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Beyond the Leader: Building Organizational Resiliency

I ran across a good article tonight on the Center for Creative Leadership's website. Like individuals, organizations must be resilient to survive. Resilient organizations support and encourage individual resiliency, but they also cultivate resiliency through organizational systems and culture.

"Resilient organizations establish structures that encourage learning and flexibility while dealing with the emotional reality of change, transition and speed," says Mary Lynn Pulley. Ways to do this include:

Accept change. Organizations, groups and teams are often enamored with tradition and entrenched in their collective viewpoints. Resisting or downplaying change and its impact supports organizational rigidity and fear. Instead, accept and address the reality of change — no matter how difficult or unpleasant it may be.

Promote learning. Harness memory and expertise. Build on lessons from past experiences and long-term employees by creating systematic ways to identify and convert individual expertise, skills and experience into organizational resources.

Pay attention to what works. A great deal of time is spent at work focusing on problems and talking about what's not going well. This magnifies negativity and minimizes what is working well. Over time this drags down confidence in the organization itself, discourages learning and limits flexibility. Intentionally spend some time talking about what is working well and why. Connect to mission and values. Employees who feel connected to a larger purpose of the organization — who feel there is meaning in their daily work — give an organization great momentum and foster the ability to bounce back from difficulty. Understand identity. Corporate culture is the identity of an organization. It is an expression of underlying values. Resilient organizations create a strong alignment between the values of the organization and the values of individual workers. They also incorporate resiliency into their set of values. Work through others. Create a network of partnerships and strategic alliances rather than "doing it all." Consider using temporary workers, independent contractors, consultants and other firms. This allows for greater organizational flexibility and mutability. Such elastic organizations can adapt to a rapidly changing environment and quickly seize new opportunities.

This article is adapted from Leading Resilient Organizations by Mary Lynn Pulley in Leadership in Action, Vol. 17, No. 4, 1997.

LeadershipTerry Storch