In my first post I described what resilience is and why it’s important. In this post I will focus on how organizations can use this information to be more successful during change.
Energy and Change
Human energy is the currency of change. For an organization to successfully realize the full benefits of change initiatives, people throughout the organization need to shift mindsets and behaviors to operate in new ways. Depending on the nature of the challenge, they spend some combination of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual energy to make these shifts. When this energy is depleted, people take longer to adapt to change and have a harder time responding in a resilient fashion.
Physical energy is used when people work long hours, exert their bodies to accomplish tasks, or do things that are physically uncomfortable.
Mental energy is used when people learn new skills, solve complex problems, or produce results that require high levels of analysis and focus.
Emotional energy is used when people deal with their own anger, sadness, or loss; it is also used when supporting others who are going through challenges.
Spiritual energy is used when people feel disconnected from a sense of meaning or purpose, or when they feel that their efforts are not valued or are ineffective in achieving important goals.
These forms of energy are interconnected—when one type of energy is expended, it affects the others as well. Although energy can be replenished over time, people have a finite supply that is used for all the changes they are facing, both inside and outside of the organization.
Points of Impact
To support the overall resilience of the organization during change, leaders and change agents can focus their attention in several areas:
- Making sure that people have the opportunity to build and replenish their energy through healthy practices, a sense of community, learning opportunities, and connection to a sense of meaning and purpose. For example, an organization in which employees regularly bring junk food to the office will likely have people with less physical energy than an organization in which healthier practices are the norm.
- Ensuring that change initiatives are well-chosen, well-planned, and well-managed to ensure that they do not consume any more energy than necessary. For example, an organization that begins new initiatives without thinking about other projects already taking place in the organization is likely to create confusion and overload, placing unnecessary strain on individuals.
- Helping people understand that there are natural emotional cycles they are likely to experience when they go through change; this helps them avoid feelings of concern or worry when they, their peers, their managers, or their direct reports go through predictable periods of reduced effectiveness during a change initiative. For example, a leader who recognizes that her team needs to take some time to process emotions related to a recent staff layoff will likely achieve better results than a leader who expects that people will just “get over it.”
- Teaching people about their own resilience “change muscles,” and providing opportunities to develop these characteristics so they can be applied to change-related challenges. For example, a team in which members understand their resilience strengths and weaknesses can consciously draw on one another’s strengths to achieve better results when dealing with a change initiative.
- Managing each change initiative in a way that enables people to engage their change muscles easily. For example, clear communication about the most important priorities during a change supports people in applying their “Focused” characteristic.
- Creating a culture that supports the development and use of the resilience characteristics. For example, a culture that encourages and supports people in experimenting with new ways of doing things is more hospitable to the “Proactive” characteristic than a culture that punishes people for making mistakes.
Change Roles and Resilience
Sponsors: People in leadership roles take on additional responsibilities during change related to effective change sponsorship. Some of the things that sponsors can do to support individual resilience include:
- Understanding the true impact of the change on the various individuals and groups that are affected. This helps them accurately estimate and prepare for the amount of energy required to adapt.
- Delivering influential communications that help people understand the reasons for the change, what they are expected to do, and how the organization will support them. This increases individuals’ ability to set accurate expectations and spend less energy in the adaptation process.
- Modeling effective responses to disruption. When leaders do not deal well with the demands of change, the ripples spread throughout the organization. When leaders are able to demonstrate high levels of resilience, they enable others to increase their own effectiveness as well.
Agents: As change initiatives are planned and executed, the role of the agent in supporting individual resilience is important as well. Some of the things that agents can do to support individual resilience include:
- Effectively identifying all the targets of the change—those who need to shift their mindsets and behaviors; understanding the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual demands that each group will face; and taking this information into account in the planning and implementation process.
- Developing and delivering communication that is frequent, clear, positive in tone, and enables individuals to develop accurate mental models of the future state.
- Incorporating target training that helps people understand their own reactions to change and gain an awareness of their resilience muscles and how to use them effectively when responding to disruption.
Targets: Individuals going through change can enhance their own resilience and that of the people around them by:
- Taking time to sustain and replenish their energy—taking care of their own physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
- Listening carefully to what is communicated and asking questions that will enable them to create a clear picture of the future.
- Understanding and managing their own responses to disruption, and providing support to others who are experiencing negative impact.
Advocates: People who have strong positive or negative opinions about the change but are not in formal leadership positions can support the overall resilience of the system by:
- Turning negative opinions into constructive ideas—suggesting options and maintaining a positive tone rather than being obstructive and negative.
- Using informal sources of power and influence to speak up on behalf of the change—leading the way and showing people what is possible.
- Modeling resilience in dealing with the more challenging aspects of an initiative.
It’s easiest to think about resilience when a major change is in process or on the horizon. This is when concerns about individual adaptation are most prominent. However, it’s easiest to build resilience when people are in an environment where smaller changes are taking place, as these situations provide low-risk opportunities to try out new ways of responding to change and to build change muscles that can be applied to larger challenges. Organizations who see resilience as a strategic capability, and work continually to build individual energy, prepare people for ongoing change, and create a culture that celebrates and supports effective responses to turbulence are better prepared for both the planned changes they make and the unexpected changes that they encounter.
Dr. Linda Hoopes is the founder and President of Resilience Alliance. For more than twenty years she has studied the role that personal resilience plays in successfully navigating both personal and organizational change.