We know from personal experience that human beings are beset by any number of pitfalls and crises in their lives. It happens without question. The only issue is how often and how traumatic such crises will be, as well as how the individual will respond. What tends to set healthy human beings apart from those less so is an elusive quality we call resilience, or the ability to bounce back from disappointments, failures and even personal trauma.
So it is for organizations, as well. The resilient organization is one that can respond — over and over again — to challenges coming from within or from external factors. Such organizations are what author Jim Collins calls “built to last.” They have a powerful set of factors that, taken together, allow them to “take a licking and keep on ticking,” as the old Timex watch ads used to say. Not every truly resilient organization has all of these characteristics, but here are some of them:
• The resilient organization balances stretch goals with the need for some regular and visible success signs. Momentum is a sister to resilience.
• The resilient organization has a nucleus of resilient managers and personnel. Their personal strength combines to make for organizational strength. That is one reason I like to interview prospects to find out what sorts of difficulties they have had to overcome to get to where they are in their life journey.
• Resilient organizations are flexible. They can and do shift their structures and processes as the situation dictates. They are not hide bound or unduly locked into old ways of doing business.
• Resilient organizations put more energy into their shared future rather than in bemoaning what once was or what just happened to them. Getting folks to look forward, especially in the wake of tragedy or calamity is critical to an organization’s ability to bring itself back stronger and better.
• People who work in resilient organizations bring balance to work with them every day. They are neither consumed nor emotionally disengaged by what is happening in their organizational world. They keep their work life in a proper perspective, giving the organization its due and then some, but not so much as to wear themselves down physically and emotionally.
It is possible to build organizational resiliency. Some of it comes from experience, that great and true educator of us all. Experience shows us that very few things in organizational life are either as good or as bad as they initially appear. I have many personal stories that demonstrate the proof of that statement. But some of it comes from leaders who are able to cultivate and articulate the precepts of resiliency and actually model it to their people every day. That is just one more reason leadership matters.
If you would like to learn more about how to build resiliency into your organization or to be a leader whose own example is a source of resiliency to others, we invite you to explore our programs in business and organizational leadership.
Kevin Eichner is president of Ottawa University. He invites your feedback to this column. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org