How To Choose Resilience

Choose ResilienceResilience Begins With A Choice

How many times have you made a choice that did not result in the outcome you intended? Did you even know you were making a choice? Often we unconsciously choose the path of least resistance. We default to what is comfortable and requires the least amount of change. Improving our ability to make tough effective choices, the kind with long-term payoffs, on a daily basis shapes our resilience. It works for organizations too.

The notion that we frequently make unconscious choices based on the filters we have built up from years of experiences, opinion, attitudes, and beliefs applies to organizations as well, perhaps even more so because a group can create momentum when it unites around a decision. Challenges that require us to adapt to disruption frequently cause a group to rally together against a change. This is the primary reason why a 1994 research study still holds true today: A full 70% of organizational change projects fail to achieve the results they intend. More recent studies have that number as high at 80%.

Resilience Can Be Built Through Change

When facing an adaptive challenge, an organization that is not aligned or has not built resilience will do anything it can to maintain the status quo. Group-think is powerful and the magnetic forces pulling towards the status quo can defy logic and reason in its quest to avoid the work required to create real change.

Organizations often avoid the real work of change whether they consciously realize it or not. Have you ever worked on a team that faced a major adaptive challenge, yet instead of doing the difficult and complex work of solving them, they did anything they could to avoid it? Companies do that every day.

How often do struggling organizations shift everyone’s focus to cost-cutting when sales are down? What if the same amount of effort were put into the more difficult work of driving revenue? We know in our heads that we can’t save our way to prosperity, yet because the technical work of cost-cutting is easier and more comfortable, we often prioritize it above the more difficult work of innovation. In that situation, we need to figure out how to drive top-line growth instead of avoiding it. But how do you stop avoiding the real work and tackle the tough stuff?

The Benefit to Avoiding Change

If every ineffective behavior has a payoff, what is the organizational payoff for work avoidance?

First, we get to stay safely inside our comfort zone. No one has to think too far outside of the proverbial box. We don’t have to rethink anything, and we get to feel good about having accomplished something. The cost is the sense of accomplishment that is false because eventually, you cannot cut enough to stay in business or keep shareholders happy. But boy do we make heroes out of people who find savings!

Is that to say that finding savings is a bad thing? No. Unless it is taking time and pulling the organization away from unraveling real issues that hinder progress. There is, however, a hidden cost of work avoidance: The organization never builds the confidence that comes from knowing that they are capable of solving adaptive challenges.

There are all kinds of things organizations do, both consciously and unconsciously that come under the heading of work avoidance. Placing a disproportionate amount of effort on the technical components of broader adaptive challenges is a great example. We’ve worked with several large companies who have implemented sophisticated performance management systems in a quest to improve the way they manage employee performance. They have spent months implementing and delivering training on a complex system, while completely disregarding the fact that the single driver of effective performance management is the quality of the dialog an employee has with their manager. The focus remains on how to use a system when it needs to be on how to have better conversations. Increasing the quality of conversations is a lot harder than implementing a system.

Certainly, none of those organizations were consciously trying to avoid work. Their choices, in fact, created a lot of unnecessary work. What they didn’t do was mobilize people to do the real work necessary to solve the problem. Instead, they used up a disproportionate amount of reserves in the organization’s proverbial energy tank that could have been used for something a lot more impactful.

Work avoidance distracts from solving real issues and kills resilience.

No matter how productive it makes us feel or how good the short-term payoff is, the long-term cost of avoiding dealing with the real issues is resilience.

Choosing Resilience

Making the choice to face adaptive challenges head-on may seem uncomfortable but it is far less painful than dealing with the consequences of avoiding change. We need to direct our attention toward making choices that benefit the long-term strategy of the organization. We need to focus on finding real solutions, not temporary workarounds.

When we make choices as an organization, particularly if we are trying to build resilience, we must think carefully about the costs and payoffs inherent in our decisions. To achieve the results we desire, we must embrace change and make choices that are consciously aligned with our strategy.

If your leaders or organization can benefit from making better choices that are in alignment with your strategy, call us. It’s what we do.


*This is an excerpt from Resilience: It’s Not About Bouncing Back, a new book by Jennifer Eggers and Cynthia Barlow scheduled to be released this spring. More details on preorders coming soon.