With a potential recession on the horizon, tight labour markets, rising inflation and the cost of doing business, organisations are more concerned than ever about fostering a culture for change and resilience to help their workforce navigate the ambiguity and pressure to come.

The strength and resilience of any organisation depends on its workforce. Workforce strength and agility correlate with an organisation’s ability to withstand (even prosper) in times of uncertainty and change. Workforce resilience is created where the environment at work supports employees to adapt to adverse situations, manage stress, and retain motivation.

However, many of our people face sustained pressure from work and non-work sources. As talk of a potential recession increases, business leaders and project teams are having to navigate that pressure, particularly the social and financial impacts. Staff may already be feeling uncertain around future employment and beginning to look elsewhere.

Global risk management and resilience surveys indicate that 70% of employees struggle with resilience and the majority of those (close to 52%) do not feel a sense of belonging at work. Of those who struggle, only 42% stay with their employer. Replacing an employee can cost more than 100% of the role’s salary however reskilling an employee cost around 10% of that same figure.

Unrest and decreased productivity is the fallout from people who are not quite sure what the future holds for them. Creating a culture of psychological safety, transparency and trust can help to reduce the spot fires and resource churn organisations experience when scuttlebutt and noise from anxious employees creates an additional burden for them to deal with.

But providing people with certainty during uncertain times is unrealistic if certainty doesn’t exist.

Environment matters, always

In the world of project delivery, we’re often the first to be subject to the impacts of reprioritisation as organisations adjust their stance to manage the uncertainty that comes with changes to the external environment, creating risk and the need to mitigation activities.

Typical approaches, such as cost optimisation initiatives, pausing or stopping projects and programs of work, to redirect resources into areas that decrease risk are understandable and normal in times of uncertainty.

Fostering a resilient workforce capable of responding to change and uncertainty is prompting organisations to look at ways to create a supportive environment for staff with appropriate buffers in place. Some examples of how organisations are responding include:

  • Attracting, retaining, and developing talent;
  • Focusing on diversity and inclusion; and
  • Facilitating personal health and emotional well-being in employees.

Every stakeholder at every level of the organisation can contribute to organisational resilience. There are a couple of things organisations can do to identify the macro drivers of change and review how leadership is positioned to deal with them.

There are three key questions that leaders can ask to understand how well-positioned their organisation is to deal with external challenges.

1) How effective are we at understanding what the challenges are we’re facing?

Reviewing the effectiveness of your leadership can play a key part in building reputational, operational and financial resilience both internally and externally. A key question may be: “How well do we understand the existential threats we’re navigating?”

Taking the time to discuss this with the executive to reflect will support and develop common understanding, bypass conscious bias, and begin to understand where the leadership’s real strengths and weaknesses lie.

It is a necessary top-down approach to help stakeholders identify the macro issues facing the business and their teams. The result should be increased confidence that issues are identified and renewal of commitment to tackle a shared vision of purpose.

2) Can we make quick decisions that are in our best interests and respond to external challenges?

Workforce constraints around the ability to act quickly need to be identified upfront and mitigated, if possible. At least being aware of the barriers to agility and the ability to respond need to be known and considered.

Questioning whether people are working together (enterprise agility) or have a sense of belonging and psychological safety are primary attributes of an organisation where colleagues have each other’s back and work through challenging times collectively and collaboratively.

Organisation design principles such as adaptability, agility, self-empowerment, and experimentation are foundational, rather than the “organisation says – people act” types of structures and culture that exists in some businesses.

3) Are we able to work constructively and supportively with our organisation to change?

And finally, the well-being of individuals embedded at the core of operations hammers home the “culture eats strategy for breakfast” mantra so often stated but rarely understood in context.

Prioritising the well-being of individuals is at the heart of workforce resilience.

The workforce is people.

It is deeply personal and connects many disparate cultural, social, and economic factors.

Building inherent resilience into it helps to weather change and even be motivated and inspired by it.

We need to invest in our biggest asset

Every employee needs to feel and be supported to take responsibility for the individual and important role they play in developing and maintaining a resilient culture.

Organisations need to listen to their employees and understand on an emotional level what the core foundations of a resilient workforce are to maintain vitality, flexibility, agility, and trust and be the rock people need amidst a sea of uncertainty.

Many thanks to The Calm Agency for their contribution to this month’s Bulletin. As specialists in change and culture, the Calm Agency team supports organisations to build a better workplace, translating the latest behaviour change research into actionable, affordable, measurable strategies, programs and tools. Find out more about the team at www.calmagency.com.

If you’re interested in talking to us about how change and the PMO can drive your delivery agenda in 2023, please contact us here.

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Quay Consulting
Quay Consulting is a professional services business specialising in the project landscape, transforming strategy into fit-for-purpose delivery. Meet our team ...