Ways To Create A More Resilient Workforce In Times Of Change

How To Help A Workforce Become More Resilient To Change

Thrive’s ANN MURAYA helps organisations large and small grow resilience in their teams, so they are more prepared to face uncertain times. Here she lifts the lid on the ideas and practice behind her work. 

Change can be hard, can’t it?

It can! Humans feel secure when we’re settled. We don’t always like to leave our comfort zones. But anything that’s alive must go through change, even if we don’t want to. I find this so interesting, which I suppose is why I’ve ended up helping leadership and teams figure out how to navigate change together. I once led some sessions to support a group as they came to the end of their contract with an organisation. They all started out feeling despondent, but at the end, they were upbeat and excited for their future. Change can be good!

And change seems to be something many organisations are grappling with at the moment.

Organisations constantly undergo change, but there is an uncertainty around at the moment – stemming from the pandemic, conflict, economic woes, climate change – that has heightened the amount of change that organisations are experiencing. Whether they are growing, shrinking, refocusing, or going through some kind of a culture shift, I think now is a crucial time for organisations to think about strengthening the resilience of their workforce. 

What does resilience mean to you?

It’s the ability to bounce back, and to feel secure in the midst of insecurity. For a team, it’s the ability to cope with whatever transition the organisation is going through. Resilient people can cope with difficult situations because they don’t feel threatened by them. There is something protective around them that means they can separate the issues at hand from their personhood. A resilient workforce doesn’t dwell on what it can’t control but focuses on what it can. And they support each other.

What prevents a workforce being resilient? 

Poor communication is a big thing. When an organisation’s intentions are not made clear to the team, there is room for rumours, second-guessing, insecurity, and for people to make poorer decisions because they are based on little information. Another big thing is when leaders don’t demonstrate care and concern for their team. This can lead a team to lose its loyalty to the organisation, since they are not convinced that the leadership has their best interests at heart. 

And what does this lead to?

It reduces the team’s productivity for a start. They busy themselves thinking about things other than the work at hand. They go into a ‘self-protective’ mode as they think about their survival and not the organisation’s. It heightens anxiety and fear for the future. And it may lead to an exodus out of the organisation, as well as burnout. The earlier an organisation nips these things in the bud, the better! 

Communication is obviously crucial. How can an organisation do this well?

The leadership team needs to sit down together and develop a framework of how to communicate the change and how to manage it. The next step is to identify key people in the implementation of the change. This means looking for people who are ‘leaders’ in their own right in the organisation. These are the people who other people usually listen to. Once these people understand and buy into the new vision or direction, they can get the rest of the team on board. This is important because it makes the whole team active participants in implementing the change, shifting ownership of the change from the leaders to the larger team members.

So is it solely the responsibility of the leadership to build resilience? 

No. Leaders should definitely provide clear direction, but it’s important that the rest of the organisation play a part in building resilience. A team’s members should be given the opportunity to participate.  They should try to be understanding, ask good questions, and be willing to try out new ways of doing things. This shows that everyone is willing to work collaboratively to move the organisation forward during change.

You’ve worked with NGOs and businesses around the world as they navigate change – what are the common themes you spot?

When people come together during a time of change, and share their feelings – which are often rooted in fear and insecurity about the future – it’s as if a weight is lifted. They learn that they are not alone. And from there a shift often starts to happen. People begin to feel less like victims and begin to become active participants within their sphere of influence. It can be very encouraging.

If someone reading this wants to explore building resilience in their organisation, what’s the best place to start? 

If you’re a manager, leader or in HR, then a Resilience Check-In is a great place to start. It’s a safe space that I, or one of my colleagues, will facilitate with a team or an individual. It’s an opportunity to pause and reflect together on how things are going. It might sound simple, but it can be a very helpful first step in the process. Another starting point is Leadership Coaching where we support leaders to think through what is happening and how best to move forward.

If you’d like a safe space for you or your team to reflect on a time of change, and build resilience, then take consider our Resilience Check-In here.

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