Resilience…as a process

Published in SaskBusiness, December 2012…

It is well known that organizations need to be healthy in three key areas: resources (skills and tools), systems (processes and procedures), and culture (values, behaviors and practices).

It is logical that those who tend to their culture through nurturing practices benefit from having engaged employees. A healthy culture provides a platform in which individuals’ creativity and energy can flow freely. This enables the development of cultivated relationships from which synergy can arise…a synergy that in turn brings forth innovations, which infuse all the key areas mentioned above.

Ford StockFord Share Price (2002-2012)

If synergy is so logical and beneficial, why do so few achieve it? I am coming to believe that it is simple: it takes work. However, simple is not to be confused with “easy”, for we humans are complex creatures. Still, whatever our mission, we will accomplish it with greater impact, sustainability…and ease, when passion is maintained!

John Kotter (Formerly of Harvard Business School) suggests over ninety-nine of the information that the average employee receives in a given three month period is repetitive and mundane. We are therefore expecting that employees will navigate change effectively in approximately one half of one percent.

What messages are people receiving from you? Kotter suggests that one half of one percent equates to: one thirty minute speech, one six hundred word article, one two thousand word memo, and a one hour long meeting devoted to change messaging over a three-month period. How do you fare against the average? Do you want to be average?
I was back at Ford world headquarters recently to tour their research and development laboratories. I confess that I was wondering if I would see anything new. I did witness some impressive technological advances, such as materials that could lighten a vehicle by as much as fifty percent! However, I was thoroughly rewarded when Bob Santer, Ford’s Chief Product Analyst, started off the introductory session with a slide of the One Ford card, and stated, “If it was not for this vision, we would likely not be here today.” The One Ford card was launched in 2008, and the message is as consistent and powerful within Ford today (four years later) as it was the day it was launched.

I have been working with a “client” for nearly 4 years now. I hesitate to say “client” given the intimacy of the correlating relationships. We have truly chosen to embrace this collaborative journey as partners. In a recent staff meeting, the senior leader of the organization commented on a recent organizational event by saying, “The synergy that I witnessed in this (recent event) was amazing, we truly pulled together as a team, and achieved something much greater.” Comments like this could fuel my passion for a long time!

In last month’s column Diane Craig, CEO, Ford Canada, affirmed that the most important behavior she needed to model was “own working together”, and within this, “emotional resilience”. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines resilience as: “the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress; an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.”

The global financial crisis would certainly constitute a “compressive stress”, and Ford continues to demonstrate an ability to recover; not only recover, but actual emerge a better version of its former fame and glory.

Several additional sources suggest that psychological resilience is a kind of “posttraumatic growth” or “steeling effects” where the adversity actually leads to produce a better form or function (much like an inoculation gives one the capacity to cope well with future exposure to disease). Resilience is not so much the not a trait of an individual, but rather a process, and therefore something that can be adapted within an organization…with effort.

If you are a change leader, where are you fueling up? What is the status of your personal psychological resilience? Have you “steeled” yourself?

Whatever your journey over the past year, there is hope for this coming year. Resilience is a process, and it is one you can establish. What messages are you taking in? How clear are they? Are they linked to a sound strategy? Are you willing to model the change? Are you willing to work hard at it…with consistency? Will you fuel the passion and hold promise accountable? Are you willing to work together in partnership, establishing synergy, or are you content to be the lone wolf?

You may be experiencing a sharp decline in productivity and/or profitability, or maybe just a loss of vision in general. Steel yourself. Though things may appear to be getting worse, if you are willing to stay engaged, you may find that this present challenge is your greatest opportunity…yours, and all of those who work with you.