What is resilience and how to recognise it in your people?

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Everyone seems to be talking about resilience. It is one of the biggest business buzzwords of the moment being thrown around by leaders in company boardrooms everywhere, but what does it really mean and why is it so important for your business? 

What is Resilience?

There are a multitude of definitions on a spectrum ranging from reactive to active, from survive to thrive, from the ‘ability to bend and not break’ to the Anglo-Saxon concept of being prepared, embracing change as good and growing through it. 

For us at PEPIT Consulting, resilience goes way beyond just good physical health and well-being and the agility to swerve around obstacles and rebound rapidly from crises. It is the ability to bounce forward in times of adversity and embrace forward momentum despite challenges.

Resilience is an inherent, cultivated and constant state of preparedness and readiness:

  • to anticipate and cope with surprise and unforeseen adversity, 
  • to see change and surprise as a source of opportunity and 
  • to anticipate and seize negative occurrences and challenges as unexpected chances for growth. 

It is the attitude, fortitude and skill set that enables one to cope with efficiency and effectiveness in periods of change and stress based on a belief that a crisis is not to be feared or just survived, but is an opportunity to prosper. 

Resilient organisations have the ability to adjust positively and with speed and take creative, robust and transformative actions when confronted with changing conditions, unexpected events and challenges.

As such, resilience is a necessary pre-condition for strategic agility and a capability for organisational adjustment that cannot be fully established in advance. 

It is critical for organisations to succeed and thrive in this environment where the pace of change is so fast that plans are often superseded by events before they can be delivered.

How do you Recognise Resilience in Your People?

These are the formal definitions, but what does resilience look like? How do you know it when you see it? 

You will certainly know it when you don’t have a resilient organisation.

Signs of Low Resilience in an Organisation

Less resilient people:

  • dwell on problems and feel overwhelmed, 
  • they may get caught in rumination, a victim mentality, procrastination or even frozen in uncertainty,
  • they are afraid of making mistakes or of failure and try to protect themselves from this by resorting to rigid, standard, acquired processes and solutions. 

Low resilience leads to chronic stress. Chronically stressed employees exhibit less enthusiasm and commitmentto their work and are more likely to disengage. All of this leads to a decline in mental capital and loss of productivity.

In many ways, resilience is hard to see and recognise because it is an intangible, invisible state and culture grounded in profound psychological health. 

However, there are a number of characteristics and indicators of a resilient individual or organisation. 

Indicators of Resilient Individuals, Teams and Organisations

In an organisation with resilient employees, you will see confidence, self-belief, optimism, connection, hope, commitment, courage and risk-taking without fear of failure– which will result in creativity and innovation, even, and especially, in times of adversity.

You will see people who are externally aware and alert and who anticipate and accept both internal and environmental changes, and challenges, and respond to them with a growth mindset, creative solutions and ideas to overcome them. 

They will see difficult situations and stress not only as a normal part of life but as an opportunity to grow. 

They will be relaxed and decisive without rumination despite uncertainty, accepting the discomfort of not doing things perfectly and the possibility of failure. As a result, it provides an emotional stability and controlthat enables them to cope with adversity without stress or depression. They believe that, regardless of what happens, they can control their reaction and response to it. 

You will also see people who are centre stage and willing to speak up and act, leveraging the diversity in the team with information and ideas coming from anyone in any part of the organisation at any time. 

Resilient people and teams will also have a huge learning capacity, based on their desire to give and take constructive feedback, talk about and learn from failure and mistakes because they see them as sources of learning that help build wisdom. 

When you have a resilient team, you will see it: they trust and support each other, take shared accountability and their cohesion and connectedness gives a sense of ‘we’ or ‘us’ versus ‘me’. They thrive on positive interactions and forging relationships with others, including with suppliers, customers and strategic alliance partners. This enables them to find and mobilise resources to seize an opportunity. 

Resilient organisations have an ability to assimilate and apply new knowledge and are collaborativeenough to abandon existing plans and procedures when necessary, making decisions and developing new solutions and approaches quickly and creatively. 

In reviewing what resilience looks like, it becomes somewhat self-evident that this is a culture any organisation would want to have and thus to invest in. One side note in case of any doubt: 

Nobody questions the importance of investing in innovation and everyone is doing it, but investing in resilience IS investing in innovation.

You need to be a resilient organisation to innovate, because people create when they are relaxed, healthy, comfortable, safe, secure and empowered. They do not innovate and perform at their best when they feel stressed, afraid of failure and vulnerable.


White Paper on Organisational Resilience

We have recently published a white paper “Why the Smartest Businesses are Investing in Building Resilience”, which contains extensive research, best practices and case studies on resilience in human capital. It sets out the business case for building resilient work cultures and provides some guidance on how to make this happen.

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