Why South African CEOs need to focus on cultivating resilience

South African companies operate in a constantly connected, “always-on,” highly demanding work cultures with their widespread risk of stress and burnout make it true to say that companies that do not cultivate resilience have very little chance of succeeding or indeed even surviving in this extremely challenging work environment.

Among the many things keeping South African CEO’s up at night are profitability, attracting and retaining talent, as well as ever evolving impact technology has on companies.

Profitability is changing, consumer spending is down and the regulatory environment is uncertain.

Attracting the best talent and retaining it is becoming more and more difficult and companies need to adapt to accommodating a diverse workforce with different values. The generation of people born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, the Millennials, who will make up 50% of the global workforce by 2020, are a different breed and need to be treated differently. They want to work for a meaningful purpose and need to be offered a stimulating empathetic company where accommodating them results in a flexible and tolerant work environment.

The continuous need for change as technology evolves, seemingly at the speed of light, means that companies must keep abreast of developments, use technology smartly and keep the technology within their companies current.

All of these changes ultimately require a company and its employees to be resilient and fit for change. Besides being a good return on investment, and simply good business sense, cultivating resilience in a company has become a necessity in the face of chronic negative stress, ever increasing demands, complexity, ambiguity and constant change. Our current constantly connected, “always-on,” highly demanding work cultures with their widespread risk of stress and burnout make it true to say that companies that do not cultivate resilience have very little chance of succeeding or indeed even surviving in this extremely challenging work environment.

Resilience is the capacity to bounce back from setbacks or to thrive during times of challenge or change. It grows out of a set of “learnable” behaviours with results that interact to make you and your team less vulnerable to stress. Simple daily actions can increase your resilience whether you are dealing with the acute stress of sudden challenges, or the chronic stress of daily life.

To a certain extent, we are all resilient, but everyone can become even more so. A wealth of research points to four factors that help people, companies, and teams, become more agile and effective in times of stress. These are: relationships, efficacy, affect and learning.

Relationships: When we are supported and motivated by others, our ties to them make us stronger, happier, more creative and more resilient to challenges.

Efficacy: When we have control over our actions and believe that they matter, resilience is built. Efficacy entails setting goals and having aspirations as well as the confidence that we can reach them and that we can make a difference.

Affect: Positive emotions such as happiness, joy, optimism, satisfaction, gratitude, peace and humour make us more creative, better able to find innovative solutions and cope with stress.

Learning: When we can find lessons in the midst of traumas, stress, challenges and injuries, we are better able to move on. Through the challenges, we have faced, we have grown, matured, and gained strength.

Just as individuals can learn to develop personal traits of resilience, so too, companies can develop a culture of resilience. How do they do this? Consistent with the “Law of the Few” described in Malcom Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point, key frontline leaders can be catalysts to increase group/team cohesion and dedication to the job ahead. They do this by demonstrating the four core attributes: optimism, decisiveness, integrity and open communication. When a small group of highly credible individuals, demonstrate the behaviours associated with resilience, they have the ability to change the culture of an entire organisation as others replicate the resilient characteristics they have observed and learned from them.

Albert Bandura argues that the perception of self-efficacy shapes the ability to be a catalyst for change and key human behaviours, namely, the courses of action people choose to pursue, how much effort they will put into given endeavours, how long they will persevere when faced with obstacles and failures, their resilience to adversity, whether their thought patterns are positive or self-hindering, how much stress and depression they experience when coping with challenging environmental demands, and the level of accomplishment they achieve.

Resilient companies invest in their client base. One example is how American Express Platinum Travel Services sent a valuable gift to loyal customers as a way of saying “thank you” in trying times. Resilient organisations invest in their leaders and all levels of their workforce. Giving 30 departmental managers two entire days off at a location away from work, to attend a training programme on skills in resilient leadership and the latest advances in how to manage personal stress, or fielding truly seminal programmes in physical fitness, nutrition and stress management, not only for workers but for their families as well, are two examples of this. Resilient organisations are innovative in times of adversity like Apple, which introduced radically simple and beautifully designed products at a time when competitors were commoditising their products, totally remaking the company in the process.

When both setbacks and successes are treated as positive learning experiences, leaders can create a constructive environment by breaking down social and bureaucratic barriers and engaging with employees on a personal level taking a non-judgemental, analytical stance as they interact with staff. Thinking positively about setbacks prevents the development of hopelessness and helplessness. This can go a long way to developing the new skills needed in the current business environment.

Susi Astengo is the Managing Director of CoachMatching.

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