Organisational Resilience and Readiness Event

Organisational Resilience and Readiness, key learning from our international event

Angus Cameron 8th December 2020

Yesterday we were delighted to welcome over 70 people from across the world to debate Organisational Resilience, to share our experiences and learnings as 2020 draws to a close. 

Some of the key themes that emerged were: 

  • Organisational Resilience can’t be explored in isolation as it connects inherently with both team and individual resilience. 
  • Organisations need to ensure there is space for personal growth and shared purpose, too often creative discourse is squashed in favour of corporate bureaucracy and compliance. 
  • Empowerment has become an empty buzzword and can often simply mean exposing people to risk. 
  • Organisations need to recognise the value of humanity, creating cultures where people thrive and not just survive 

There was robust discussion and debate on a range of issues.  Here are our thoughts to some of the questions posed. 

We have seen extraordinary levels of creativity in organisations as they react and adapt to the changing environment.  But is everyone in our organisations able to exercise their creativity?  How can we ensure that everyone has permission to be creative? 

Many of us probably don’t normally consider our work roles to involve much creativity.  Its just the job we do and much of it is probably prescribed by policies and processes.  The upheaval caused by online home working during the pandemic has shown us otherwise.  Many of Roffey Park’s clients have reported the often remarkable ways in which people have responded to the challenge of taking one form of working into a completely different environment.  That so many rose to the challenge – sometimes people whose voices were relatively unheard in the past – has demonstrated the latent potential for creative thinking and working.  And this begs the question: why, if that potential was there all the time, were we not using it already?  There may be many answers to that, but one obvious one is that many organisations don’t actively nurture or develop creative thinking.  The job of most staff is not to question what they do, just to get on with it.  What we now know is that many people were waiting for their opportunity to shine.  Over and above that, creative thinking can be learned by everyone in an organisation – its not some magical skill possessed only by the few.  And by far the best way to unleash that potential is by asking people to work in critical teams.  We need to give people the power to question everything. 

Organisations and individuals have had to adjust and shift during the global pandemic. How can we create a continuous process of learning that feels natural? 

Simply expecting people to learn in their working lives won’t necessarily make it happen.  Putting on sporadic training courses to deliver discrete, topic-specific and often pre-digested learning won’t do it either.  The only way to create continuous learning is to equip the entire organisation – top to bottom and side to side – with tools and processes that foster a learning approach.  At Roffey Park we use a learning model called PULSE.  This stands for Plot, Unlock, Lever, Signify and Embed.  At root PULSE is a sequence of coaching questions that map out the common steps in a critical learning process.  Plot allows us to identify our desired destination.  Unlock reveals blockages and bottlenecks.  Lever equips us with the resources (human, technological, skills, knowledge, etc.) that allows us to progress towards our plotted goal.  Signify tells us – and our wider organisations – what our journey means (the ‘so what?’ question).  Embed is the process by which we ensure all that we have learned is shared with our colleagues.  And the best bit is, that we then start the cycle all over again.   

Applied to all teams and all tasks, PULSE becomes an Agile methodology built into the core of your organisation.  Simple to apply, but powerful in its impact. 

Organisations are made up of people, but the ways in which those people interreact, collaborate and engage are not always visible.  Many voices are rarely heard – until a crisis like the pandemic forces/allows them to come forward.  How do we nurture those voices in the future? 

The first step is to hear them.  That is not as simple as it might sound.  This is because organisations need to adopt the habit of active listening.  At the same time the people within those organisations have to feel able to speak.  Traditionally organisations such as trades unions have given a form of collective voice to people in the workplace, but not always a particularly inclusive or accessible voice.  Unions still have their place, but in most organisations they only represent a minority of staff and in many none at all.  In all organisations, leaders and managers have a critical responsibility to ensure that all voices are heard.  This need not, should not, be a free for all (in which only the louder voices get a hearing), but a structured and authentic engagement that is sensitive to the difficulty many people find in speaking out.  And that also suggests that training can and should be provided to empower people to find and to use their voices.  This can be everything from coaching the physical voice itself – set up a choir! – to writing, storytelling, improvisation and other communications power-skills.  Leadership teams also benefit from such interventions.  Their voices are heard, but are they sure they are heard in the right way? 

How many of our leadership teams are collaborative with each other?  How many of them work collaboratively with those lower down the pecking order in their organisations.  Does hierarchy hinder or help collaboration? 

Hierarchies are necessary.  They create boundaries of accountability and clear lines of command.  Even if we didn’t create them, they emerge spontaneously as people jockey for position and find ways of doing things.  Even in carefully designed organisations ‘hierarchies of the mind’ – those we all carry in the form of unconscious bias and cultural habit – can cut across and disrupt otherwise rational-looking structures.  As such, hierarchies can often inhibit the collaborative potential of organisations.  The changes in the ways we have been working have revealed this by forcing established hierarchies to break open simply to get things done.  Many organisations have seen hitherto rather ‘lowly’ service functions come centre-stage.  Forced into home-working by a deadly virus, all of a sudden our IT people, our sanitation staff, our maintenance workers become extremely important, and have to work closely with professional colleagues with whom they might previously have not had any direct contact.   

How fit for performance are performance structures when they measure individuals in isolation? How can we look at performance in the context of team and groups? 

Individualised performance management systems like to think they measure outputs (in the form of personal KPIs), but all too often largely measure inputs (hours of doing stuff, numbers of calls, etc.).  Even when they do measure outputs, the product of each person cannot neatly aggregate into the product of an entire team, let alone a complex, multi-layered, many-departmented organisation.  Out of this creative complexity emerges performance outputs that we might like to have (collaboration, learning, creativity itself, wellbeing), but don’t see as part of overall performance – often because it can’t be reduced to a number. Happiness, famously, is priceless, but unhappiness exacts a high cost.  Individual KPIs will always be part of an organisation’s internal narrative, but they are never the whole story.    

Emotional intelligence can appear to come naturally to some in their interactions for people.  For those that it doesn’t, how do you “teach” this? 

That some people are ‘good’ at what we call emotional intelligence (EQ), does not mean that it is natural or a single thing.  EQ has many components (empathy, eloquence, cultural sensitivity, intelligence, etc), but these are appropriate at different levels in different contexts.  As this implies, EQ is not a singular or fixed entity that can simply be taught.  But that does not mean it cannot be learned.  Perhaps the primary means by which EQ is communicated is by demonstration.  Being possessed of good EQ skills does not only make leadership and management teams more effective, it should allow them to show everyone in an organisation which behaviours and attitudes are valued and embraced.  By extension, it should also serve as a gentle means by which unacceptable behaviours are revealed to be just that – unacceptable.  But the process of values in action that QI demands must be available to the whole organisation.  If C-suite treat themselves to a EQ programme and then congratulate themselves that they have achieved emotional intelligence for the organisation, they have missed the point.  EQ can be learned, but only together. 

Watch the event recording

What is next for your organisation, your leadership and management? 

We can help you revitalise your organisations to face the future with confidence by identifying the new, emergent strengths of your people, your teams and your leadership. This will enable you to adapt to an emergent business world with creativity and flexibility so you can respond to new opportunities, new markets and new networks. 

As leaders and managers, it is up to us to respond to what’s happening now and to think creatively and strategically to build resilient organisations for the future. The only thing we can be sure of is that there is no going back. The world is changed, and we must find ways to thrive in it.