How Resilient Is Your Organization?

GumbySocial psychologists generally define resilience as the human capacity to remain both flexible and strong in the midst of ambiguity, stress, and change. The “resilient” person perseveres by showing above average ability to remain positive, focused, flexible, organized and proactive.

According to researchers at the National Mental Health Institute, the answer to human resiliency might be found in childhood experiences and biology more than social sciences. Social relationships, faith, health, and financial stability are factors in resilience, while negative childhood experiences, such as trauma, abuse, and chronic stress can prime the body to react to major hardships and everyday setbacks with similar levels of fear and panic.

gritResearchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center have pursued similar research focusing on adolescent development and the creation of “grit”.  Defined as “perseverance and passion for long term goals”, grit outperforms IQ in predicting success among humans.  The late Randy Pausch, noted author of “The Last Lecture” described obstacles in life as “brick walls” designed not to keep us out, or from achieving our dreams, but rather, to test how badly we wanted to achieve it. In effect, brick walls exist to stop people who don’t want it badly enough, or lack “grit”.

How then does a collection of humans demonstrate this as a group effort, in an organization?

Jim Collins in “Good to Great” stated that successful companies faced as much adversity as their less-successful competitors but simply handled it better and emerged stronger.  Most companies have a short life span according to a study done many years ago by Royal Dutch/Shell.  Only 40 corporations were more than 100 years old, with about half of all new companies failing in the first five years.

The look of a “resilient” organization is one that can continuously monitor shifts and take action, rebound quickly from setbacks, encourage innovators, focus on the positive, and achieve high levels of production while nurturing relationships. Not surprisingly, organizations “tip” in the direction of resiliency, or not, through the influence of strong personal leadership exhibited by key personnel.

Malcolm Gladwell, in “The Tipping Point”, described the “Law of the Few”. Under this law, a few key leadership personnel appear to have the ability to “tip” an organization in the direction of resilience. These leaders perceive challenges constructively and are able to move quickly from analysis to plan of action.

Resilient leaders also opportunity-oriented.  They expect change, reframe new situations or invent new approachs, see change as opportunities to seize, and feel empowered by change.  In contrast, “danger-oriented” leaders rigidly adhere to old operating styles, and feel victimized during change, among other non-resilient traits.thinking styles

Both personally and with respect to your organization, consider some questions. Do you approach new situations with an open mind? Do you remain optimistic, not giving up, even if things seem hopeless? Can you laugh at yourself? How quickly, if ever, do you bounce back in a short time after setback? How capable are you at improvising to make best use of your available resources? The answers may give you some sense of where you stand, and where your team stands.