As ramifications from COVID and other global events continue to spur significant economic volatility – organizational resiliency has become an increasingly important focus for growth companies seeking to navigate an unpredictable, complex operating environment. Organizational resiliency refers to a team’s ability to successfully anticipate and adapt to incremental change and sudden disruptions. In our experience, building a resilient, high-functioning team can help a company gain an invaluable competitive edge and increase the odds of long-term relevance and continued growth — especially during economic downturns.
But what makes an organization resilient, and how can leaders help foster resiliency within an organization? We spoke with People Leaders across the Summit Partners network to gather perspectives on these questions. Four common strategies emerged:
1. Increase Communication and Decrease Ambiguity
Business continuity is always a priority during periods of turbulence, but communication continuity and clarity can be equally essential for building a resilient team. As we’ve previously described, clear, consistent communication can support inclusion and strengthen employee engagement by helping your team understand your operational goals and connect their work to the mission of your organization. This has been particularly important over the last few years as leaders and teams frequently find themselves facing the unexpected.
Summit’s Head of Talent, Dayton Ogden notes: “It’s important to acknowledge the ambiguity in the overall environment today and to work as hard as we can to remove that ambiguity from the workplace.” Robin de Pelham, Chief People Officer at Later, adds, “We have a number of different mechanisms for facilitating open and honest communication, including tools that allow team members to submit questions and share feedback either anonymously or named. We believe this type of direct, continual communication helps establish greater trust and transparency across our leadership team and employees, which is key to building resiliency.”
We believe resilient teams rely on open, honest communication to help address the challenges they face.
2. Invest in Individual Change Management
Change management frameworks are typically focused on supporting the transformation of goals, processes or technologies within an organization, but they can be equally effective in understanding and supporting individual employees’ capacity for change. As de Pelham explains: “In the last twelve months, we’ve worked to educate our leadership team on employee change management in order to better understand how individual employees process change. Do our team members thrive in times of change, or do they shut down? How do our leaders respond?” Research indicates that compassion and empathy are key characteristics of resilient teams. Helping employees recognize how they – and those around them – react to change and proactively devising strategies to better accommodate change can help leaders ready their teams for periods of transformation and uncertainty. Creating deliberate spaces for employees to openly discuss their ideas, raise questions and voice concerns – with one another without consequence – can help an organization foster greater psychological safety and identify any employees who may need extra support processing change.
3. Create Opportunities for Connection
As Annie Fowler, Chief People Officer at Sound Physicians, notes: “We’re social creatures, and making meaningful connections is incredibly important.” In addition to boosting morale and productivity, human connection helps build resiliency. HBR research supports that resilience is often expressed by a “deep commitment to ‘co-elevating’ the team” and that resilient teams often consist of “individuals who care deeply about each other.” But, while many companies continue to operate in a hybrid or remote environment, “people don’t have the same opportunities to connect informally with colleagues, after meetings or in the office hallways,” says Ogden. “An organization’s resiliency can be impacted as a result.” Creating accessible opportunities for connection is vital for building resiliency, especially for hybrid and remote employees. Consider hosting regular events – whether virtual or in person (in a relatively equidistant location) – where all team members can connect with and get to know their teammates.
Peer-to-peer programs and prosocial initiatives – both virtual and in-person – can also promote meaningful connection by providing employees an accessible line of communication when they need support. Fowler describes: “We recently organized an event for 300 of our leaders to come together in-person, and we all walked away with our cups filled. That feeling lasted a while and kept us going when we returned to our virtual work routines.” Summit-backed LifeStance Health applied a “many-to-many” model to help build connections across a decentralized organization. The company has described its “Giving Thanks” initiative, which was designed to invite colleagues across the country to give thanks to a peer by filling out a short form that recognizes some way they’ve made people’s lives better. This initiative helped people feel acknowledged for their work, building organizational resilience by building relationships.
4. Build Equity and Transparency into HR Processes
High rates of employee turnover can undermine the resilience of an organization, so it’s critical for leaders to focus on retention strategies that help create an inclusive, equitable and fair workplace. We encourage leaders to work towards building fairness and transparency into existing HR-related processes, including review and feedback processes, compensation systems and engagement surveys. For example, re-evaluating your wholistic compensation philosophy with fairness and transparency top of mind can help your organization better attract and retain talent — often without paying at the top of the market. Explains de Pelham: “We’ve found success using a formulaic, market benchmarked system to determine compensation based on experience level and other factors; there’s no negotiation or reliance on the subjectivity of managers. Importantly, the methodology is shared with every employee. By providing this detailed context, our employees don’t have to stress about being treated unfairly, which allows them to focus their efforts on other priorities.”
In addition to compensation philosophies, formal review and feedback processes need to be carefully and continually evaluated to mitigate employee turnover and promote resiliency. Fowler adds, “People vote with their feet, so if you’re experiencing high turnover, you’ll need to explore whether or not you’re creating an environment where people can succeed.” Exit interviews can provide invaluable information about what’s not working within your organization, for instance. Collecting feedback from employees monthly or quarterly can also allow you to objectively determine how employees and teams are feeling and identify patterns about what’s working well and what requires improvement.
Recent research by the World Economic Forum and McKinsey & Company shows that during the economic downturn at the beginning of the pandemic, more resilient organizations generated 10% more shareholder returns as compared to their peers, “positioning themselves for accelerated growth during the period of economic recovery.” Apple demonstrated this phenomenon first-hand when CEO Tim Cook announced the company’s Q4 2020 earnings. After exceeding Wall Street’s expectations, Cook cited resilience as a key element that fortified Apple’s performance in the midst of unprecedented, pandemic-induced challenges.
“The past few years have required constant cognitive switching, which can impact both individual and organizational resilience,” says Ogden. To help rebuild resiliency reserves, establishing greater trust is paramount. People leaders across the Summit Network agree: the more trust employees have in their organization, the better they’re able to adapt and successfully navigate a dynamic, constantly changing environment. Today’s leaders have a timely opportunity to promote resiliency throughout their organizations by communicating continuously and candidly, supporting employees through educational programs, support networks and meaningful in-person time, and prioritizing transparency .
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The content herein reflects the views of Summit Partners and is intended for executives and operators considering partnering with Summit Partners. A complete list of Summit portfolio companies is available here.
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