Building a Culture of Organizational Resilience

Every day, I marvel at the resilience of the individuals we serve. I see veterans wounded both physically and psychologically with the scars of battle; I see men and women who have lost their homes, their jobs, and their families; I see young people who have moved from foster home to foster home—and I see those who have suffered from substance use, and those who have been incarcerated only to re-enter society burned by the stigma of their past. Yet in so many, I see above all, extraordinary resilience. I am inspired by their ability to not only recover—but to bounce back from unimaginable trials. They have been through a great deal—and still they have the stamina to walk through our doors and find hope, meaning and, most importantly, possibilities for a new future.
While the issues are clearly very different, organizations, too, are also susceptible to the impact of the environment. In our organization, like many nonprofits, the only constant is change. Contracts shift. Foundation awards run their course. Federal guidelines change. The political climate shifts with new leaders. Staff move into new roles. These forces create stress. But also like people, organizations can build their resilience muscles so that change is less a cause for stress, and more viewed as an opportunity.
What are the catalysts for resilience? There is much research out there about what makes resilience in human beings. To sum it up, resilience is found when an individual feels: competent—well-built skills to meet whatever challenges arise; confident—in their various abilities; connection—to a mentor, a teacher, a leader, a family member who has faith in their success; contribution—to something greater than him or herself; and control—over the basic and most foundational aspects of their lives.
These characteristics can be applied to organizations as well. These “c’s” of resilience are essential to creating a positive and growing organizational culture.
For an organization to feel competent, there needs to be a common understanding of mission and the skills required to accomplish agency goals. From hiring, throughout the lifecycle of an employee, it is essential that every employee understands the work, how to do it and where to get information to enhance skills.
Organizational confidence comes from leaders who are clear and focused on the right things at the right times.
Organizational connection is essential—to each other, to our Board, our funders, our stakeholders, and of course, to those we serve. These connections help us feel a part of something greater than ourselves.
Contribution, is an easy “muscle” to fall back on as every day we are able to see the fruits of our hard work in the successes of those we serve. This “doing” makes us feels good, makes us resilient.
And finally, control…while we really have little control over the future, we do have the ability to prepare for it by carefully attending to the environment and the trends.
How resilient is your organization?
As always, I welcome your thoughts.