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2021: The Year of Organizational Resilience

5 minute read
Paul Pellman avatar
An HBR study of previous downturns found companies that increased operational efficiencies and minimized or avoided layoffs thrived after the recession.

After the Great Recession of 2007, a study by Harvard Business Review offered a key finding: The recovery of companies that cut costs by downsizing lagged far behind companies that increased operational efficiencies and minimized layoffs — or avoided them altogether.

Why is this meaningful? It points to a model of organizational resilience we need right now.

The study analyzed 4,700 companies from three different time periods: the 1980 crisis, the 1990 slowdown, and the 2000 bust. Seventeen percent of those companies didn't survive their respective recession at all. And the vast majority of the ones that did survive failed to meet pre-recession metrics even three years after its end.

However, the 9% of companies that focused on operational efficiency thrived after the recession. And in most cases, they actually improved financial performance. How?

A key reason is employee morale. Morale is best at companies that put employees first during challenging times. When employees appreciate the company’s commitment to them, they become engaged in finding new ways to reduce costs and generate new business. Which leads, ultimately, to organizational resilience.

As we emerge from the challenging year that was 2020, organizational resilience is the key to success. Here are the top ways to build resilience by investing in your people during a time of crisis.

Mitigate Burnout

A 2020 survey by online employment platform Monster revealed that 69% of employees experienced burnout symptoms while working from home during the pandemic. Burnout significantly diminishes an employee’s ability to make valuable contributions. This means combating it should be a leader’s top priority. What are some ways to take action?

Learning Opportunities

  1. Make check-ins more frequent. Too often, communication crumbles in hard times. Keep an open line of communication by increasing the frequency of check-ins between employees, managers and coworkers.
  2. Don’t overload the calendar. Counteract meeting fatigue by mandating “meeting-free” blocks of time throughout the week so your team can focus on deep work.
  3. Prepare a mental health plan. From dealing with a pandemic to transitioning to remote work, employee mental health became a major area of concern for businesses in the last year. As we move into 2021, now is the time to create or revisit your company’s mental health plan. Work with an external specialist (or internal HR leader) to ensure you’re ready with Psychological First Aid before you need it.

Related Article: Belonging Is Essential to the Future of Work

Rebuild Trust Between Managers and Teams

After damage control measures are in place, it’s time to focus on rebuilding trust and connection. Where many leaders fail is believing company culture will follow financial performance. In fact, it’s the opposite. According to Korn Ferry, organizations that invest in company culture experience three times the profitability of those that don’t. Here’s where to start:

  1. Improve the remote work experience. Remote work is here to stay. To make it a success, give employees the flexibility to decide when, where and how they get their work done. Not only will it significantly boost morale, motivation and engagement, it will also help your company increase operational efficiencies. It’s a win-win.
  2. Take action on diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I). Today’s employees expect their employer to make diversity a priority, and to act in the face of social injustices. Staying neutral or silent on topics such as racism, gender inequity and unconscious bias is simply no longer an option. Now is the time to make a plan for how your organization will approach DE&I, and the first place to start is with your leadership team.

Related Article: Getting to the Heart of the Chief Diversity Officer's Agenda

Align Individual and Team Goals

Every business depends on hitting key targets in order to thrive. But when an organization is recovering from any kind of crisis, goals and objectives tend to unravel. Bringing individuals and teams back into alignment is critical to organizational resiliency. Here’s how to act:

  1. Simplify. Often, we add layers of technology without pruning away what’s become less useful, which is why the average company uses 30-plus different tools to run their day-to-day operations. Now is a great time to simplify the software and communication channels your team uses to keep your team focused and on track.
  2. Goals reset. Goals give us a framework for both quantifying our work and tying it to deadlines. Despite that, 93% of employees can’t connect their actions to larger organizational goals. Now more than ever, it’s important to ensure individual and organizational goals are aligned. Start by having company leadership set high-level objectives for the quarter and the year. Then, have leaders on each team assess those objectives and identify how their team can contribute. This ensures everyone in the company, top to bottom, is working toward the same larger goals.

As we move into 2021, remember that organization resilience is a learned skill — which means any organization can develop it. Leaders can help their teams build resilience by facing the reality of inevitable challenges and modeling constructive ways to respond. While the future is still uncertain, the one thing we know is that it’s all about the people.

About the author

Paul Pellman

Paul Pellman is the CEO of Kazoo, an employee experience platform that brings together performance management, recognition & rewards, and engagement surveys in one easy-to-use solution. As a seasoned executive, Paul is committed to giving employees what they need to deeply engage in their work by fulfilling the company’s vision to create rewarding and purpose-filled workplaces where all employees can thrive.

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