Resiliency Ethos: Embracing Uncertainty

  September 21, 2020

Resiliency is more than just contingency plans and something to be practiced at an executive leadership level. It is a way of being, a mindset, a skill set, and a dedicated process that allows an organization to embrace uncertainty and endure and recover from setbacks. Resiliency ethos requires an organization to foster a culture that not only prioritizes but also practices flexibility, continued learning, and self-care across all levels and structures.

Get a quick explanation of Resiliency Ethos from PartnersGlobal President & CEO Julia Roig below. Resiliency Ethos is one of seven critical factors to organizational resiliency in PartnersGlobal’s Resiliency+ Framework.

Below are the three main elements of Resiliency Ethos and key resources for each.

1. Institutionalizing Resiliency

An organization becomes institutionally resilient through the existence of adaptive management practices that embed resiliency thinking in an organization’s policies and procedures.

Adaptive Management

What do we mean by the term “adaptive management” and how is it different from other forms or approaches to managing teams? Bond,  the civil society network for global change based in the UK, looked at this question and developed a primer based on their research. It is titled, Adaptive Management – What it Means for CSOs. It finds:

“to increase adaptive management practice, arguably a greater focus is needed on creating the right institutional and funding conditions to enable and facilitate it, including more widespread acceptance of uncertainty and risk in programming. This may require quite profound changes for some organisations, meaning that the challenge of increasing the use of adaptive management should not be underestimated.”

For lessons and best practices on how adaptive management has worked for different programs, click here.

Managing in Times of Crisis

How do we take some of the principles of adaptive management and apply or adapt them in times of crisis?

“It takes the nonprofit sector 1.5 times longer than the for-profit sector to recover from a recession,” finds the Nonprofit Finance Fund.

The Bridgespan Group offers 8 Steps for Managing in Tough Times to help nonprofits weather economic uncertainty AND remain operational any time.

2. Practicing a Culture of Resiliency

The operational aspect of resiliency ethos needs to be met equally with a cultural one. The informal customs, behaviors, and beliefs that demonstrate a value for resiliency in an organization’s daily operations and decision-making collectively generate an organizational culture of resiliency.

Making the Case for a Resilient Culture

This white paper by PEPIT Consulting contains extensive research, best practices and case studies on resilience and establishes a business case for building resilient work cultures. It asks the questions, why is fostering a resilient culture important? What does that even look like? And how do you know it when you see it?

A Commitment to Resiliency

This template from USAID’s Learning Lab is a good example of how all individuals within an organization can commit to practicing resiliency. It also serves as an accountability mechanism to revert back to.

Understanding Cognitive Biases

If we are to generate a culture of resiliency within an organization, we must understand not only the positive aspects of this but also recognize some of the potential pitfalls associated with human behavior (and adopt strategies to overcome them).

We all have “mental blindspots” or blockages that can prevent us from making good decisions. Rooted in cognitive neuroscience and behavioral economics, these blind spots are called cognitive biases and are judgment errors that could lead to detrimental outcomes for an organization’s ability to operate, generate trust, and avoid burnout. But there is good news! There are some simple ways to address cognitive biases in the workplace. Learn more from 12 Mental Skills to Defeat Cognitive Biases.

3. Staff Readiness and Well-Being

Prioritizing the psychosocial and physical well-being of staff working in fluid environments and on complex issues is key to maintaining a Resiliency Ethos. This becomes even more critical when a crisis or shock hits and an organization has to adapt quickly to maintain operability.

Burnout in Times of Crisis

What do we know about burnout and how is it exacerbated in times of crisis? The World Health Organization classified burnout syndrome as an occupational phenomenon in 2019. With more and more research, burnout is not solely an issue of being tired or overworked – it impacts the neural pathways of the brain and makes it more difficult to remember things, cope with stress in rational ways, and can lead to seemingly disconnected health issues down the line.

But in times of a crisis or rapid change, “burnout can emerge because of something different – what experts call ‘decision fatigue’…In other words, the Covid-19 pandemic is forcing us to rapidly grapple with difficult decisions in an unsettlingly new context.”

Fortunately, burnout is manageable with a combination of awareness of the symptoms and some simple actions or behavior changes. You can access resources here and here for more information on how to manage burnout in times of disruption. Here you’ll find three things leaders can do to help protect their teams from burnout more generally.

Understanding the Impacts of Shocks on Staff

Understanding the impact of shocks and disruptions is key to being able to prioritize the right approaches to staff readiness and well-being. This study identifies key underlying assumptions, realities and practices in the human rights and humanitarian response space as it relates to practitioners’ well-being and access to mental health resources.

Integrating Self-Care into Organizational Structures

This case study with Peace Brigades International Mexico (in English and Spanish) describes how they integrated a psychosocial approach into their operations and management processes. The study demonstrates that even just through sensitization and awareness-raising alone, people are more willing to prioritize adequate self-care. The case study finds:

“…coping mechanisms should not be imposed from the outside…Our study also illustrates the need to create an organizational culture that not only allows and promotes the use of time and resources for well-being and mental health, but actually integrates it as important part of the human rights work that is obligatory, reflected in work plans and job descriptions.”