This article originally appeared on Forbes
How has your business changed in the last year? Moving HR and IT to the cloud? Did you migrate products or essential internal systems to the cloud? Are AI and big data changing your business? Have you digitized your customer-facing interactions? Maybe you entered a new market or discovered your most powerful competitor is a company that didn’t exist two years ago. The pace of change is relentless. Instead of anticipating known risks, organizations now exist in a state that the U.S. Army War College calls VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity). Now, consider that every one of these changes requires people to learn new skills, forge new ways to communicate and alter their perspective about their work. And remain calm and focused.
A 2016 Harvard Business Review survey identified the ability to adapt as the most important skill for companies undergoing a digital transformation—more important than technical knowledge, communication skills or even customer-focused problem-solving. Adaptability should be in everyone’s job description. Unfortunately, it’s not taught in school or learned by reading a couple of paragraphs during new hire orientation. And it’s a compounding problem in a large organization, because every person who doesn’t adapt to change is a drag on the organization’s change efforts, making it less flexible and less able to match faster-evolving competitors.
Change is the New Normal. How will you handle it? In the past, leaders predicted threats and planned responses with a risk-management strategy. Today, however, the nature of risk itself is different. Instead of anticipating known risks, organizations must cope with an environment that is volatile, uncertain, always complex and often ambiguous. Transformative models like agile empower people to move quickly in a dynamic environment, but they also require employees to re-imagine how they work.
In a world of constant change, non-adaptive behavior is the killer problem.
Expecting employees to tough it out is wasteful and expensive…and can easily backfire. In such situations, reports Towers Watson, employees “fear they will not get the support they need to successfully navigate these changes and therefore have a preference for stability.” Instead, individuals need to acquire resilience in the face of uncertainty. Resilience—the ability to bounce back in the face of change—is the starting point of adaptive behavior.
In times of change, an organization builds adaptive behavior progressively through three phases:
1. Build Individual Resilience
Employees eager to acquire new skills have a whole new attitude toward change. The World Economic Forum declares, “individuals’ mindset and efforts will be key… for people to become creative, curious, agile lifelong learners, comfortable with continuous change.”
That ideal mindset requires resilience. We often think of resilience as a personality trait, but in fact, it can be learned. Resilience is comprised of seven factors, or competencies, which increase and enable self-management, self-awareness, realistic optimism, empathy and reaching out to connect with others. With resilience training, employees regard the unknown from a different point of view, moving from “what will I lose?” to “whatever happens, I’ll be okay.”
In the face of change, resilience creates a growth mindset.
2.Create a Network of Empowered Teams
As employees grow in resilience, so teams acquire the strength to adapt quickly, and this quality is implicit in agile teams. Invented to cope with the need for continuous change, agile teams stress clarity of mission and focus, accountability, flexible thinking and problem solving, mutual trust and psychological safety. A resilient team is skilled in managing change, including changes in its membership, makeup and authority. Without such resilience, team productivity would break under the pressure of change.
Leaders of empowered teams also must change to act as coaches and mentors, not hands-on micromanagers. McKinsey calls for shared and servant leadership in agile organizations. This is a dramatic break from the top-down structure that has defined organizations for generations, and candid leadership will admit to its own need for resilience when taking on this transformation.
3.Embed Resilience in Your Culture
Every new normal tests an organization’s culture. Like individuals and teams, culture is stressed by changing circumstances. No single person “owns” a culture, but as a leader, you embody and exhibit the values that underlie culture. Will they change in times of disruption?
Leadership’s answer to this question has a major impact on the resilience of the workplace itself. At meQuilibrium, we’ve researched the values of hundreds of organizations over the last seven years, including Fortune 500 companies and government departments. We’ve discovered that organizational resilience requires putting stated values into action—in other words, integrity.
Integrity builds trust across the board, in good times and tough times. You cannot guarantee the future—and employees know that—but you can assure employees that, whatever happens, you will act according to the values they know and share.
Individual skills training, agility in teams and leadership integrity are the three pillars of organizational resilience. Weave them into the life of your organization now, and they will see you through the next “new normal,” and the one after that.