understand the human element in organisational resilience, and build a strong platform to take on whatever comes their way:

[1] Assess your position in an open and analytical way

Any effort at culture change requires a strong understanding of what's happening within the business. It demands clear thinking based on the most complete picture possible of your organisation.

Knowing how people are performing during periods of uncertainty can help indicate how resilient your company culture is. But before you get to this test, you should critique the preconceptions, default behaviours and assumed strengths and weaknesses within the organisation. Look at perceptions of management, adaptability of processes and understanding of the company's overarching aims. This can also include pragmatic actions such as auditing the tools people have available should they face adaptations in their role.

Without this kind assessment, it's very difficult to lead positive changes in culture.

[2] Get everyone working in the same direction

Truly effective resilience strategies rely on your workforce providing connection and support between individuals and teams. It has to be ok to ask for help or to identify a problem. You have to build trust by ensuring everyone understands the goal you're working towards, and is motivated / incentivised to go in the same direction.

While trust can sound like an abstract concept, it's quickly realised in a crisis. In fast-changing situations, teams must have the capacity and freedom to improvise. Otherwise it's impossible for them to adapt, act quickly and perform under pressure - all of which are needed in truly resilient organisations.

When we perform these assessments on a business, we ask employees how well they understand the company's values, and how frequently they're seen in the business on a daily basis. Do their managers reflect them? Are they embedded in core processes and behaviours? If the answer is no, it's hard to get people aligned.

[3] Stay on top of the situation as it unfolds

A crisis is unsettling to a company because of the uncertainty it brings. And yet however many scenarios you map out in your business continuity plan, it's highly unlikely that every eventuality has been predicted. So you'll always have to deal with unknowns.

With each decision you make, something should change - hopefully for the better. So the insights you had a day or a week ago may not apply. This is why it's so important that businesses increase the cadence of insights they get into organisational performance. If you're waiting for a crisis to pass before you understand the impact of your decisions, resilience is compromised, because you've removed the ability to adapt.

When you have a clear set of parameters against which you can gauge organisational performance, and have established the means to assess them, your decision making and risk management is massively improved. Without that real time information, strategies can quickly become compromised.

[4] Be really clear about success and failure

Organisations that are truly resilient tend to have absolute clarity about what they're doing and why. Leaders are clear about the mindset, behaviours and actions that impact organisational resilience - and share this insight with the wider team. There's no point having a CEO who knows what a win looks like if no one else has that visibility.

When everyone within the business understands what success looks like, and how it's reported, the burden of survival or success is more evenly distributed across the organisation. Delegation becomes more effective. Teams are more motivated. And come good or bad, you have many hands making light work of the challenge.

Most importantly, with transparency, everyone can learn together and improve. This is a hallmark of the most resilient businesses.

Resilience isn't about a moment in time. But with the right organisational culture, when the worst moments in time happen, your business will be the one coming out stronger on the other side.



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