Is your organization’s resiliency grounded in employee resiliency?

Human resilience to adversity is about 200 million years ahead of organizational resilience where the term was first used around 2003 (The Quest for Resilience by Hamel & Valikangas). And yet the condition of humans in an organization is rarely acknowledged in the many detailed plans and thoughts about organizational resiliency.

We know a lot about human resiliency. For example it often depends on: having a close connection to friends and family, a strong faith, a positive self-image and self-confidence, the ability and know-how resilientto reach out for help, and having good communication skills.

Organizational resiliency is often associated with the ability to survive corporate adversity such as a downturn in markets, financial calamity, the impacts of climate change, shifting demographics, changes to politics and policy, swift advances in technology, and very rapidly changing public expectations of organizational behavior related to ethics and social responsibility.

Almost all detailed plans to create organizational resiliency focus on business continuity in the face of chaos. Books and binders and zillions of hours of thoughtful work go into “business continuity.” In most cases business continuity means keeping systems and processes running whether you are producing widgets or warfare.

Missing from many metrics and measures of organizational resiliency is the insidious impact of slow but invariably debilitating employee emotional meltdown. Sure, corporations like IBM and many others include grief and crisis counselling for employees facing a traumatic impact from severe adversity and crises. But it’s the simmering threat that poses more a danger than the fast shock.

Very few approaches to organizational resilience consider the impact of ongoing employee demoralization, a sense of devaluation, and lingering disrespect. A psychologically unhealthy workplace is today a far greater threat to the resiliency of an organization than a market crash. Buzzwords like “employee engagement,” “morale,” “job satisfaction,” “respectful workplace” and other trendy labels are chiefly used as check-the-box measures of a vague notion that happy employees are also healthy and productive employees. The connection between human resiliency and organizational resiliency is absent.

But here’s the thing: A workplace with continually poor ratings of employee morale and related factors, where emotional health is dangerously at risk, where feeling valued and respected is non-existent, and communication is top-down, is also an organization with low levels of resiliency to the threats of the marketplace, politics, and public opinion.

The University of Auckland in New Zealand gets this. The Resilient Organisations Research Programme cites a number of “Resilience Indicators” such as the quality of leadership, staff engagement, effective partnerships, breaking silos, and other key factors combining to create a resilient organization. What we have in this list is an appreciation that the resiliency of an individual is key to the resilience of the organization.