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In a firestorm of overwhelming change it's time to rethink employee resilience 


 — August 24th, 2020

In a firestorm of overwhelming change it's time to rethink employee resilience 

As employees globally adapt to a new way of working for the longer-term, is it resilience they need or a new response to change?

Isn’t it time we do more than simply equip them to bounce back, blow after blow?

When fear of the pandemic hit and homeworking moved from a potential option to a must-have, leaders and employees experienced the primal response of fight, flight, or freeze mode.

Led by a surge in internal communications and a significant increase in visible, human leadership, for most the response was to fight – to take action and pull together to get through the challenging times.

How to communicate change in difficult times

We saw organizations bend over backwards to support employees, whether through homeworking or furlough. We saw a more human side to our colleagues as we watched them on-screen, juggling work and family life and the challenges of new technology solutions – who can forget the boss stuck pictured as a potato through an entire Zoom meeting?

And we saw leaders and colleagues really listen to the answer when they asked the question, ‘how are you?’ As a result, a Willis Towers Watson survey published in April showed 84% of companies believed employee engagement had increased.

But it’s a long time from April to August; few of us back then expected these changes to be permanent.

For businesses that have so far survived, driving performance is back on the agenda. Which means rethinking the strategies that were driving businesses pre-pandemic and adapting them to the economy and environment we’re moving into now.

We spoke to one director of communications recently who said that their engineering business, which employs 30,000 people globally, is now creating a transformation plan for its transformation plan. It was a similar story when we spoke to leaders working in financial services and retail. If we thought last year that we were already dealing with an unprecedented pace of continuous change, welcome to the firestorm that is 2020.

For internal communications professionals this presents three challenges:

  1. Workloads will continue to rise.
  2. Presenting a clear narrative thread that resonates is more important than ever – and more challenging. Continuous feedback from a more intuitive, agile listening network is a must.
  3. There will be increased pressure to show how communication initiatives are helping to maintain employee productivity.

So, increasing employee resilience – a technique to cope with change – seems to make sense. But what do we really mean by that?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines resilience as, ‘the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness’. Well, if we perceive it to be difficult, to be tough, then we’re priming our minds for a negative reaction.

It’s why change has become overwhelming. We’ve allowed it to stress us. And we’ve allowed these negative reactions to own us.

Yet, we choose how we react to change. And our choice impacts those around us. I’ll give you an example; Jane and her comms team are up against a major deadline. Last-minute, the leadership team decide to change something in the bigger plan. It may be a small detail to them… but it’s significant for the comms team.

Changing things now is a mass co-ordination effort, one that Jane questions is even achievable. So begins the heightened stress. The team are scrambling around, tensions are running high and although in the end Jane’s team delivers, the experience has left them feeling sour.

It’s the start of a cycle. Jane and her team associate that memory with a negative experience; and it’s this experience that they recall in future change scenarios, leading to similar negative reactions.

But what if Jane had reacted differently? What if when she got the update from the leadership team she instead:

Stopped what she was doing

Took three deep breaths

Observed what was happening

Proceeded with awareness

She may have delivered the same result, but the team’s experience would have been different. Calmer, less stressful, and much more positive. Her team is unlikely to associate similar changes in the future with a negative memory. Now multiply that experience by 20, 1,000, 10,000 … and the entire workforce is reacting to change differently. They’re embracing it; not fearing it.

One of my favorite quotes from Deepak Chopra, who TIME magazine described as one of the top 100 heroes and icons of the century, is: “Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future”.

If we rethink our response to change, then how much of a necessity is resilience?

As communications professionals, a key part of our role is in our ability to facilitate engagement. Yet if ‘change’ comes with a tag of being stressful, overwhelming or tiring, then we’ll always be facing an upward battle with employees.

So maybe it’s time for a reset and a greater focus on inner connection.

At the-thread, we believe that employee engagement is driven by our ability to ‘connect’ – with one another, with our leaders, or to a cause or purpose. A lot of the connections that we help teams create, especially in times of change, are through building compelling narratives, designing creative engagement campaigns, and running workshop experiences that equip people with external tools to make change happen. But connection starts from within; something that’s often overlooked.

So, if you want leaders, managers, change teams and ambassadors to successfully implement your communication and engagement strategies, then do things differently.

By giving employees additional engagement tools, ones that help them observe how they individually respond to change and how their responses can influence their teams, you can help teams to see change differently; to embrace it, to harness it and to help your business realize its potential for growth, innovation, and transformation.

So, why not add another trick to your toolbox. Encourage employees to respond to change differently, rethink resilience, and be a pioneer for your company’s future.

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