In a perfect world, it’d be nice to have a plan for every potential challenge. But in the real world, let’s face it, that’s just not possible. Sure, you can diligently follow trends and assess risks, but sometimes, things come up that no one could have ever foreseen. The best way to be successful in times of rapid change isn’t to map out every possible play but rather to develop the organization’s capacity to respond to events in real time. In short, you need to work on building organizational resilience.
What Is Organizational Resilience?
A popular definition from the British Standards Institute states that organizational resilience is “the ability of an organization to anticipate, prepare for, respond and adapt to incremental change and sudden disruptions in order to survive and prosper.”
While organizational resilience includes business continuity planning (BCP), it’s not just about the ability to keep going during a crisis. It’s also about the ability to lean in to change and innovate in the face of challenges.
According to the 2021 Deloitte Global Resilience Report, resilient organizations are:
- Prepared: They strike a balance between addressing short- and long-term priorities so they can adapt to surprises.
- Adaptable: From building workarounds and backups into processes to cross-skilling employees so they can take on different tasks in emergencies, resilient organizations are agile and responsive to change.
- Collaborative: When people can work across boundaries, communication and decision making are efficient and resources are easier to mobilize in a hurry.
- Trustworthy: Taking steps to instill trust from employees, customers and other stakeholders means these groups are more likely to stick with an organization during challenging times to help them be successful.
- Responsible: Businesses that recognize they have a responsibility beyond the bottom line are more diverse, innovative and able to cope with disasters than businesses that don’t think beyond the balance sheet.
These five attributes come together as a foundation for the organization to stand on when everything else is shifting around it.
How Does Learning and Development Help?
Achieving organizational resilience is not a milestone that can be reached and then relied on. It takes an ongoing commitment to building and maintaining a corporate culture that supports the attributes listed above—and that can’t happen without continuous learning at all levels of the organization.
In its 2022 Workplace Learning Report, LinkedIn found that 87% of learning and development professionals have helped their organization become more adaptable to change. Here are three ways corporate learning programs build organizational resilience:
1. Providing Support for Individual Resilience
You can’t have resilient organizations without resilient individuals, and personal resilience isn’t about grit—it’s about being equipped with the skills and support to navigate change effectively. To accomplish this, your employee learning strategy could include:
- training and resources for employee wellness, emotional intelligence, communication, teamwork, adaptability and so on
- providing opportunities for personal connection through collaborative learning experiences, mentorship, peer networking circles and social events
- fostering a learning culture that encourages employees to engage in learning activities they are passionate about and cultivates openness to new experiences
While all these things work together to support resilience for individuals, there is an external factor that can make or break the employee experience: their manager.
2. Developing Resilient Leaders
Leaders at all levels bear the responsibility of supporting their teams and driving business objectives, but they can’t do that without training and support themselves. They simultaneously need the same individual resilience resources as their teams and the skills to manage in ways that align with the organization’s resilience goals.
To that end, LinkedIn’s report found that 49% of learning and development professionals have increased their attention to manager training and support in the past year, with 25% prioritizing training that focuses on work-life balance and well-being.
All of this needs to be built into the company’s leadership development strategy so that current and future leaders are equipped and ready to innovate in response to change.
3. Upskilling and Reskilling
Providing upskilling and reskilling opportunities on an ongoing basis is critical to organizational resilience. As the business evolves, upskilling ensures employees always have the technical knowledge they need to be proficient in their roles. In cases where jobs change completely, reskilling allows you to retain great employees and all their institutional knowledge by preparing them for new roles. Upskilling also builds the transferable skills (also known as soft skills) that facilitate each of Deloitte’s five attributes of resilient organizations.
For example, Deloitte’s report found that 72% of organizations that have weathered the disruption of the past few years well have processes in place that enable them to easily redeploy workers to different roles based on need and employee interests. For 69% of responding organizations, that includes employee training and rotational programs to enable workers to develop their skills. The skills required to make initiatives like these successful include:
- strategic thinking to anticipate future needs and plan ahead
- data collection and analysis to inventory existing skill sets, identify gaps and track progress
- collaboration to engage the cross-functional stakeholders who would need to be involved and to know when it is beneficial to enact the redeployment processes
- flexibility on the part of employees to want to participate and their current managers to encourage and facilitate that participation
Even before you consider the job-specific skills that need to be tracked or learned, the role of your corporate learning strategy is clear: to foster a culture of learning across the organization.
Maximize Your Organizational Resilience Through Learning
From individual resilience skills to empowered leadership to professional capacity building, employee learning and development is the key to maximizing organizational resilience.
Karen Karnis has a BA in sociology from the University of Guelph. She has worked in social services, higher education, communications and journalism. Karen is currently working toward a Master of Education in Sustainability, Creativity and Innovation through Cape Breton University.
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