Tapping into the resilience of staff in straitened times will boost engagement and drive economic recovery
My business psychology firm Robertson Cooper released research recently into the personal resilience levels of a sample of more than 3,000 British working people. The survey used a new psychometric measure, i-resilience, and found that more than 80 per cent of respondents believe they "can cope well when the going gets tough" with 69 per cent thinking that they "generally coped well with setbacks".
The core concept of resilience involves coping with adversity, rebounding and adapting successfully to change and uncertainty, and these findings suggest that the UK is better equipped to cope with the years of austerity and inevitable organisational changes associated with this upheaval than the media make out.
Robertson Cooper also commissioned a YouGov survey of more than 2,300 adults to find out which public figures the population thinks are the most irrepressible models. It wasn't a surprise to find out that Nelson Mandela overwhelmingly led the poll, with American cyclist Lance Armstrong trailing in second place.
Respondents cited Mandela because of his strong sense of purpose, adaptability and self-confidence in the face of enormous setbacks. The same applies to Armstrong, who won the Tour de France after recovering from cancer.
With the economic consequences of recession, the spending cuts announced in the Comprehensive Spending Review and increasing competition from the Bric countries, it is vital that the UK economy is as supple as possible to cope with the changes that are required.
The good news from the i-resilience research is that working people feel that they are ready for the challenges; they believe they can cope during adversity and setbacks; and they are prepared to change when the need arises.
There will be naysayers who will try to block change and yearn for the past. But the enormity of the crisis demands that we are adaptable, and that we draw on the spirit of resilience that helped us in the Second World War. Machiavelli, in The Prince, wrote about the difficulty of change: "The innovator makes enemies of all those who prospered under the old order, and only lukewarm support is forthcoming from those who would prosper under the new."
In my dealings with business over the past two years, I have been pleasantly surprised to see adaptability in practice, not only in the private sector but also in the public sphere as well. There is an appetite for change, where it is needed, and for taking this difficult period in
our economic circumstance as an opportunity to do things differently. But accompanying change will also be a fear of failure, of making the wrong decisions and being blamed.
While it is difficult to achieve success if we don't take calculated risks, senior managers and owner-managers have to be prepared to tolerate the occasional failure. We need to keep in mind what Confucius wrote: "Our greatest honour is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall." Closer to home, Sir James Goldsmith once said: "The ultimate risk is not taking a risk."
The national character is intrinsically tough during times of adversity, but it is important for business leaders to harness this capability and create working environments that drive engagement and, ultimately, economic recovery.