Why India Inc needs to invest in resilience

By Avik Chanda

As the COVID-19 outbreak hits the country, businesses across the board are bracing themselves for what’ll undoubtedly turn out to be the toughest summer in decades. The economic package announced by the Central Government may accord a momentary glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. But industry leaders know that once the storm is over, it will be a long, hard road to recovery – and that it will take far more than building greater competencies in domain or technical skills, to get the job done. From the perspective of Human Resource stakeholders, it’s fast becoming apparent that perhaps the single-most important investment involves a focus on building resilience, which will enable employees to cope better with the current crisis, and bounce back with renewed vigour and motivation.

Advances in Positive Psychology At Work (PPW) have a direct bearing on such a project. While individuals may be intrinsically equipped with resilience, it’s a quality embedded within their personality, trait or mindset, and rarely evident in a business-as-usual environment. The presence or extent of it isn’t discernible, unless evaluated through psychometric means, and unlike a technical skill, such as a programming language, resilience cannot be inculcated through an intensive crash-course.

Second, there’s the consideration of synergies. Focused programmes on resilience will deliver results over a period of time, but it will essentially move the needle along a single attribute. However, research conducted by positive psychologist Barbara Fredrickson shows that enhancing attributes such as optimism, gratitude and level of interest in one’s work, reaps relatively greater benefits, by broadening employees’ perspective, as well as building longer-lasting attributes such as resilience. Amongst her other findings is that emphasis on positive emotions in the workplace leads to the formation of a psychological protective shield in situations of cumulative stress, since the underlying positivity of any individual facilitates faster personal recovery from adverse events, and has an amplifying effect on the team. A PricewaterhouseCoopers study also found significant returns on investment in a mentally healthy workplace.

An effective approach to promoting positivity at work is the identification and development of individual ‘signature strengths’. The Positive Leadership Program undertaken by IBM is a case in point. When employees work from their natural strengths – as opposed to tasks that don’t come naturally – the goals are easier to achieve, and stress levels tend to be lower, improving well-being. This in turn hinges heavily on the level of engagement that leaders and managers have on the ground, with their teams. A ‘Strengths @Work Survey’ by the VIA institute found when managers had a meaningful discussion about employees’ strengths, 78% of these team members reported feeling engaged and energized and 65% described themselves as ‘flourishing’ at work.

Similarly, Gallup Research found that employees who feel ignored by their managers are twice as likely to be actively disengaged at work, while managers who focus on their employees’ strengths cut active disengagement to 1%. The Corporate Leadership Council have also found that when managers focus on the weaknesses of an employee on average their performance declines by up to 27%, whereas when they focus on the strengths of an employee on average performance improves by up to 36%.

Finally, there is the evidence linking resilience or mental toughness with positive behaviours and outcomes in the workplace. Research by P.J. Clough and his associates has reported remarkable positive predictive links between mental toughness and performance, well-being, and transition management, elevating the role of an individual employee to something of deeper value, and longer-term impact than a mere executor. For organizations to reap the right benefits from such a program, it needs to be managed according to a robust methodology, such as the following:

Assessment and Analysis

The employees undertake a comprehensive psychometric assessment, covering signature strengths, mindsets, and focus on attributes such as resilience and grit. Analysis of the scores at an individual level leads for calibrated goal-setting, aligned to signature strengths and mindsets, and embed them into organizational relationships, processes, and systems to improve their relationships and bring the best out in their teams.

Interventions and Coaching

This stage entails a two-pronged approach. A series of structured group-level workshops are conducted, aligning the strength-based goals to business imperatives, as well as human capital such as recruitment, career progression, training and departmental reorganization. Participants are provided with a toolkit for developing resilience, based on the 4 C Model – Control, Commitment, Challenge, Confidence. These workshops are interspersed with individual coaching, to support sustained implementation of learning and development needs.

Follow-up Assessment

Employees undertake the psychometric assessment periodically, depending on the timelines of the program, and at its conclusion. Using a tracer mechanism, the system highlights the progress made on the key parameters, and overall effectiveness of the program.

Following global best practices, there’s now a growing recognition in India that programs for eliciting, enabling, and supporting individuals to flourish will provide the necessary armour in addressing the continually dynamic, fast paced, stressful, competitive and relentless work environments we find ourselves in. But such programs typically have a timeline spanning several months. Therefore, looking ahead, while the workforce develops resilience on the ground, and the economy struggles to finally get back to its feet in the painful aftermath of COVID-19 pandemic, leaders will have to dip into their own reservoirs of patience and perseverance.

Avik Chanda is a business advisor, researcher, columnist and entrepreneur. He is the author of “From Command To Empathy: Using EQ in the Age of Disruption”.

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