Embrace the Wobble: The 4 R's of Resilience

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Not long ago, a client and I gave a presentation at our Solutions at Work LIVE conference on resilience. Looking for images on the subject, we saw that Google characterized the idea as something like a beautiful flower emerging from a desert - a speck of hope in an otherwise desolate landscape.

But we saw it differently. Rather than an anomaly, resilience is the dependable ability to recover from the elements. It's not a lone bud from a sidewalk; but more like one of those inflatable weighted "bop" bags that wobbles after a kick, but then finds its way back to the center again.

This ability to bounce back - to wobble and then find grounding - isn't just for the sake of the individual. Resilience is critical to innovation. The knowledge that someone will bounce back is the fuel for them to take chances. And to be creative, people have to be able, and feel supported to take those risks, learn from them, perhaps even fall down - and then bounce back up to a place of stability from which they can take action.

As managers, we need to ensure people can find that footing. But how do we do that?  My co-presenter and I discussed our formula of what we call the four "R's": recognize, respond, reframe, and role model.

Recognize

Projects and other initiatives come with stress. As managers, we need to acknowledge that stress. Openly saying, "I recognize that this is stressful time," gives other people permission to do the same. In fact, the mere act of naming stress can provide some relief and perspective. Think of it like hearing the doctor tell you that you have strep. Your throat still hurts but you know the cause, that it's not imaginary, that others recognize there is pain, and that it will eventually go away.

Respond

Recognizing stress allows us as managers to effectively respond. As an example, my co-presenter worked with her organization's EAP provider to create a resilience program targeting a particularly stressed group of employees. A conference attendee talked about bringing in therapy dogs during high-stress times.  Another discussed a sabbatical program that is now a key recruiting tool for the organization.

Reframe

Reframing how we evaluate performance -- moving beyond "succeed/fail" to "How were results achieved?" - fosters a growth mindset that leads to resilience. Why? Because benchmarks based exclusively on outcomes are finite. They either worked or they didn't. End of discussion.  But evaluative conversations - "How was our work aligned with our organizational values?" "How well did we problem-solve and manage adverse or changing situations? - allow for robust dialogue, and create environments that not only allow for "wobble," but encourage growth from it.

Role Model

It's a fact that people pay more attention to what we do than what we say.  So if we want to create truly resilient teams and organizations, we must recognize when we are experiencing stress personally and respond and take action for ourselves.  This means not only managing our own stress, but openly communicating with our teams - modeling how we prioritize things like health, PTO, networking, and continued education (all resiliency-building tools). One client shared her steadfast commitment to attending at least two conferences per year; she expects her team to do the same.  By role modeling, we show we're not afraid to take chances, and we create the space for others to do so as well.

Bottom line, if we want our organizations to be growth-oriented, we have to help people manage - and overcome - the stress that naturally comes with that growth.

So, when you see, sense, or experience increasing negative stress, recognize it, respond, and reframe what success means; then commit to role modeling with intentionality and discipline...so that you create the space for your employees to do the same.

By doing so you will not only create a workplace with resilience; where you can embrace the wobble - you can also ensure people land solidly back on their feet to take on new challenges and opportunities.

Written by: Jessica Kaplan

About the Author

Jessica Kaplan at Bright Horizons

As Director, Talent Management, Jessica is responsible for connecting employees and management to the most effective learning and development opportunities offered by Bright Horizons. She also helps facilitate internal collaboration for organizational success. Jessica brings nearly 20 years of experience in professional development and higher education administration to her role. Prior to this role she held key roles in the Client Relations and Academic Partnerships teams. Jessica holds a Bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Tufts University, a Master’s degree in International Communication from American University and has completed PhD coursework in International Higher Education Policy at the University of Maryland.