After two years of intense firefighting through the pandemic, now is the time for HR to focus back on longer term business needs. After so many hard knocks, organizational and personal resilience have become a key requirement for future survival. How can HR contribute to make a significant impact to such a vital strategic necessity?
The future has become much more uncertain and doing business has become a lot more risky: if you respond too late or inappropriately, you could well get left behind or annihilated. In this environment, building greater resilience into your organization becomes a must.
To assist the organization to become more robust, this article will ask some searching questions and offer practical steps that HR professionals can take to strengthen the path ahead and also enable the organization to be better able bounce back from any hard knocks.
These steps should positively help your organization to look ahead more critically and knowingly, so that it is better able to tackle what lies ahead and build a stronger future.
What does resilience consist of?
Resilience involves building the strength of groups and individuals within the organization to handle change and respond accordingly and look ahead, taking on board relevant information and key signals.
How capable is your organization of taking in and acting on new information?
Future-proof organizations need to be able to periodically ask themselves these core questions:
- Is your organization learning from the present and seeing indications of the way ahead?
- Can your organization get better at foreseeing possible futures?
- How can you become more adaptive?
- How should you better address crises and adversity?
HR is potentially well-placed to assist the organization to be stronger in taking on board these broad but probing questions and facing up to the future.
Learning in the present
Many organizations have become familiar with continuous improvement of processes and activities and HR has assisted in many cases to promote a learning culture. Now today’s challenge is to take active steps to be agile and responsive enough to meet changing market demands and competitive threats.
This means regularly reviewing what you are doing and the decisions you are making, with the future as well as the present in mind. Consider your organization’s current position:
- What has been the effect of the pandemic on your organization?
- What are the key factors that help your workforce to learn? Are these factors primarily internal or external? Are they tuned into the future or primarily the present or past?
- What is the quality of your organization’s ability to look out for emergent changes in the environment, using information gained from today’s decision making using a range of sources including alliances, partnerships and joint-ventures?
Learning for the future
Recent sobering experience has shown that many organizations make too many assumptions about what the future will look like – usually much like the present. Thinking ahead about a range of futures will help to open up your collective eyes. As a starting point, consider giving serious thought to these future-focused questions:
- What mechanisms has your organization to identify and analyze emerging trends? How effectively are these trends acted upon and the necessary changes made?
- How can you and your organization become more forward-thinking about likely and unlikely scenarios?
- What are the key environmental factors that are likely to affect your organization in the medium and long term?
Actions to support future-proofing
All actions need to be linked together, not become one or two isolated initiatives; they will quickly lose impetus without the active support of key decision-makers.
Supporting the development of resilient employees and teams
Organizational resilience is an umbrella term and learning and development and HR initiatives will form one component of building resilience into the organization. This means keeping a watching brief on individuals and teams as they go through a process of change in the course of working for the organization.
The degree of change which organizations are currently going through is bound to have an impact on individuals. HR should address individual resilience through learning and development (L&D) methods, including coaching, skills-based interventions, and experiential learning.
This is in line with good practice, which suggests L&D interventions adopt a wide range of methods, whether face-to-face, individual, self-learn and group discussions, and reflection.
Another aspect is working to strengthen the role of managers and their teams to be more effective and resilient. Yet another brief for HR is to encourage the development of a stimulating and motivating environment, through goal setting, rewards systems, and creating the right environment to maintain motivation and momentum.
Some of the negative impacts of change involve stress and so recognising the symptoms of stress and how to deal with it is an important component of understanding stress and being resilient to it.
It is likely that learning and development interventions will be integrated into other programmes, such as leadership development or culture change, as well as segmented into dealing with specific aspects such as stress management.
Enhance linkages to become an external radar
It is easy to pay more attention than is needed to what is going on internally than events and activities outside the organization. Cultivating linkages to outside bodies, such as trade and professional bodies, can form a radar of important information, acting as sensors for emergent relevant changes in the environment that can then be taken on board.
Awareness can also be enhanced by deliberately taking steps to increase exposure to other contexts and experiences where significant change may be emerging which is outside the current remit of the organization.
Resilience in action
UK air traffic controllers NATS is a safe but complex system: it achieves the essential high levels of resilience by shifting organizational structures and by configuring distributed but interactive subsystems.
In June 2004 a control computer system failure in West Drayton in West London caused thousands of travellers to be delayed. The NATS operations were, however, restored and fully operational the same morning. Other more recent failures – particularly in December 2014 – have taken longer to fix and have challenged aspects of retaining its high levels of resilience.
NATS develops emotional resilience in its busy air traffic controllers and supervisors through stress management workshops and coaching early in controllers’ careers to enable them to recognize and manage stressful situations.
Strategies and structures need to fit the context
Organization structures often frustrate rapid change and even periodic adjustments, so that they become out of kilter with the context in which they operate. HR can usefully help the organization to take a fresh look at the organization to gauge how smooth and easy it makes adaptation and adjustment for new organizational strategies and structures which fit changing conditions.
Strengthening links across the organization
HR can encourage organizational resilience by strengthening working links across the organization. This means reinforcing the connections between working groups, for example through building a shared sense of mission, planning together, and identifying and working on shared projects.
Scenario planning helps a company form a better idea what may lie ahead: it introduces processes of strategic anticipation to help spot and exploit emerging patterns. HR has a useful role to play here.
Conclusion and next steps
To help strengthen their organization’s future, HR can play a valuable and significant role in assisting managers to take action to develop their abilities to weather future storms. This will mean regularly revisiting their current and future plans and will involve a fresh look at how everyone organizes and works together with a clear view of the future in mind.