The moment I heard the title of the training I cringed and laughed. Only in the corporate world would a course with that title be put forth as a positive signal to the workforce. You might as well wave a red flag in front of your workforce and announce that the work place has become a reality show called “Corporate Survivor” in which your employees are going to be starring on a daily basis.

The Definition of Resilience

Wikipedia gives the definition of resilience as “the property of a material to absorb energy when it is deformed elastically and then, upon unloading to have this energy recovered.”[1] Merriam-Webster provides several definitions, including “the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress” and “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.”[2]

Whichever definition you choose, when you title a seminar “Resilience Training” you are telling your employees that you are about be asked to face a series of changes in the organization which are of a magnitude that the company feels it is necessary to provide “intervention” in the form of a “proactive training program.” You want your workforce to adapt, bend, and be “okay” with the changes, to be “resilient” and accepting. They need to gain the buy in, but realistically your workforce knows that while they are learning to bend like the willow, the lumberjacks are coming to cut down trees. Landscapers and others are coming to prune, transplant, and otherwise change the landscape of the corporate jungle and only a few (if any) will survive.

How to Survive Longer Than Anyone Else, or Be the Last One Off the Island

Resilience is a fine concept, and teaching your team to deal with stress and to deal with change in a positive manner is good. Communicating positively and proactively about upcoming changes and strategic direction of an organization, long-term visions and how these will impact roles and responsibilities is even better. Clearly spelling out the expectations and impact of changes and expectations of performance as the result of reorganization will certainly help mitigate uncertainty and facilitate adaption to new operations and processes. Training the organization on new processes and procedures is fantastic! Listening and providing forums for input and feedback? Wow! That’s progressive!

Carefully consider the use of resilience training as a means of signaling you care about your employees because you want them to be flexible and able to handle the chaos and constant change, revolving door, downsizing, off-shoring, combinations, turnovers, and uncertainty that results from an organization increasingly buffeted by constantly changing identities (resulting from executives who feel they must stamp their personality on the organization), market plays, failed products, constant cost cutting pressures, and so on. Are you really signaling a caring attitude by providing training to your employees to teach them to be resilient? Or are you really signaling that the company will be dealing out more of the same chaos? Do you really expect the employees to have free and open communication about the changes you are making in a company-paid forum about “resilience,” where many of the changes that you are attempting to address have undoubtedly included “rightsizing” and “consolidations” and other “significant changes” and “strategic realignments” are still to come? Yeah, right.

You may have the best of intentions, but check your content and check your execution at the same time you are checking the title of your training. You may be telling your employees to fasten your seatbelts and hang on because the bumpy ride is about to get even bumpier, and who knows what will happen next?

Resilience Comes from Trust in Leadership

Trust doesn’t come from someone saying “Trust me.” Trust is earned, just like respect. Trust comes from knowing that actions are consistent with promises made and kept. Actions truly speak much louder than words, so leading sets the example that your employees will follow. A captain can’t gather the crew of a ship together and tell them to “Rally together and we’ll weather the storm,” then abandon ship in a lifeboat or seek any other port in the storm, leaving everyone behind.

A business becomes resilient and capable of weathering storms when its people are committed to ensuring its survival. There are numerous stories (but still too few) of companies who seek to do the right thing by the employees even in the face of it being viewed as a “bad business decision.” In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Oreck Corporation (vacuum cleaners) resumed manufacturing in its headquarters and its Mississippi plant, and provided housing and food for its employees. As CEO Tom Oreck stated on September 9th, 2006, “Our people have a place to put their heads, food and water and a paycheck coming in from a business that’s committed to staying in this community.”[3] Oreck went a step further and distributed $887,900 in employee assistance grants. Subsequently, Oreck had to make another decision: To eliminate 100 jobs, in order to preserve the company’s ability to be profitable and compete. While the community wasn’t happy with the decision and certainly the 100 workers who lost their jobs would rather have continued to work, these capitalists demonstrated that having a heart and showing leadership and doing the right thing in tough times translates to organizations that can survive the toughest times—even hurricanes.

 

© 2008 Focus Resource, Inc.

All Rights Reserved

 

 

[1] Retrieved 10 December 2008 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resilience.

[2] Retrieved 10 December 2008 from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/resilience.

[3] Salter, Sid. 2006. Capitalists, yes, but Oreck family stepped up after storm. The Meridian Star, August 23. Retrieved 10 December 2008 from http://www.meridianstar.com/opinion/local_story_235002908.html.

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