From perils to pearls: personal and organizational resilience
The Covid-19 crisis and the subsequent lockdown measures have put us and our organizations to an unprecedented test. After weeks of social distancing and alienation, pessimistic economic forecasts and depressing media coverage, how can we break free of fear, learn and grow from this experience? As illustrated below, there are four zones in which we find ourselves and our organizations:
Resilience is the critical capability that enables us to turn adversity into opportunities.
Boris Cyrulnik, who popularised this concept in 2009, defines resilience as “an invisible spring allowing us to bounce back from an ordeal, by turning the obstacle into a trampoline, fragility into wealth, weakness into strength, and impossibilities into a set of possibilities.”
Since individual and social development are always interlinked, resilience is not a set of innate traits, but it is the outcome of the interaction between who we are and a positive environment around us. In other words, in the right context we can learn to be more resilient.
How do you become more resilient?
Cyrulnik suggests the vivid metaphor of “knitting” to illustrate how effective coping strategies are, consistently applied to the defining moments of our lives. While we create our identity, negative events or encounters can unfortunately damage our perceptions.
Organizations that are communities of individuals with a common goal can learn and practice resilience, enduring a crisis and emerging stronger albeit not completely unscathed.
The role of leaders in helping develop organizational resilience is to twofold: build a receptive organisational environment and put in place fit-for-purpose mechanisms to be used as coping strategies.
In the two tables below, we have summarised the key findings of Cyrulnik research on personal resilience drivers and have included our suggestions for their application in today’s organizations:
Characteristics of the environment supporting resilience
|Availability of a caring person who develops an emotional bond
|– Compassionate, empathic leadership style
– Implementation of mentorship programs
|Secure and warm environment in which each person is treated with respect
|– Solidarity among team members achieved with decisions and symbolic actions where team members share pains and gains.
– Developing a collaborative network, creating safe remote working practices.
Copying strategies to address the crisis we face
|Accepting negative emotions as part of the process
|– Implement transparent and timely communication
|Developing a positive alternative to a discouraging reality
|– Reinforce the sense of purpose for the entire organization
– Socialize a post-crisis shared vision
|Shaping a stronger identity, sharing with others meaningful events and actions
|– Invest in the power of “storytelling” in order to reinforce organizational pride and commitment
|Find alternative or unprecedented responses to manage personal difficulties
|– Devote time to sponsor innovation (e.g. hackathons, innovation workshops, call for ideas…)
The road to organizational resilience is bumpy. Two things leaders should avoid are:
- Thinking of themselves as superhumans, carrying the entire organization on their shoulders, whereas the effective outcome is ensured via a common effort
- Considering this crisis only as terrible nuisance whose effects have to be minimized, as this attitude leads to passive and unproductive behaviours.
Crisis and decline are not our destiny. As leader, this is a calling to rise to this unique opportunity to build stronger, better organizations. As per Cyrulnik’s beautiful description, “the pearl inside the oyster might be the emblem of resilience. When a grain of sand gets into an oyster and is so irritating that, in order to defend itself, the oyster has to secrete a nacreous substance, the defensive reaction produces a material that is hard, shiny and precious.”
What are the future pearls we are creating with the choices we are making today?
About the Authors
Edoardo Monopoli is CEO & Partner of OXYGY. Since 1995, he has partnered with senior executives on their personal, leadership team and business strategies for sustainable success, combining performance improvement with real people engagement.
Vera Pellegrin is a sales, marketing and innovation specialist, with over 20 years experience. She has been supporting the implementation of profitable growth strategies in different contexts from customer centric and dynamic industries (retail, fashion, consulting) to highly technical products and highly regulated industries (pharmaceutical and medical devices).