Agile is the buzzword of the moment. Every day we read about the necessity of developing agile organizations—but shouldn’t we be talking about agile people?
Agile teams and organizations stress speed, experimentation, continuous learning, role mobility and flexible resource allocation, which are key to competitiveness. I’m concerned that there’s a missing element so obvious we take it for granted. According to the World Economic Forum and Boston Consulting Group research, agile transformation requires nothing less than a change of mindset on the part of every employee. In a time when we need agility in business, we need agility in life. We need agile people.
Deep down in the charts, graphs and bullet points showing how to change an organization, descriptions of agile transformation note that employees who are asked to adopt a radically new way of working need to adopt a radically new way of thinking and feeling about work, including the ability to reinvent, the courage to fail fast and the empathy to work well in diverse teams. They need to communicate constantly, be accountable, be customer-focused and above all be open to change. Are your employees mentally and emotionally equipped with the resilience to handle this radical change?
The urgent need to reinvent companies as agile teams makes resilience a competitive advantage. Resilience empowers employees and leaders to develop greater emotional intelligence and self-awareness. And resilience helps people focus under pressure, manage their impulses, solve problems creatively. These are important building blocks for agile teams.
Every employee must learn the skills that make them adaptable, help them deal with stress and remain emotionally connected to work. Resilience enables all three. When leaders and employees embrace these skills, powerful things happen.
A Fortune 50 company I work with has an award-winning healthy lifestyles practice, but because it is an information technology firm, its people are continuously assaulted by the speed of change. In response, leaders and employees built a company-wide resilience initiative that focused on each individual developing personal skills according to their needs. Not surprisingly, many tech-oriented employees at this firm took a logic-based approach to an emotional challenge, identifying exactly what was causing stress and tackling it head-on with dispassionate analysis and new work styles, such as handling difficult customer calls with emotion control or dealing with a work challenge with flexibility and focus. They are more self-aware and adaptable. With resilience, employees are learning to manage the relentless changes with confidence.
Train the mind to manage stress
Transitioning to a new way of working is inherently stressful—a situation that can reinforce ineffective thinking styles (habitual thoughts and feelings that are mistaken or negative). A media technology company employing over 100,000 people discovered that stress was the main cause of its high absenteeism rate. Existing programs featuring employee assistance, yoga and meditation were helpful but hard to scale among its many call-center employees. They implemented a resilience program that taught employees to catch themselves in negative thinking, step back and open their minds to alternative interpretations of a stressful situation. They learned to manage emotions, manage anxiety, set aside distractions and navigate around negative reactions to stress. These are all learnable skills that preserve a sense of personal security.
Collaborating means community
Collaboration among teams is a defining characteristic of organizational agility, and personal agility strengthens when employees practice resilience in collaboration with a like-minded community. Good teamwork is mutually supportive. As organizational behavior expert Jeffrey Pfeffer recently noted in McKinsey Quarterly, social support is essential to a sense of well-being on the job. Employees engaged in resilience training develop a sense of community in two ways: In their team or department, resilience exercises and activities build cohesiveness and trust. Across the organization, resilience metrics give everyone a picture of how the company as a whole is managing radical change.
Engagement is the payoff
Employee engagement is critical to agile transformation when a transition period demands extra effort on everyone’s part. While we can’t prevent employees from feeling apprehension at the prospect of new structures and processes that upend their work lives, we can focus resilience training on the skills they need to stay engaged. In fact, the act of learning new personal management skills reinforces a sense of effectiveness, which is key to engagement. A virtuous cycle goes into effect, as employees realize that because they possess the skills to change their outlook, they have the skills to embrace change. They stay in the game.
Among all the charts and bullet points and models pointing the way toward agile organizations, let’s remember that organizations are made of people. Make them resilient in the face of change first.
I’ve always been a groundbreaker, interested in pushing the boundaries of human potential. As the CEO and co-founder of meQuilibrium, I work with global enterprise leaders to equip their workforces with the adaptive capacity to change and succeed. meQuilibrium is the only hu… MORE
Jan Bruce is the CEO and co-founder of meQuilibrium, the only human capital management platform based on the science of resilience.